The lower house of the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill on Friday to prohibit women from seeking an abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy, days after Alabama enacted the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.
The House of Representatives gave its final legislative approval in a 110-44 vote after protesters were removed from the public gallery. Missouri senators overwhelmingly approved the legislation Thursday.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson is expected to sign the bill into law. He has said he would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”
The bill allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies. On Wednesday, Alabama banned abortions at any time, with the same exception.
Similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other states as Republican-controlled legislatures push to restrict the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies.
Renewed efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, have been emboldened by two judicial appointments by President Donald Trump that have given conservatives a solid majority on the court.
At a time when U.S. rates of abortion have sharply declined, the appointments have put fresh energy into the political struggle between religious conservatives and others who believe fetuses should have rights comparable to those of babies after birth, and those who see such restrictions as an infringement on women’s rights. The re-energized debate coincides with the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential
Abortion-rights activists argue that rolling back 45 years of legal precedent to criminalize abortion would endanger women who seek dangerous illegal abortions.
U.S. abortion-rights activists have vowed to go to court to block enforcement of the Alabama law, which is scheduled to take effect in six months.
The Missouri bill passed the Senate on Thursday in a party-line vote, with 24 Republicans supporting it and 10 Democrats opposed.
In common with the Alabama bill, it would outlaw abortion even in the case of rape or incest and make violations by doctors punishable by prison sentences.
The measure would not make women who seek out the procedure subject to criminal prosecution, although opponents of the statute said it was ambiguous about the criminal liability of a woman accused of inducing her own miscarriage.
The measure also would ban abortions altogether except for medical emergencies should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
As of May, lawmakers have introduced legislation to restrict abortions in at least 16 states this year. Governors in four have signed bills into law banning the procedure if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected, generally considered to be as early as six weeks.
Some Republicans pushing for abortion restrictions acknowledge they are deliberately doing so to instigate court challenges that will ultimately force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade.
The ruling held that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental right to privacy that protects a woman’s right to abortion.
It also allowed states to place restrictions on the procedure from the time a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. The opinion stated that viability is usually placed at about seven months, or 28 weeks, but may occur earlier. (VOA)
Women in ‘The States’ are being strictly held when it comes to abortion. But, now they are finding relief out of the state. At a routine ultrasound when she was five months pregnant, Hevan Lunsford began to panic when the technician took longer than normal, then told her she would need to see a specialist.
Lunsford, a nurse in Alabama, knew it was serious and begged for an appointment the next day.
That’s when the doctor gave her and her husband the heart-wrenching news: The baby boy they decided to name Sebastian was severely underdeveloped and had only half a heart. If he survived, he would need care to ease his pain and several surgeries. He may not live long.
Lunsford, devastated, asked the doctor about ending the pregnancy.
“I felt the only way to guarantee that he would not have any suffering was to go through with the abortion,” she said of that painful decision nearly three years ago.
But the doctor said Alabama law prohibits abortions after five months. He handed Lunsford a piece of paper with information for a clinic in Atlanta, a roughly 180-mile (290-kilometer) drive east.
Lunsford is one of thousands of women in the U.S. who have crossed state lines for an abortion in recent years as states have passed ever stricter laws and as the number of clinics has declined.
Although abortion opponents say the laws are intended to reduce abortions and not send people to other states, at least 276,000 women terminated their pregnancies outside their home states between 2012 and 2017, according to an Associated Press analysis of data collected from state reports and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In New Mexico, the number of women from out of state who had abortions more than doubled in that period, while Missouri women represented nearly half the abortions performed in neighboring Kansas.
“The procedure itself was probably the least traumatic part of it,” Lunsford said. “If it would have been at my hospital, there would have been a feeling like what I was doing was OK and a reasonable choice.”
While abortions across the U.S. are down, the share of women who had abortions out of state rose slightly, by half a percentage point, and certain states had notable increases over the five-year period, according to AP’s analysis.
In pockets of the Midwest, South and Mountain West, the number of women terminating a pregnancy in another state rose considerably, particularly where a lack of clinics means the closest provider is in another state or where less restrictive policies in a neighboring state make it easier and quicker to terminate a pregnancy there.
“In many places, the right to abortion exists on paper, but the ability to access it is almost impossible,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Women’s Health, which operates seven abortion clinics in Maryland, Indiana, Texas, Virginia and Minnesota. “We see people’s access to care depend on their ZIP code.”
Nationwide, women who traveled from other states received at least 44,860 abortions in 2017, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the AP analysis of data from 41 states.
That’s about 10% of all reported procedures that year, but counts from nine states, including highly populated California and Florida, and the District Columbia were not included, either because they were not collected or reported across the full five years.
Thirteen states saw a rise in the number of out-of-state women having abortions between 2012 and 2017.
