Missouri Becomes Third State To Impose 72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period

Sep 11, 2014

(Updated 12:15 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 11)

The Missouri General Assembly has made the state the third in the country to require a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion, after the state Senate killed off a filibuster.

The Senate voted 23-7 – along party lines -- to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill, but only after deploying a procedural action that it hadn’t used in seven years to end a Democratic filibuster that had gone on for about two hours.

The last time the procedure – called "moving the previous question’’ – was used was in 2007, when the Senate also was temporarily paralyzed by an abortion bill.  Dubbed a "PQ'' for short, the procedure allows a simply majority of senators to end a filibuster.

The Senate action came several hours after the House had voted 117-44 in favor of the override. The House supporters had included almost all Republicans and nine Democrats.

Both votes reflected the intense passions on both sides of the abortion debate, underscored earlier Wednesday by the two morning rallies that had attracted hundreds of people to the state Capitol.

Credit (via Flickr/Jennifer Boriss)

Opponents have threatened a legal challenge. Missouri now joins South Dakota and Utah, who also have 72-hour-waiting periods. Utah's version has exceptions for rape and incest, while Missouri’s does not.

The debate was particularly intense in the House.

Backers of the longer waiting period said it gave women more time to reflect on a life-or-death decision regarding their pregnancy.  “Every time an abortion is performed, someone dies,’’ said Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge.

Opponents said the longer waiting period was an insult to women and their families, could endanger a woman’s health. “I call it revictimizing women,’’ said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights.

The bill's lack of exceptions for rape or incest was a key reason cited by Nixon in his veto message.  Backers – led by House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka – noted that the state’s current 24-hour waiting period doesn’t include exceptions.

Rally opposing the 72-hour waiting period
Credit Matt Kalish

State Rep. Cathie Conway, R-St. Charles, said, “If they can’t wait, they can go across the river’’ to Illinois, where there is no waiting period.

State Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said that abortion opponents will seek longer waiting periods if the 72-hour measure becomes law. “This is about making abortion unsafe and illegal,’’ he said.

Senate filibuster began early

In the Senate, supporters said little because Democratic critics -- led by Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City -- swiftly took control of the floor.

State Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, echoed his earlier comments at the reproductive-rights rally, where he contended that the longer waiting period will force more women to have surgical abortions because they won't be able to obtain an abortion early enough to do so with medication, which must be taken early in the pregnancy.

Signs at rally in support of 72-hour waiting period
Credit Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio

Afterwards, the bill's chief Senate sp0nsor -- Republican David Sater of Cassville -- said he believed the longer waiting period could persuade some women to continue their pregnancies. "Another 48 hours could very well be the difference between a life saved and a life ended,” he said.

The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis also issued a statement praising the General Assembly's action. The statement said, in part, "The votes on these two bills are a public affirmation that all life matters, even that of the most vulnerable among us... Many women are pressured into having an abortion by friends and family, but the 72 hour reflection period will protect woman as they make a difficult, permanent, and life-changing decision."

The Archdiocese also praised the General Assembly's action to override Nixon's veto of a bill awarding more state tax credits to pregnancy-resource centers, which generally are run by groups that discourage abortions.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri criticized the override as "the latest intrusion of politicians into a woman’s private medical decisions."

ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said,  “This legislation was never about helping women, but instead is a way for some politicians in Jefferson City to pursue their own political agendas. It’s shameful and it risks women’s health.  Despite today’s events, be assured that ACLU of Missouri will stay vigilant in protecting women’s rights to make their own private medical decisions.”