ST. LOUIS – Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case, sought to make abortion legal, safe, and accessible, but 41 years later attacks on reproductive health care are still going strong.
After a tumultuous legal battle in Texas, a pregnant, brain-dead woman was taken off of a ventilator on Jan. 26. The woman, Marlise Muñoz, had been found unconscious by her husband and later pronounced brain-dead by doctors. Despite the pleas of Muñoz’s family to remove her from life support, the Fort Worth hospital kept her on a ventilator for a lengthy two months.
Hospital officials claimed that state law required them to maintain life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant patient. Her family’s wishes were finally granted when a judge in Fort Worth ordered the hospital to remove Muñoz from life support.
Also in January, the Population Institute released its annual report card on reproductive health care in the U.S., and the results were bleak. Thirteen states, including Texas, received an “F,” and the report gave the U.S. a “C-” overall.
Another “F”-rated state, Missouri, is facing potential legislation that would limit women’s access to reproductive health care. HB 1307 and HB 1313 propose that a woman should have to wait 72 hours after receiving an ultrasound in order to have access to an abortion. Currently, Missouri has a 24-hour waiting period. In a state with 6 million people and only one abortion clinic, the threat to accessibility is tangible. The remaining clinic that still provides surgical abortions is located in St. Louis City, a county which 73 percent of Missouri women do not live in. This means that the majority of Missouri women seeking abortions have to travel and stay in St. Louis overnight in order to have access to the procedure – a costly inconvenience that could grow if the mandatory waiting period were to be extended.
Courtney Cole, executive director of the Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, explains that such legislation is used as a political tactic. “This is a strategy that the Republicans in Missouri use to attack women’s rights in order to secure their base prior to election in the fall. Instead they should be focusing their attention on expanding Medicaid so that women have access to health resources they need while pregnant,” she said.
Although anti-choice legislators are entering 2014 with guns blazing, Missouri reproductive rights advocates and activists aren’t backing down. In a move that went viral, University of Missouri graduate student Dina van der Zalm told lawmakers that she would like to testify against the bill, but would need to wait 72 hours to do so, a strategy that quickly caught on with other reproductive rights advocates in the room. This approach drummed up additional support when activists started the hashtag #wait72hours on Twitter.
HB 1307 was endorsed by the Missouri House Health Care Policy Committee last Wednesday, and will head to the House Rules Committee for further consideration.
Photo: A demonstration around the time of the Roe v. Wade ruling.