Forcing us to wait: WU and the Missouri abortion law
After months of heated debate, veto threats, bill passages, and a veto, the Missouri state legislature has overridden Governor Holden and made into law a bill requiring a twenty-four hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Put simply, having an abortion has suddenly become substantially more difficult. Doing so will now require two trips to the clinic: two trips past the heckling protestors and their poster-size sonograms, two days off work or school that some may feel uncomfortable justifying, and two bus fares or a hotel stay for those of us in Missouri who do not live in close proximity to one of the state’s three abortion providers. As residents of Missouri directly impacted by this legislative override, we should not only be concerned, but also outraged.
In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the states are permitted to pass legislation that interferes with the process of getting an abortion provided that the mechanism does not constitute an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to do so. In reality, waiting periods-and the initial consultation that begins the twenty-four hour countdown-have proven to be concentrated efforts to dissuade women from having abortions. A case in point: Pam Manning, president of Missouri Right to Life, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she believes the law “requires doctors to tell women about studies that may indicate abortion could increase the incidence of miscarriage, breast cancer and premature birth”-”may” being most decidedly the operative word here.
It is reasonable to expect that any woman who has arrived at the doors of an abortion clinic has undergone a serious and perhaps very difficult decision-making process. Missouri’s new law effectively invalidates her journey; instead, it implies that a day’s consideration of thinly veiled propaganda should convince her of her wrongdoing. A state should not be in the business of exporting morality, nor should it be in the business of conferring guilt.
Missouri’s new waiting period is harsh and without exception. Particularly notable-and horrifying-are the absences of exceptions in the cases of rape or incest. Forcing a woman to endure twenty-four hours of waiting after she has already experienced the indescribable pain not only of being raped or abused, but also of becoming pregnant as a result, is not only inconceivably disgusting, it is wrong, and it is inherently a burden that is wholly undue.
Washington University Student Health and Counseling has been unsurprisingly silent, voicing no form of public response to this appalling contravention of justice. On our campus, abortion is treated as a right that we must protect for others, but it is never directly discussed as an occurrence that we may experience-many students do. Students for Choice, for example, deserves our sincere appreciation for sending volunteer escorts to abortion clinics every week. Student Health, on the other hand, deserves our serious disapproval for failing to mention even the word “abortion” anywhere on its Web site-it is only buried in our insurance brochure to let us know that an elective abortion will not be covered under any circumstances. Health Services provides neither a support structure nor a bit of information for those women making the decision. In contrast, the University of Illinois’ student medical insurance covers 80 percent of either surgical or medical abortion. At Yale University, mifepristone (the abortion pill) is available at the University’s health clinic, which, unlike most universities’ facilities, meets the FDA requirements to dispense the drug.
Both in light of the new law and in order to rectify a previous wrongdoing, Student Health and Counseling should make a pronounced shift away from a policy of public silence on abortion. A student faced with what can be one of life’s most difficult decisions should not be made to feel any more alone by her university. Instead, she should have the opportunity to receive compassion and information to make an objective decision if she so chooses. Counseling Services may do an exceptional job in providing such a service, but without publicizing this, its potential efficacy becomes useless. The new law creates a serious obstacle for a student seeking an abortion to overcome. At the very least, she should be able to feel comfortable turning to her university for help in doing so.
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