The right’s 2015 abortion scheme: Force women to wait days to get care

A growing number of states are considering extreme waiting periods to create obstacles to care

Published January 6, 2015 8:27PM (EST)

    (<a href=''> Bohbeh </a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
( Bohbeh via Shutterstock)

A lawmaker in Missouri has already promised to introduce a bill requiring women to obtain men’s written consent before having an abortion, but that’s not the only piece of legislative nastiness that awaits in 2015. Anti-choice lawmakers in states across the country have made clear that, much like the last four years, they will push for a slew of new antiabortion restrictions to put the procedure out of reach.

The tactics may not be new, but there will be more states embracing the kinds of bills that have already wreaked havoc elsewhere, like extreme waiting periods. There are currently 26 states with some kind of waiting period in place, forcing women to wait, often 24 hours, before they can have an abortion.

Setting themselves apart from he pack, Missouri, South Dakota and Utah have 72 hour waiting periods in place, the longest in the country. These extended waiting periods are considered extreme, even in conservative states. But that hasn’t stopped a Kansas Republican from proposing the idea of extending his state’s waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours. Waiting period laws force women to make multiple trips before being able to have an abortion. No matter the circumstance, repeat visits to the doctor are an unnecessary and often costly inconvenience. But extending the waiting period over multiple days requires women to take additional time off work and find childcare, housing and transportation for multiple days. These barriers, particularly for low-income women of color, can be impossible to work around.

Last year, Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed his state's 72 hour waiting period, only to be overridden by his state Legislature’s Republican supermajority. Nixon called the bill "insulting to women." But Kansas Republican Rep. Steve Brunk says such a ban might be on the table in his state come 2015. There are currently 91 antiabortion votes in the House, and, unlike the often divisive heartbeat ban the body will also consider, waiting periods don’t often inspire Republicans to break ranks in a vote.

Brunk told the Wichita Eagle that he’s optimistic that the House and Senate in his state have the “ideological makeup” necessary to pass the restrictions currently on the table. And advocates in the state have vowed to fight the waiting period and heartbeat ban should they be introduced. “If a woman finds herself pregnant as a result of sexual violence, not only is she a victim of a horrible crime, the state tells her to spend another couple of days thinking about that,” Laura McQuade, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri, told the Eagle. “It can be both demeaning and cruel. It feels like punishment.”

As Robin Marty noted this week, Republicans in Iowa are also looking to join the 72-hour waiting period club. Republican Sen. David Johnson, who may introduce the bill this year, told the Associated Press that he believes waiting periods work to deter women from seeking abortion. “There are plenty of stories of mothers changing their minds if given a chance,” Johnson said. But with Democrats holding a narrow majority in the Senate, it’s unclear if such a restriction could pass. Iowa is among the states that currently has no waiting period in place.

There is limited data on the impact of waiting periods, but beyond the time, travel and financial burdens they cost women, a study on Mississippi's waiting period found that, after the law was enacted, "the proportion of second-trimester procedures increased by 53 percent ... among women whose closest provider is in-state."

So rather than the often quoted idea of giving women time to think, these laws only put additional constraints on women's access to abortion, a decision that they have already thought through. Women's minds likely won't be changed by such a law, but the obstacles in the way may prevent some from being able to access the care they want and need. Which, it seems, is exactly the plan among lawmakers embracing these extreme bans.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Abortion Abortion Waiting Periods Iowa Kansas Missouri Reproductive Health South Dakota Utah Women's Health