As Rabbi Susan Talve, surrounded by sign-toting protesters, took the podium Tuesday at the Rally for Women's Lives, 200 activists from across the state stood silently.
It took only one chant to get them revved up.
Talve, of the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, joined the protesters for a march down High Street to the Capitol. The group, made up mostly of women, was voicing its opposition to the 32 anti-abortion bills the state legislature is considering this session. It also opposes Missouri's refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The ralliers united under a single theme: Legislators should stop "playing politics" with women's health.
"There are bills that are meant to shame and judge women, and insert a political opinion and morality instead of medicine," said Ryann Summerford, the statewide manager of government affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri. "There isn't just one bill that we'd like to see defeated. We'd like to see all of them defeated."
Medicaid expansion considered a priority
In addition to the focus on women's health issues, Medicaid expansion was mentioned continually, from hand-drawn signs to speeches.
"If the legislature is truly concerned with protecting the health of women, it should be by expanding Medicaid," Summerford said. "There are 260,000 Missourians who are waiting on that."
Missouri Republicans have taken a firm stance on their refusal to expand Medicaid since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. States that expand Medicaid eligibility to individuals earning up to 138 percent of the poverty line could receive full-federal funding initially. Over time, the federal share would account for 90 percent of the funding for the program.
Currently, those who earn between 19 and 138 percent of the poverty line qualify for neither Medicaid nor the federal subsidies to purchase insurance.
Last week, Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, discussed a proposal to provide insurance for those who earn up to 100 percent of the poverty level through a managed-care plan. Individuals whose earnings fall between 100 to 138 percent of the line would be enrolled in a health care exchange plan.
Though the filing deadline has passed and Silvey has not introduced this as legislation, the mere mention of the plan on the Senate floor sparked fierce debate between Silvey and his Republican colleague Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, during discussion of a bill that would modify MO HealthNet provisions.
Tripled abortion waiting times
Talve wasn't one to mince words.
"This, my friends, is politics at its worst," she said. "Women are dying. We have to think about women's lives and respect them to make the right choice."
The offending legislation, specifically, was the Senate and House versions of a bill that would change the mandatory waiting period for an abortion in Missouri from 24 to 72 hours.
Talve called this an "agonizing waiting time."
Columbia resident Liz Read-Katz is a stay-at-home mom to a "wonderful" 17-month-old. But when she was 27 years old, she had an abortion.
Speaking from the rally, she recounted how she and her husband found out 16 weeks into her first pregnancy that the child had a chromosomal defect that is "incompatible with life." She decided to terminate the pregnancy.
"I thought long and hard about that decision. But once it was made, my will never faltered," Read-Katz said. "An additional 72-hour wait, extra ultrasounds and mandatory videos would not have changed my mind. They would have just caused me more pain than I was already going through."
The Missouri House passed its version of the bill March 11 in a 115-39 vote that sent it to the Senate. It was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27.