Missouri lawmakers are hellbent on restricting women’s reproductive rights.
In February of this year, lawmakers in St. Louis passed a bill that forbid employers and landlords from discriminating against women because of their reproductive health choices. In response, Governor Eric Greitens (R) this month called for a special legislative session to lift the law and impose more restrictions on abortion providers—an occasion marked by the infamous Facebook live broadcast of Representative Mike Moon (R) killing and gutting a chicken with his bare hands to announce “pro-life” legislation.
Governor Greitens held an anti-abortion rally in Joplin alongside former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to drum up excitement for the state legislature’s war on women’s rights. Protesters gathered outside of the rally, calling for the governor to veto legislation and put an end to secretive special sessions.
Should state lawmakers succeed in their mission to roll back the St. Louis protections, employers and landlords in Missouri will be given the power to discriminate against women who use birth control, are pregnant outside of marriage, have had an abortion or are planning to have one. Men will not be fired if they have a child outside of marriage, use a contraceptive such as a condom or support a partner in her choice to get an abortion.
In addition to legalizing discrimination, Greitens wanted to use the special session to reinstate abortion clinic restrictions in place of those struck down by a judge in May. The state is also appealing the ruling. Women’s health organizations brought a lawsuit against the state of Missouri after similar abortion restrictions were cut in Texas, arguing that such regulations burden women seeking abortions. These lawsuits are nothing new for anti-choice legislators.
“If the law is blatantly unconstitutional, it will be challenged,” Dr. Carole Joffe, reproductive rights advocate and sociologist at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California San Francisco, explained. “State legislators can pass anything they want. For example, some states have passed laws saying you can’t have an abortion after you hear a beating heart on a sonogram. That happens at six weeks. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU challenge these laws. When they are blatantly unconstitutional, the laws sometimes get overturned. One way to think about what state legislators are doing is they’re throwing everything against the wall and seeing what will stick.”
A TRAP law—which stands for targeted regulation of abortion providers— requiring state health departments to conduct annual unannounced inspections at abortion facilities passed the House during the special session, inviting officials and extremists alike to harass patients and providers. “That sounds reasonable, but it’s not,” Dr. Joffe said to Ms. “All healthcare facilities need to be inspected by the health department, that’s a no-brainer. With TRAP laws, abortion clinics are treated differently than other parts of the healthcare system… I’ve talked to abortion clinic directors who’ve talked about having unannounced inspections that are very hostile, that disrupt clinic practice, that happen repeatedly… An anti-abortion group will call the state health department and say ‘I heard that such-and-such clinic is doing unsafe abortions!’ They make unfounded announcements, the health department shows up unannounced, and they disrupt things.”
Greiten’s attacks on women’s reproductive health rights are nothing new in Missouri. The state is already among the most restrictive in the U.S. on abortion. Women seeking abortions in Missouri must receive state-directed counseling—which includes the state-sanctioned release of information designed to discourage having an abortion—and then wait 72 hours after that to undergo the procedure. Along with the waiting period rule and a slew of others, Missouri is one of 17 states that bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
According to the Kansas City Star, Missouri state senators were against the governor’s choice to bring lawmakers back into session in the first place; they argued that the bill doesn’t constitute an emergency and shouldn’t have been tackled until the 2018 session begins in January. Meanwhile, the Missouri House reconvened on June 20 to discuss amendments to the abortion restriction bill. More than two dozen amendments were proposed—including two that aimed to create additional inspection requirements of abortion clinics and additional mandatory counseling requirements for women seeking abortions which were approved. The Senate still has to meet and approve of the House amendments, and are back in session now.