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Extend abortion waiting period to 72 hours? Mo. committee likes that idea

Extend abortion waiting period to 72 hours? Mo. committee likes that idea

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JEFFERSON CITY   •   Legislation to extend the waiting period before an abortion by two days drew support from several representatives during a hearing 41 years after the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, said the legislation merely extended the waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours. Committee chair Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, introduced an identical bill. An orthopedic surgeon, he compared the additional time to allowing his patients to consider getting a knee replacement.

“Very seldom do we make the decision to have the surgery right there, that day,” Frederick said. “It strikes me that the decision to undergo an abortion is at least as important and impactful to a person’s life as a knee replacement.”

Some abortion rights supporter said they’d return to testify to the committee after 72 hours, to show they’d thought through their decision to oppose it. Dina van der Zlam, a Columbia resident and University of Missouri graduate student, said was lucky to have the resources and understanding of colleagues to be able to return Monday to talk to the committee.

“I see this bill as an abuse of legislative power,” she said. “It just seeks to push a woman further into her pregnancy and add additional logistic barriers.”

Currently, a woman must wait 24 hours after receiving an ultrasound and a range of information about the procedure and alternatives, before obtaining an abortion.

Democratic members of the committee questioned the additional waiting period. Rep. Sharon Pace, D-Northwoods, asked the sponsors if they’d surveyed any women who’ve had an abortion about this issue. She said the procedure was very different from anything like a knee replacement.

“You know when you’re pregnant, so 24 hours is not the only amount of time you have to think about this,” Pace said. “You’re considering this on an ongoing basis.”

But Jenny Slawson, a volunteer at the Pregnancy Help Center in Jefferson City, said women are often extremely emotional when they find out about a “crisis pregnancy.”

“They are not thinking rationally and I think it would very much benefit these women to have a little bit of extra time,” Slawson said. “48 additional hours can mean a tremendous difference.”

Adding to the current 24 hour waiting period would make Missouri have one of the longest waiting periods in the country. While 26 states require a waiting period before an abortion procedure, only Utah and South Dakota have a 72 hour waiting period.

The bills include language Elmer said is intended to ensure that, if the 72 hour period is challenged in court and struck down, the 24 hours remains in place.

Joe Ortwerth, executive director of Missouri Family Policy Council, said the decision to have an abortion was an important one and that the Supreme Court has previously ruled that the government can require a waiting period.

“The decision to choose an abortion is more than a philosophical discussion,” Ortwerth said. “The state may take measures to ensure the woman’s choice is informed.”

Pamela Sumners, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said the law doesn't consider the difficulties a woman might have in getting to the abortion provider or what stage in her pregnancy she’s at. She said the additional time would likely not affect the decision.

“Women have the moral agency to make decisions, they have the rational ability to make a decision,” Sumners said. “Benevolent paternalism is still paternalism.”

Other bills related to abortion introduced this session include a requirement that a woman view the ultrasound (currently a physician must offer the opportunity), additional inspections for abortion providers and limiting the exceptions for a woman’s mental health.

The committee also completed a hearing on a bill to require both parents be notified if a minor seeks an abortion. No action was taken on the bills.

Marie French is a reporter in the Jefferson City bureau. You can follow her on Twitter @mre545.

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