Nearly 15 years ago, as a native of northeastern Kansas, I moved across the state line to Kansas City, Missouri.
My progressive ideals seemed to seldom register amongst the massive and consistent wave of Kansas conservatives, so I was thrilled at the prospect of voting in a place where my voice could positively contribute to politics—but within weeks of taking up residence in Missouri, my fellow citizens passed an amendment to the state’s constitution limiting the definition of marriage to only heterosexual couples.
In the weeks and years to come, I would witness a slew of anti-feminist policies emerge from my new state’s Capitol.
I have watched Missouri’s Republican-led General Assembly repeatedly slash social programs meant to provide healthcare, food and housing assistance to our state’s most vulnerable populations. I have watched them cut budgets for education and work fastidiously to close and attempt to close healthcare clinics that serve citizens who would otherwise lack access to medical providers. Most recently, I watched in horror as state lawmakers voted to pass the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act.
HB 126 bans abortion at eight weeks and criminalizes providers, threatening doctors who perform abortion care with felony charges and negation of their medical licenses.
There are exceptions in the law for life-threatening emergencies, but none for survivors of rape or incest. Republican House member Barry Hovis defended its stringency with a claim that has since gone viral: “most [rapes] were date rapes or consensual rapes.”
The former police officer from Cape Girardeau also acknowledged his own ignorance about the issue of sexual violence while digging in his heels. “Let’s just say someone is sexually assaulted,” he said from the floor. “They have eight weeks to make a decision. I’ve never really studied it, but I’ve heard of the morning-after pill, where if someone feels they’ve been sexually assaulted, they could go do that. It gives them ample time in that eight weeks to make those exclusions. Which I may not be comfortable with, but it does give those people that exclusion.”
As one of “those people” who has experienced a non-consensual sexual encounter—while on a date, no less—I can assure Rep. Hovis that each and every occurrence of rape and sexual assault carries with it life-altering pain, undue embarrassment and shame, and a sense of fear which never quite leaves you. Even at one’s healthiest, these emotions perpetually inform the way a rape survivor navigates the world.
For Rep. Hovis to challenge the severity and impact of rape based upon a rapist’s previous relationship to the survivor, and to ignore the epidemic-level of sexual violence in America is short-sided and obtuse at best. At worst, it is a blatant example of the General Assembly’s deep ignorance in the creation of a law which sentences the victims of rape and incest to cruel and unusual punishment, as a result of their surviving one of the most heinous acts that can be perpetrated against any human being by another.
While the language of HB 126 declares that Missouri is a “sanctuary of life” for “pregnant women and their unborn children,” this law is not about respecting life, as Governor Mike Parson would have us believe. There is no respect, nor even a modicum of consideration, for women built into this act. It is, rather, the forcible application of personal beliefs by a majority white, male, Christian polity, which overreaches into the lives and bodies of women.
The outcomes of restrictive abortion bans have been studied and proven detrimental to women and children. People of color are disproportionately impacted, while poorer health outcomes occur for all women, putting pregnant women in particular danger.
With the passage of this legislation Missouri Republicans have made clear their position: they believe women are second-class citizens over whose bodies rapists and government officials should have greater control than we ourselves, and that the resulting children are valued little beyond their time spent in utero.
As a result, I find it unconscionable that a government at any level—particularly one led by a party that espouses its strong preference for small government and claims repulsion at excessive regulation—would force pregnancy onto any woman. Yet, I can think of no other action which so profoundly contradicts this principle more than denying the individual the right to make her own healthcare decisions—ones which will determine the entire course of her life thereafter.
Missouri’s General Assembly has spent years demolishing social support programs—leaving women, families and future fetuses with a staggeringly insufficient amount of resources. Politicians who call themselves “pro-life” should consider redirecting a significant amount of tax dollars to social programs with support for infants, mothers and families; healthcare and medical necessities; strengthening our state’s pre-K and public education systems; and drastically improving the foster care system. They should be honest about their position of concern—which extends only through gestational development and ends with the birth of a living, breathing child.