JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri now requires abortion businesses to tell clients that “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
As South Dakota has since 2005, Missouri is legally recognizing that life begins at the moment of conception. The laws are part of a trend recognizing fetuses’ status, rights and ability to feel pain.
Missouri abortion businesses say Senate Bill 793, which became law in mid-August, places 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 law forces women to drive up to 150 miles to Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility, 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.
Showing the Ultrasound
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 law requires that the client sign a release indicating the abortion provider has offered her access to an ultrasound image.
The 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 to pay for abortions.
Another Nebraska law, which bans abortions after 20 weeks because unborn children can feel pain by that age, will go into effect Oct. 15 — unless one of the abortion facilities applies for and secures an injunction.
The concept behind the law is also behind a new bill that was introduced on the federal level. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., introduced the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act Sept. 29, which requires that if a woman seeks an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy the doctor must inform her of the pain the unborn child feels and provide the woman the opportunity to request anesthesia for the child if she goes forward with the abortion.
Johanns, former Secretary of Agriculture under President George W. Bush, said the bill was not about abortion but compassion. “My legislation simply says mothers have a right to be informed and to show compassion by requesting pain medicine for their babies if they do not choose life.”
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.”
Klein said the wording about the beginning of human life was carefully chosen to reflect scientific fact. The whole question of when a human being becomes a person, or, for that matter, has a soul, was left untouched by the legislation, she said.
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 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.