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Battle lines drawn over abortion waiting period

Battle lines drawn over abortion waiting period

March 7th, 2014 by Abby Johnston in News

Republicans will work to revive abortion legislation in the Senate after the bill, which would triple the mandatory waiting period for the procedure, faltered Wednesday evening, its Senate sponsor said.

"The Democrats, they did their job. This was a priority that they did not want this bill to pass," said Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, who sponsored Senate Bill 519. "We'll be working behind the scenes trying to shore up some pressure to get the bill back on the floor in the next few weeks."

The House version of the legislation, House Bill 1307, passed the first-round vote Wednesday, while its Senate counterpart floundered after Democrats commanded the four-hour floor debate.

Missouri requires a 24-hour waiting period for abortion procedures. Sater said that increasing the wait to 72 hours will give women more time to digest information given to them as part of the state's informed-consent law, which mandates that any woman undergoing a non-emergency abortion procedure be presented information on fetal development, abortion risks, available agencies for assistance during pregnancies, and responsibilities of the father. He compared the proposed legislation to property laws.

"To have some extra time to reflect on that is important. We have laws such as if you sign a contract to buy a condominium, there is a period within which you can decide, "OK, I've kind of made the wrong decision,'" he said. "Sometimes your initial thought on something is not the right one."

Sater also said that with other medical procedures, the wait is typically more than 24 hours.

"I'm kind of doing the same thing with my knees right now," he said. "The doctor wants to inject some cushioning agents in and doing some research and going back and forth on if I want this or not. I need a little time to think about it, too."

Sater said the bill will not hit the floor again until after the legislature reconvenes from spring break March 24.

The House, however, can expect a third reading of House Bill 1307 as early as next week. Save for nine Democrats, the bill passed initial approval in a largely party-line vote. Despite speaking from opposite corners of the ring and separate legislative bodies, both Sater and Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, echoed at least one of the same sentiments: The bill is a philosophical hangup between the two parties and leaves little room for compromise.

"It's not about actual policy; it is about ideology," Newman said. "It's saying that this procedure is uncomfortable to us."

That is where the two legislators' similarities end. Newman has spoken against the bill in the House, saying that the increased wait for abortion is an unnecessary barrier for women.

"For the body to basically stand up and say that when you're pregnant you lose your mind, I mean, it boggles my mind. I think it's the most offensive thing that we could do in this body," she said.

Newman points to 27 other abortion-related bills that have been introduced this session as evidence of the legislature's attacks on women's reproductive health.

"If you're a woman and you need some kind of reproductive care, particularly an abortion, you are just thought of as scum. And I can't handle it," she said. "It is awful. The treatment toward women is rampant in here. For them to come back and say that there's no war on women? I think everyone needs to have their ears perked up. It's about ideology."

St. Louis has the only free-standing abortion clinic in the state. This means that women living in Joplin, for example, would have to drive 4½ hours one way to the nearest abortion provider, then either stay for three days or make the trip again after the waiting period was over. Newman said that these barriers could possibly push women with unwanted pregnancies to drastic measures.

"There's all kinds of situations that a woman could find herself in, and if you can't get that abortion because of time or restrictions, what are you going to do? No one wants to think about that," she said. "Some of these women are going to take their lives because they always have when there are obstacles in front of them."

Although Sater said that the goal of his bill is to reduce the number of abortions in Missouri, Dr. Colleen McNicholas from Physicians for Reproductive Health said she thought further restriction would only lead to further obstacles in obtaining an abortion.

"I think that the sort of belief that this piece of legislation will change the number of Missouri women that are having abortions is incredibly wrong. Women will still have abortions," McNicholas said. "They'll find a way to do that; it just means that they're going to do that at more cost to themselves, at more time, at more travel."

McNicholas, who practices in St. Louis, also believes that further delays to an abortion procedure could have harmful consequences to the pregnant woman.

"We know that the sooner you have it, the safer it is, and you know, sort of just a protection of health standpoint we always recommend that as soon as somebody knows what they want to do they should do it at that point," she said. "Adding delays on like this really just sort of pushes people to potentially a further gestation and then a more risky procedure."