WHAT OTHERS SAY: Stop playing politics with women's reproductive health

Thursday, May 15, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Here’s what qualifies as compromise in the Missouri legislature:

Late Monday night, Senate Republicans agreed that they’d temporarily halt their attacks on worker rights, the disabled and minorities as long as Democrats sat down and allowed an unconstitutional attack on women’s reproductive rights instead.

The Democrats, all nine of them, agreed.

Hence what might be the most restrictive abortion-rights law in the country is closer to its ultimate destination: a courtroom battle.

It’s little solace that Republicans pushed aside unconstitutional voter identification restrictions and attempts to weaken unions as a trade. Those issues will be back next year.

Pitting women’s rights against those of union members and minority voters seems like an especially cynical legislative tactic. The fact that it was successful should alarm any voter who doesn’t have access to substantial amounts of money looking for a representative form of government in Missouri.

The anti-abortion bill passed by the Senate extends the waiting period for women seeking abortions to 72 hours. It is currently 24 hours. The bill, HB 1307, now goes back to the House, which has already passed a similar bill.

The impact of this legislation will fall hardest on women with low incomes and those from rural areas, who may not be able to take extra days off work, pay for more child care or afford additional trips to St. Louis, the only place in Missouri where abortions are performed legally.

Those are a couple of the obvious consequences of imposing the extraordinary three-day waiting period on women, most of whom have arrived at their decision after careful thought and consultation with a health care professional.

Despite what some lawmakers say, most women do not arrive at the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually. Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake Saint Louis, couldn’t have insulted women more when this year he compared the decision about continuing a pregnancy to buying a new car or carpet.

There are some less obvious, but undoubtedly more harmful, consequences that will occur. Laws that infringe on women’s rights to access family planning and abortion services have resulted in more unplanned pregnancies, which lead to more abortions, not fewer.

In states that have restrictive waiting periods, a likely result is more abortions occurring later in pregnancies. Later-term abortions are more dangerous to mothers and babies.

Women’s health advocates have argued that these laws will lead to a greater number of unsafe, and possibly illegal abortions, because women will be unable to get access to safe, legal methods.

In trading away these women’s rights, Missouri legislators ignored an overnight protest at the Capitol, where women had been gathering since 2 p.m. Monday for a “Women’s Filibuster” in protest of the bill. The women stayed through the night and vowed to continue their protest for 72 hours.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, urged women to stand up for their rights.

“Once again, legislators are interfering with a personal, private decision made by a woman with her family and her doctor,” Ms. Dalven said. “It’s time for all of us to take out our pink Wendy Davis sneakers and let our elected representatives know that we won’t stand by while they play politics with women’s health.”

Instead of infringing on a woman’s right to make her own family planning decisions, lawmakers should be spending their time working on a Medicaid expansion proposal that studies have shown will save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

Serious statesmen need to put aside their anti-Obama obsession and replace it with an effort to actually serve the people who put them in office.

There are 26 states that have waiting periods for abortions, but only South Dakota and Utah have the extraordinary three-day wait. If this bill becomes law, Missouri will join them.

Don’t let that happen. It’s time to put on the pink sneakers and march on Jefferson City. Don’t let the voices of lobbyists and moneyed interests be the only ones heard in the Show-Me state.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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