Missouri Lawmakers Just Enacted A 72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period With No Rape Exception

Abortion rights supporters stand on the steps of the Missouri Capitol CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JEFF ROBERSON

Missouri lawmakers voted to override their governor’s veto of a 72-hour abortion waiting period on Wednesday night, ensuring that the stringent abortion restriction will become law in 30 days. Although 24-hour waiting periods are an increasingly popular state-level policy, Missouri becomes just the third state to force women to wait a full three days before being allowed to proceed with an abortion.

Gov. Jay Nixon (D) vetoed the legislation at the beginning of July, saying that the measure was “insulting to women” and “serves no demonstrable purpose other than to create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make.” He also criticized the proposed waiting period for failing to include an exception for victims of rape and incest, potentially forcing those women to deal with additional emotional trauma.

Nonetheless, the GOP-controlled legislature was insistent on passing the bill. When lawmakers returned for a special session this week specifically intended to give them a chance to override Nixon’s previous vetoes, they described enacting the abortion waiting period as one of their top priorities.

Missouri voters have been protesting the proposed restriction for months, saying that it’s demeaning to women to assume they need three days to make up their minds about whether to end a pregnancy. When the measure first came up for consideration, women delayed their testimony against it for 72 hours to make the point that it’s a totally arbitrary amount of time. Then, once the bill started advancing in the legislature, activists held a 72-hour “citizen’s filibuster” to speak out against lawmakers’ attack on women’s reproductive health care. During this week’s vote, protesters rallied on the Capitol steps and flooded into the rotunda to chant pro-choice slogans.

According to a recent Public Policy Polling survey, eight out of ten Missourians are concerned the 72-hour waiting period intrudes on women’s private medical decisions, and most of them agreed with the governor’s decision to veto it.

Missouri has a history of enacting strict restrictions on abortion. Even though the state only has one abortion clinic left, lawmakers have considered more than 30 different anti-abortion bills this session. Planned Parenthood, which operates that clinic, points out that some women have to travel more than 100 miles to get to it. Now that some of them will be required to make that trip twice — once to receive the mandatory “counseling” about the procedure, and a second time to have the actual abortion three days later — it could be too costly and time-consuming for the women who can’t afford to take time away from their jobs and their families.

Utah and South Dakota are the only other states that currently have 72-hour waiting periods for abortion. Unlike Missouri, Utah allows victims of rape and incest to bypass the wait. South Dakota’s law, meanwhile, is even more stringent than Missouri’s because it doesn’t include weekends or holidays, potentially extending the wait even longer than three days.

Missouri, which has one of the worst rates of gun crime in the country, does not impose a waiting period before residents are allowed to purchase firearms. That’s typical of many of the states that have imposed harsh restrictions on abortion. Across the nation, there are more waiting periods to have an abortion than there are to get a gun.