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Chipping Away at Roe: Missouri Edition

Thursday, May 12, 2011

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Another day, another setback.

The Missouri Legislature has justed passed new restrictions on access to abortion. The margins weren't even close (121-33 in the state House, and 28-5 in the Senate). This means that even if Democratic Governor Jay Nixon vetoes the legislation, there are more than enough votes to make the bill law anyway.

Missouri already prohibits aborting fetuses after doctors determine they are viable, except to protect the health of the parent. The new legislation takes things further:

State legislators have decided that all fetuses are potentially viable after 20 weeks of gestation (typically fetuses are viable after 22-24 weeks). If a parent is 20 weeks or more into pregnancy, ze'll need to have two doctors sign off that the fetus isn't viable.

Making another medical judgment, the Legislature defined what constitutes the health of the parent. Once the bill becomes law, the only health exceptions after 20 weeks will involve abortions the risk of death or "permanent damage to a major bodily function because of the pregnancy." Once again, the parent will need two doctors to attest to this.

About these two doctors: they can't have a "legal or financial affiliation or relationship [that] is a result of being employed by or having staff privileges at the same hospital as the first physician." This only serves to underscore that this bill isn't about medical professionals' judgments, it's about stopping "big abortion" ("financial affiliation"? really?), the fictitious entity that supports cis women and trans men's bodily autonomy.

Doctors who perform abortions in violation of these restrictions will be felons, potentially going to in prison and paying substantial fines.

Regular readers may know that I have a 3-year-old daughter. At the time of my partner's pregnancy, we:
1) Were both employed
2) Had jobs that allowed us to take plenty of time off during the day
3) Were living in a metropolitan area (with multiple health care options)
4) Had reasonably good health insurance
4) Owned not one, but two cars

Getting to the OB/GYN's office was still a major hassle. Even for a relatively uneventful pregnancy, it seemed like we were always going to or coming from the doctor. Getting an appointment was a major pain in the ass, too. Usually we'd be told the exact date and time to show up, unless we wanted to wait a bazillion weeks, which we were advised against because OMG BABY!

Of course, we didn't need an abortion, which would have been even more of a logistical nightmare.

Now consider the proportion of parents who don't have health insurance that covers abortion (if you recall, that number may soon be going up). For that matter, think of how many people don't have health insurance at all. Then there are the people that live a long ways from one, let alone two different clinics. And so on...

Remember, there's also a time-crunch here. This law accords the 20-week mark with magical powers. If you find out at 18 or 19 weeks that the fetus might not be viable, or that health complications are developing, you don't have very long to make a decision, find a doctor, and come up with a way to pay for an abortion. This is already difficult, and that's precisely the idea.

This time-crunch contrasts nicely with all the legislation requiring parents to wait prior to getting an abortion. Anti-abortion activists want cis women and trans men to take their time in considering whether to have an abortion, but only if they've already decided to have one.

It's transparently obvious that this bill (sponsored in the House by a man who describes abortion in graphic and largely fictional terms) is an attempt to make it harder for anyone in Missouri to get an abortion. Yet there are Democrats in Jefferson City who were willing to talk about "compromise." Given that there 56 Democrats in the state House, it would appear that plenty of Democratic Representatives who voted for the legislation.

As per usual, President Obama is silent.
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