The Missouri legislature passed a bill requiring that women seeking abortions wait 72 hours after receiving counseling regarding the abortion procedure and available alternatives before obtaining the abortion. The bill was originally vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, but the veto was overridden by the Republican-controlled Legislature in September. This “waiting period” was extended from what was previously a 24-hour requirement, making this one of the most stringent “waiting periods” in the country.
II. Legal Background
In Missouri women seeking to obtain abortions are required to receive counseling concerning the abortion procedure and alternatives to the abortion procedure.[i] This is required to take place a certain amount of time before the woman receives the abortion.[ii] In the past, Missouri required there be a 24-hour “waiting period” after the counseling session before the woman could obtain the abortion procedure.[iii] In 2014, however, the Missouri legislature passed House Bills Number 1307 & 1313, which extended the mandatory “wait period” from 24 hours to 72 hours.[iv]
Originally, Senator David Sater of Cassville initiated the 72-hour waiting period proposal after three debates among the Missouri Senate in the prior weeks.[v] The Senate ended up adopting Senate Committee Substitute for House Bills 1307 and 1313. House Bills 1307 and 1313 were introduced to the house by Representatives Kevin Elmer of Nixa and Representative Keith Fredrick of Rolla. The bills were adopted by the majority.
These house bills repealed portions of Section 188.027 and 188.039 of the Missouri Revised Statutes that pertained to “wait period” time requirements. [vi] The bills made no other alterations to the sections, leaving intact requirements such as requiring the physician who is performing the abortion to be a qualified professional, requiring a description of the proposed abortion method, requiring a description of the long term risks of the procedure, and providing an ultrasound to hear the heart beat of the child if one is audible.[vii]
Missouri’s Democratic Governor originally vetoed the bills amending the “waiting period,” and Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, a Democrat from Kansas City, led a filibuster in efforts to prevent the bill from reaching another vote. However, the Missouri Republicans used a rare procedural move to halt the filibuster and force the vote.[viii] The vote passed, overriding Governor Jay Nixon’s veto.
III. Recent Development
The 24-hour requirement had not been previously amended since its enactment.[ix] The 72-hour requirement makes this “waiting period” one of the three most stringent in the country.[x] Although it has yet to be challenged, other abortion laws in Missouri considered as interfering with women’s abortion rights have been held unconstitutional.[xi] In 1979, Missouri’s requirement that abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals was found unconstitutional.[xii]
This 72-hour requirement is one of the three most stringent in the country.[xiii] Utah and South Dakota are the other two states that require a 72-hour waiting period. [xiv] Utah is a little less stringent in its requirements, it makes exceptions for rape or incest, while Missouri and South Dakota do not have such exceptions. [xv] Missouri does, on the other hand, make exceptions for medical emergencies, described in the statute as a situation where the mother’s life or health may be endangered.[xvi]
Those opposed to such a long time requirement believe it is insulting because they believe women have already weighed their options thoroughly before deciding to have an abortion. Some research shows, however, that some waiting periods, after pre-abortion counseling, lowers the number of women who obtain abortions.[xvii] In a study by the Guttmacher Institute,[xviii] there was a 22 percent decrease in women who obtained abortions after a law in Mississippi was passed requiring women to receive counseling and wait for 24-hours before obtaining an abortion.[xix]
There is also an argument that by lengthening the waiting period, women will have to take more than one day off of work in order to travel to the clinic, creating a financial hardship. Proponents argue that abortion clinics are open on the weekends, and that requiring women to take one more day off work, is not overly burdensome compared to what they would otherwise take off work for childbirth or possibly parenthood. Specifically in the state of Missouri, proponents argue that if a woman is against waiting the 72 hours, they can travel to either Kansas or Illinois to have the procedure performed, where there are no 72-hour waiting requirement. Those against the waiting requirement argue a woman shouldn’t have to cross state lines to exercise her reproductive freedom.
Overall, there are many arguments being made by those in favor of the waiting period and those opposed to the waiting period. Planned parenthood has confirmed they will not be challenging the statute. Only time will tell if the statute will be challenged in Missouri as overly burdensome.
- Kristen Wagner
[i] Mo Rev. Stat. § 188.027 (2014).
[iii] John Eligon, Missouri Enacts 72-Hour Wait for Abortion, New York Times, March 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/us/72-hour-wait-for-abortion-is-enacted-in-missouri.html?_r=0
[v] 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion Debated in the General Assembly, Missouri Catholic Conference, March 25, 2015, http://www.mocatholic.org/news/72-hour-waiting-period-for-abortion-debated-in-the-general-assembly/.
[vii] Mo Rev. Stat. § 188.027 (2014).
[viii] Jason Hancock, Missouri Republicans override Governor Jay Nixon’s Veto of 72-hour Abortion Waiting Period, Kansas City Star, March 25, 2015, http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article2048499.html (That last time Republicans cut off debate in the Senate was in 2007 on a pair of bills -- one regarding abortion and another making English the state’s official language).
[x] John Eligon, Missouri Enacts 72-Hour Wait for Abortion, New York Times, March 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/us/72-hour-wait-for-abortion-is-enacted-in-missouri.html?_r=0
[xi] Timeline of Abortion laws and events, Chicago Tribune, March 25, 2014, http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-abortion-timeline-story.html#page=1.
[xiii] John Eligon, Missouri Enacts 72-Hour Wait for Abortion, New York Times, March 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/us/72-hour-wait-for-abortion-is-enacted-in-missouri.html?_r=0
[xvi] 2-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion Debated in the General Assembly, Missouri Catholic Conference, March 25, 2015, http://www.mocatholic.org/news/72-hour-waiting-period-for-abortion-debated-in-the-general-assembly/.
[xvii] Joyce TJ et al., The Impact of State Mandatory Counseling and Waiting Period Laws on Abortion: A Literature Review, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2009.