Missouri Legislature Overrides Governor, Brings Back 72 Hour Wait Prior to Abortion

In the wee hours of the morning, the Missouri legislature voted with a three fourths majority in the House and Senate to override the Governor’s veto of a 72 hour waiting period between an initial doctor’s visit and obtaining a pregnancy termination. The waiting period provides no exceptions if the person seeking the abortion became pregnant as a result of sexual assault, unlike a similar waiting period in Utah.

South Dakota is the only other state besides the two to have a waiting period of three or more days.

The Missouri legislature returned for a one day veto override session with the explicit intention of overturning the Governor’s override, declaring that the addition of two more days to the state’s already existing wait period law would give pregnant people more time to “reflect” on their decisions, potentially choosing not to go through with the procedure.

Speaking prior to the session at a local crisis pregnancy center fundraiser, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said, “My colleagues and I believe that waiting 72 hours is not an excessive burden when you are considering a decision or whether or not to bring a life into this world, or to extinguish that flame.”

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation when it first hit his desk in part due to its lack of exceptions for those who had become pregnant through sexual assault, saying that the requirement prolonged an already traumatic personal event. As legislators prepared to override, anti-abortion activists who campaign against allowing rape exceptions in abortion bans gathered their own forces to pressure lawmakers. Their message? Forcing sexual assault survivors to remain pregnant three days longer than they choose to be isn’t that bad.

“For those of us who were conceived in rape, are mothers from rape, birthmothers from rape, or post-abortive from rape, his statements are extremely disconcerting,” stated Rebecca Kiessling, who leads “Save the 1.” “It presumes that a child ‘prolongs the suffering’ of rape survivors and that the child is actually jeopardizing her health and wellbeing, when this simply is not the case.”

Although the veto was overridden by massive majorities in both the House and Senate, the votes themselves weren’t without their own controversy. Senate Democrats were successfully filibustering the bill in their own chambers when a procedural action was deployed to force them to step down and allow a vote. According to St. Louis Public Radio, this was the first time the action, called “moving the previous question,” had been used in seven years.

That last time, the legislature was debating abortion restrictions as well.

The 72 hour wait will go into effect in 30 days, unless it is challenged in the courts by the only clinic in the state, a Planned Parenthood based in St. Louis, Mo. If it is enforced, there is a strong possibility that it could massively decrease, if not all together, end legal abortion in the state. As I wrote in December of 2013, a 72 hour wait could eventually shut down the only provider in the state as pregnant people decide it would be easier to make the trip just across the river to the nearest clinic in Illinois, which is only about 30 minutes further away. There, they would be able to have their first appointment and procedure on the same day, eliminating the need for two trips.

Local reproductive and civil rights advocates are saddened, but, even more alarmingly, not terribly shocked by the legislature’s disregard for the bodily autonomy of those in the state.

“Today’s vote is just another example of our elected officials playing politics with the lives of women and their families,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said via press statement. “Missourians have made it clear: They’ve had enough of extreme politicians interfering in personal, private medical decisions, and they don’t support this law.”