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Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts. Until Frankie got pregnant–by another man. Johnny told her that he wasn’t raising another man’s brat. He was big about it, though, and said that if she would get an abortion, all would be forgiven. Otherwise, she could move out, since the lease was in his name.

You might think Johnny was a fool to forgive Frankie, but some of our Missouri legislators take a dimmer view of his reaction. As far as they’re concerned, off to jail with him for advising, nay “coercing”, baby murder. He would have–under a bill now being considered in both houses of our legislature–committed a Class A misdemeanor or a Class C Felony, depending on the sentencing judge’s appraisal of the situation.

Admittedly, this scenario is an extreme example of how a proposed law might be applied, but even milder examples I could imagine would, like the example of Johnny, violate a man’s first amendment right to free speech. S.B. 1058 and H.B. 1831 create the the crime of “knowingly coercing a woman to seek or obtain an abortion.”  

The summary of the bills begins with offenses that are offenses, like abusing or stalking a woman for not getting an abortion. Fine. But then it moves right along to making a man a criminal if he files for divorce or even threatens to. Hold on. You’d think the bills’ sponsors were fresh off the boat from Russia, they’re so cavalier about ignoring the First Amendment. Jailing a man for coercing abortion because he threatened to get legal advice about obtaining a divorce, that’s out there. He hasn’t committed a crime. He’s just talked. Maybe he’s a jerk for talking that way, maybe not. But a criminal? The law can’t force a man to get married, and it can’t force him to stay that way. Pamela Sumners of Naral notes that:

Section 565.310.1 purports to throw a man in jail for being a cad, or even for being cuckolded, or perhaps because he simply does not want a child in his home even if a court later determined he had an obligation to pay for that child’s support. A woman has the right to choose not to be a mother within well-established parameters of law. A man cannot be thrown in jail or fined because he wants a divorce or change in domestic arrangements upon learning of an impending birth.

And the bill takes these absurd strictures further  by threatening doctors: a physician who performs an abortion knowing that the woman had any such pressures put on her can also go to jail. These bills would make it a Class C felony to perform an abortion after someone else talked trash.

The bills’ sponsors think they can tell people what they may not say and also what they must say. They specify that the doctor must tell each patient the risks of an abortion (enter junk science) and must describe “the physiological characteristics of an unborn child at two-week gestational increments.” Furthermore “the act requires the physician to discuss the medical assistance and counseling resources available, advise the woman of the father’s liability for child support, and provide information about the Alternatives to Abortion Program.”

All this must be done at least 24 hours in advance, thus requiring women who don’t live in St. Louis, Kansas City, or Columbia to be gone from home for two days instead of one. That’s an extra day away from work, perhaps. It’s a motel bill. Those minor inconveniences can be difficult hurdles for poor women.

Sumners calls the bills a “civil liberties minefield.” (If you’re interested, you can read her legal analysis of the bill.) So the chances of this holding up in court are slim to none. In fact, one legislator told lobbyist Mary Mosley that it’s a terrible bill, but he might as well vote for it because it will never get past a judge anyway. Some idealist, that guy.

Since the bills aren’t likely to pass constitutional muster, the aim is probably to keep NARAL and Planned Parenthood chasing their tails in court. So it’s important to keep such ludicrous bills from becoming law. Since the senate is taking up the bill first, why not call your senator? Here’s a list of senate phone numbers.

Taking a longer view of the problem, we need to take control at least of the House (eleven seats!) this fall so that such nonsense doesn’t make it to the floor for a vote.