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Another session, another bid to ban abortion in Missouri

“Would you accompany me, Missouri legislator whom I don’t know, to my OB-GYN’s office?” no woman in our state has ever asked.

In all of my reproductive care appointments since I was 18 years old, from contraception and family planning, from well-woman exams, cancer screenings and treatment, through pregnancy and delivery to hormonal menopause care, I never once thought to ask a legislator’s opinion. I guarantee no other woman has, either, unless it involved their legislative spouse or partner.

Yet last week, new Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr tweeted: “Missouri is not New York or Virginia. That’s why today, I am referring 8 pro-life bills to committee. Bills that create new protections for our most innocent. In Missouri, we stand for the born and we stand for the unborn.”

Haahr, R-Springfield, neglected to mention that he is not an OB-GYN, nor is anyone else in the Legislature. He is a workers’ compensation lawyer in Springfield and has had no medical training.

The bills referred include HB126, which would ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat were detected (ruled unconstitutional in other states); HB127, which would require both guardian parents be notified of a minor’s abortion regardless of abuse, incest or physical danger; and HB282, which would require out of state abortion referrals be accompanied by medically inaccurate information.

Additional bills referred to the Children & Families Committee are HB339 and HB680, which assert fetal pain capability; HB431, which would prohibit minors from seeking an out-of-state abortion without state consent; HB540, which would require medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers; HB488, referencing fetal death reports; and HB420, which would loosen alternatives to abortion regulations.

These Missouri proposals, adamantly opposed by national and state medical organizations, are among a number of growing anti-abortion bills filed in conservatively controlled states every year, many designed to revisit Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court. Physicians, OB-GYN residents, medical students and patients testify each year in Jefferson City against similar legislation while the majority of Republicans ignore and discount their expertise.

Haahr and his colleagues failed to confer with real women about reproductive reality, especially their wives, sisters and mothers. If so, they would have learned that wanted pregnancies often have severe fatal diagnoses, even in third trimesters, and that vital miscarriage management includes medical abortion.

Haahr and his team also failed to consult credible medical professionals. A prominent health care advocate, Dr. Colleen McNicholas, responded online to HB126: “What is a heartbeat detection device? Asking since I’m only an OB-GYN and don’t understand your medical jargon.”

Missouri women of every race, religion, political party, and economic and marital status in every county depend on access to abortion and contraception. Married GOP Christian women, including wives and girlfriends of legislators, and even abortion clinic protestors, have abortions and use birth control for a myriad of private reasons. They rely on and trust abortion providers who treat them ethically, legally and safely, without judgment. 

Rural women, particularly those of color or in poverty who have less access to health care than those in urban/suburban zip codes, also depend on managing their reproduction, which determines their future paths, academically, economically and socially – the same as women everywhere.  

As a Jewish former legislator who took the lead in the Missouri House for nine years in protecting reproductive rights, I know the evangelical anti-abortion talking points well. Diverse faith leaders and I reminded legislators that numerous religions support and value women’s reproductive autonomy, including Reform Judaism. A Christian anti-abortion belief that women are inferior to a fetus and ignores medical science has no place in government.

The real world conflicts every day with their agenda. One in four women will have an abortion before age 45,  including Republican, religious, conservative women and women who routinely oppose abortion in polls or at the ballot box.

According to a study released in 2013 by the National Center for Health Statistics, 99 percent of women in childbearing years have used at least one type of contraceptive method at some point in their life. The Pew Research Center reports that 58 percent of voters say abortion must remain legal in all or most cases. Most of us love a family member or friend who has had an abortion;  you just may not know about it. In complicity and hypocrisy, Missouri GOP female legislators vote lockstep with their male colleagues every year to restrict the identical reproductive care they use.

Before male legislators decided to legislate women’s bodies, abortion was legal and commonplace in the United States. In the 1850s, it was used as a political tool to drive midwives out of business and then to court right-wing zealots in order to win elections. Today, anti-abortion restrictions are used to sway evangelical men who believe in junk science (until they themselves become ill) and who, even though they will never become pregnant, believe they know best for all women.

Missouri anti-medicine fanatics are calculating that their anti-abortion agenda will keep them in power. Government-mandated pregnancy is their goal.  

However, they have seriously misjudged the collective power and fury of women in the real world, including the medical community.

From 2009 until Jan. 9, 2019, Stacey Newman served as Missouri state representative of the 87th District, which includes Clayton and parts of Brentwood, Ladue, Richmond Heights and University City.