On Wednesday the Missouri State Legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a controversial abortion law that will make Missouri the third state to require a 72-hour wait for anyone seeking the procedure. This is an update of a 2003 law that required a mandatory 24-hour delay.
A woman who wants to get an abortion in Missouri will have to get “counseling” from either the physician who is going to perform the procedure or a “qualified professional”—nurse, social worker, or psychologist—and then sit tight for three days.
There is only one abortion clinic in the entire state, in St. Louis, and some have suggested that having to drive to a clinic more than once or possibly stay in a hotel because of longer wait times might send people seeking abortions to Illinois. This would effectively turn Missouri into an “abortion-free state.”
The law—which makes an exception for a medical emergency but not for rape—also specifies that abortion providers or counselors must tell a woman about the medical and psychological risks of abortion, abortion alternatives, fetal pain, and the “anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at the time the abortion is to be performed or induced.” She must also be given color photos of developing fetuses and printed material that prominently states, “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
Then she waits, and when she goes in for her abortion she has to bring a checklist with her that describes all the information she’s been given.
In 2012, Utah was the first state to mandate a 72-hour waiting period. As in Missouri, the stated objective of the law was to encourage women to make a thoughtful choice. But many providers argue that women seeking abortion already do their research.
“Women think a lot about whether they want to terminate their pregnancy before they come in for the consent,” said Heather Stringfellow, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. “Many have decided what they want to do, and we haven’t seen a big change in outcome.”
While a woman in Utah can technically go to any provider to get counseling, the reality, according to Stringfellow, is that most physicians and providers don’t know the particular terms of informed consent or even have the correct forms. If an abortion provider performs the procedure without the appropriate paperwork showing informed consent, that provider would be “criminally liable,” Stringfellow said.
South Dakota has had a 72-hour law since 2013. Jennifer Aulwes, the communications director at Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said that she talked with one woman who drove nine hours, alone, to the closest clinic in Sioux City, S.D., stayed in a hotel for three nights, and then had to make the nine-hour drive back home the day after her procedure.
“As a provider, we don’t want our patients to have to go through that, but they do,” Aulwes said. “What we’ve learned is that whatever laws politicians enact in each state, women who need a safe and legal abortion will find a way to get one.”
The South Dakota law is particularly severe because the 72-hour period can’t include holidays and weekends, so women could have to wait as long as a week for the procedure.
Like a lot of restrictive antiabortion legislation, these waiting periods seem like no big deal until you consider the consequences for low-income and otherwise vulnerable women.
When he tried to veto the Missouri bill last July, Nixon said it was “insulting to women.” Increasing the 24-hour waiting period to 72 hours would “create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make,” the governor argued.
This appears to have been the point.
“Another 48 hours could very well be the difference between a life saved and a life ended,” state Sen. David Sater, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill, told the Kansas City Star. Sater's campaign materials boast of his “100 percent pro-life record.”