With a new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court and Republicans dominating many state legislatures and government mansions, it was only a matter of time before conservative states began passing new abortion restrictions so severe that they would face challenges all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would then have an opportunity to uphold those severe restrictions. Alabama and – most alarmingly to us – Missouri have stepped forth as the first battleground states. Missouri’s unelected Republican Governor Mike Parson has signed a bill restricting abortion to the first two months of pregnancy and establishing criminal penalties for physicians who perform an abortion in Missouri after eight weeks. Stunningly – even one of the state’s largest investors in the Republican Party sounded the alarm in a press statement – the restrictions have no exemptions for women who get pregnant from incest or rape by someone who is not a family member.
At the same time, state government has the governor’s support as it presses forward with licensing restrictions so severe that they would put out of business the only facility in the state that currently provides the service of abortion, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis. If this happens, as it may on Friday without a restraining order from a court, then Missouri would become the only state in the nation where a woman could not have a safe, legal abortion.
It’s essential that we remember that we are only talking about access to safe and legal abortions in Missouri. If Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is forced to stop offering abortions, then only women with financial means could travel to other states, and in a short time we could expect to see abortions performed illegally and less safely here in Missouri. Even if the United States were to criminalize abortion nationwide – which is the goal of the political party currently in power in the federal executive and judicial branches as well as the most powerful chamber of the Congress – then American women of means could travel abroad to get abortions. Although abortion restrictions infringe on the right of all women to make the proper health care decisions with their doctors and to exercise control of their own bodies, lower-income women will suffer the most from these restrictions. In Missouri and St. Louis, that means many African-American women will suffer the worst.
Like the governor, the overwhelming number of legislators who passed this measure are white men, and as men they may or may not be aware that it’s highly possible for a woman to detect she is pregnant for the first time later than eight weeks. This is especially true for women who receive less regular health care, which tends to be more true of lower-income women and again, many African-American women. As men, Parson and the Republican men leading the state legislature are highly less likely to be raped, including by a family member, and entirely incapable of growing new life within their own bodies. It’s impossible for them to know what it is like to grow new life within their own bodies due to a violent violation of their body and will. For these men to have enacted these severe restrictions on abortion without exemptions for victims of incest and other forms of rape is itself a cruel act of violence against women.
The horrible fact we must face is that this battle is only beginning, and it is beginning here, in Missouri. Missouri Republicans have decided that Missouri will be a battleground state in their party’s war against the right to safe and legal abortion for all women – which is a war against women. Republicans in Missouri have chosen to align our state with Alabama in leading the war against women, in particularly low-income women (who will suffer the most from these restrictions), and that means many African-American women. This means the procedure will be available only to the upper class. The only reasonable response from all people of conscience is to accept this declaration of war for what it is and to enter the battle – or renew our efforts in the ongoing battle – and defend the rights, wellbeing and lives of women.