JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri has passed into law an informed-consent amendment requiring abortion clinics to tell clients that “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
As has South Dakota since 2005, Missouri is legally recognizing that life begins at the moment of conception.
The information must be provided in person to a woman seeking an abortion — and 24 hours prior to the procedure.
It’s one more step in an incremental approach by state pro-life groups that has been chipping away since the 1980s at the blanket approval given abortion by Roe v. Wade.
Missouri abortion providers are already calling Senate Bill 793, which became law in mid-August, an unfair burden on many women, but they know a court fight would be futile.
“It’s really a cookie-cutter law that has passed in other states and been approved by the courts. We do not have a litigation road to follow,” admitted Paula Gianino, CEO of Planned Parenthood St. Louis.
Gianino says the amendment forces women to drive up to 150 miles to Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic, to be given information about the abortion in person, and then wait another 24 hours before getting the “operation.”
“Its only purpose is to make it harder for them, by costing them more money, and keeping them longer away from their jobs and families,” she said.
The bill’s backers readily admit their goal is to reduce the number of abortions done in Missouri, not by making them harder to get, but by ensuring the mother gives the decision due consideration.
The requirement that the woman be present at the clinic to give her informed consent, says Susan Klein of Missouri Right to Life, is there for a good reason: “We want to give her a chance to see the ultrasound of her baby beforehand.”
The new law also requires that the client sign a release indicating the abortion provider has offered her access to an ultrasound image.
These new conditions were all borrowed from a Nebraska informed-consent law passed in 2005 that survived a court challenge three years later.
But Missouri has upped the ante on Nebraska, says Klein. “We’ve added a clause stating that no abortions can be funded by the federal medical health-insurance plan,” she said. It’s the fifth state — after Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee — to make use of the option provided in the new federal plan that lets states prohibit the plan from paying for abortions.
Klein says her legislative team watches other states closely to see what gets passed and what gets okayed by the courts.
Showing the Ultrasound
The next step for Missouri, says Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislative affairs for National Right to Life, might be to amend the law to require the abortion clinic not only to offer the woman the opportunity to see an ultrasound but to actually have the ultrasound screen turned towards the woman when the offer is made. This is the key element of an amendment the Oklahoma Legislature is considering.
“Right now, the abortion clinic lets the mother know she can view the ultrasound image in a single sentence buried among 600 other sentences.”
Balch says abortion clinics try very hard not to show the ultrasound image to pregnant clients.
She says the Oklahoma bill is one of two that National Right to Life — and state pro-life groups — are watching closely. The other is Nebraska’s so-called “pain” law, which will go into effect Oct. 15 — unless one of the abortion clinics applies for and secures an injunction.
“We really don’t know what they are going to do,” said Klein. “They are giving nothing away.”
The Nebraska bill (See “A Bulletproof Abortion Ban?,” April 23) bans abortions after 20 weeks because unborn children can feel pain by that age.
Planned Parenthood is characterizing the Missouri law as being religiously motivated. Paula Gianino says that the reference to human life beginning at conception is “information that is not believed by every faith and is not a medically factual statement.”
On the other hand, she said, “Planned Parenthood has absolutely no problem with the idea of informed consent and with providing the woman complete information about the alternatives to abortion and medical risks.”
Asked when Planned Parenthood believes human life begins, she responded: “That is a religious and ethical question. Planned Parenthood is not a religious organization. It does, however, serve more than 4 million women, men and children of all faiths each year [in Missouri]. And it provides referrals to clergy in many faiths when women request that.”
Klein says the wording about the beginning of human life was carefully chosen to reflect scientific fact. The whole question of whether a human being becomes a person, or, for that matter, has a soul, was left untouched by the legislation, she says.
Said Father Thomas Berg, director of The Westchester Institute for Ethics & the Human Person, “The first question is biological, and I understand laws like Missouri’s are founded wholly and rightly on biology. Life does begin at conception, whether that happens the old-fashioned way or in a petri dish. There is a living, breathing organism that is a member of the human species and not of any other species at the moment of the union of the human sperm and the human egg. There’s no biological question, and one can base a law on that.”
“Laws like the law in Missouri,” he said, “are just stating what any honest biologist or honest embryologist would tell you today.”
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.