New Mexico’s share of abortions performed on women from out of state more than doubled, from 11% to roughly 25%. One likely reason is that a clinic in Albuquerque is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that perform abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.
Georgia’s share of abortions performed on out-of-state women rose from 11.5% to 15%. While Georgia has passed restrictive laws, experts and advocates still view it as more accessible than some neighboring states.
In Illinois, the percentage of abortions performed on non-residents more than doubled to 16.5% of all reported state abortions in 2017. That is being driven in large part by women from Missouri, one of six states with only a single abortion provider.
Even that provider, in St. Louis, has been under threat of closing after the state health department refused to renew its license.
Missouri lawmakers also passed a law this year that would ban almost all abortions past eight weeks of a pregnancy, but it faces a legal challenge.
About 10 miles (16 kilometers) from St. Louis, across the Mississippi River, is the Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois, which has seen a 30% increase in patients this year and has added two doctors, deputy director Alison Dreith said.
About 55 percent of its patients come from Missouri, and it also sees women from Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. All those states have mandatory waiting periods to receive an abortion, a requirement Illinois does not have.
Dreith called it a scary time for women in states with highly restrictive laws and few clinics.
“The landscape that we’re seeing today did not happen overnight, and it was not by accident,” she said.
And Illinois isn’t the only place Missouri women are heading for abortions.
In 2017, Missouri women received 47% of all abortions performed in Kansas. That is in large part because the only access to the procedure throughout western Missouri, particularly the greater Kansas City area, is across the state line in Overland Park, Kansas.
Between 2011 and May 31 of this year, 33 states passed 480 laws restricting abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.
In 2019 alone, lawmakers approved 58 restrictions, primarily in the Midwest, Plains and South — almost half of which would ban all, most or some abortions, the group said.
The most high-profile laws, which face legal challenges that could eventually test the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — as early as six weeks.
Advocates say that if the Supreme Court upholds the latest restrictions, it will become more common for women to seek abortions in other states.
“The intent of these lawmakers is to completely outlaw abortion and force people not to have abortions. But in reality, it pushes people farther and wider to access the care they want and need,” said Quita Tinsley, deputy director of Access Reproductive Care Southeast.
ARC Southeast is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a collective of 70 abortion support groups for women in six Southeast states. Some provide money to women to pay for abortions, while others also help with transportation, lodging and child care.
A third of women calling the group’s hotline for help end up traveling out of state for abortions, Tinsley said. Many choose Georgia because it’s convenient to get to and considered slightly less restrictive than some other states in the South.
In Georgia, which has a mandatory waiting period, a woman is not required to come to a clinic twice, as they are in Tennessee. But if Georgia’s new fetal heartbeat law survives a court challenge, it would have one of the earliest state-imposed abortion bans.
That would force many women to go even farther from where they live to terminate their pregnancies.
Increase in New Mexico
Of all states, New Mexico has seen the biggest increase in the number of women coming from elsewhere for an abortion — a 158% jump between 2012 and 2017, according to AP’s analysis.
The New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helps an average of 100 women a year but is on track to assist 200 this year. Some of its 55 volunteers open their homes to women coming from out of state.
Executive director Joan Lamunyon Sanford said her group is doing what faith communities have always done: “Care for the stranger and welcome the traveler.”
Lamunyon Sanford said the need is growing as barriers increase and women are unable to access care where they live.
“They have to figure out so many details and figuring out how they are going to get the funding for everything,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just too much. And then they become parents.”
The coalition helped Beth Vial, who didn’t learn she was pregnant until she was six months along after chronic medical conditions masked her symptoms.
As a 22-year-old college student living in Portland, Oregon, Vial was beyond the point when nearly every abortion clinic in the country would perform the procedure.
Vial’s only option for an abortion was New Mexico, where a volunteer with the New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice drove her to and from the clinic in Albuquerque and brought her meals.
The support she received inspired her to join the board of Northwest Access Abortion Fund, which helps women in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
“To have people I didn’t even know support me in ways that I didn’t even really know I needed at the time was unlike anything I have ever experienced,” said Vial, now 24. “It has encouraged me to give back to my community so other people don’t have to experience that alone.”
Hoping for cultural shift
Abortion opponents say the intent of laws limiting the procedure is not to push women to another state but to build more time for them to consider their options and reduce the overall number of abortions.
“I have been insistent in telling my pro-life colleagues that’s all well and good if the last abortion clinic shuts down, but it’s no victory if women end up driving 10 minutes across the river to Granite City, Illinois, or to Fairview Heights,” said Sam Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri and a longtime anti-abortion lobbyist.
Anti-abortion activists also hope a broader cultural shift eventually makes these issues disappear.
“We are seeing this trend toward life and a realization of what science tells us about when life begins,” said Cole Muzio, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, who advocated successfully for new abortion limits there. “Just because something is legal does not mean that it is good.”