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Two weeks ago, of course, nobody knew that this year’s anti-abortion joke of a bill would get shot down in the House. So last week, pro-choice senators had to be thinking, some option that was they were being offered: agree to a law that forces medical professionals to lie to patients seeking abortions or stand by and watch a much worse law passed.

And by “much worse law”, I’m not even referring to that godawful grotesquerie the House sent over containing a provision making it a felony to coerce a woman to have an abortion. As I’ve pointed out before:

When “Honey, I think you should have an abortion” becomes a felony, we might as well move to Afghanistan.

Republican senators, being, on the whole, less wild eyed than their House counterparts, knew that the “Freedom of speech? We don’t need no stinkin’ freedom of speech” coercion provision wasn’t going to fly. They’d have needed 18 votes to move the previous question (that is, force a vote) and shove it by the Democrats. But even with 23 Rs to 11 Ds in the Senate, the votes weren’t there.

So Democrats in the Senate knew the coercion provision was off the table. Even if it hadn’t faced a Nixon veto, the Supreme Court would have deep sixed it. No, the choice Democrats faced was between two bills that both required:

  • that a woman seeking an abortion come in on two separate days, first to be informed of the risks and then to receive the abortion
  • that professionals working in abortion clinics lie to patients about the possible effects of abortion.

Both bills required that women be warned they would face certain psychological consequences, but that information is based on junk science. True, the claims were printed in reputable journals, but that doesn’t make them credible:

The articles, filled with ersatz science, are indeed printed in respected journals. That’s because such journals take a few articles on controversial topics, knowing that the peer review process will reveal them to be full of holes. It’s a process of separating the wheat from the chaff. The Elliot Institute [an anti-abortion group] lies, in effect, when it pretends its claims are wheat, not chaff.

You might think that such discredited information could be successfully challenged in court, but you would be wrong. Senator Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Senator Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, were in touch with litigators at the national offices of Planned Parenthood and NARAL, who told them that such provisions had been upheld in legal challenges elsewhere in the country. Furthermore, the Missouri 8th Circuit has proven hostile to challenges to the anti-abortion laws passed by Republicans.

It was obvious, then, that pro-choicers were going to have to swallow a bitter pill and vote for the lesser of two evils. Although the differences in the two bills Democrats faced look small, they matter. As Justus put it, it’s the difference between being kneecapped and having your head shot off. Fortunately for the pro-choice camp, the Republicans preferred to offer something they could pass without having to move the previous question. They had the votes to pass either version, but they’d have had to PQ Democrats on the more draconian one, a move they’re loath to employ.

So, what were the differences?

  • The milder version would have exempted the Columbia abortion clinic for three years from the new requirement that a patient be at the clinic in person to receive the medical warnings. If she doesn’t live in Columbia, that would necessitate two trips or two days in the city–a hardship for many women seeking abortion. Justus pointed out to me that the Republican senators offered this provision in order to make the bill more palatable.
  • The milder version didn’t require that the false information be dispensed by a doctor. It could be given to patients by any qualified medical professional. It would have been economically impractical for abortion clinics to pay a doctor to be on the premises to give out the information and then to return 24 hours later (because of the mandatory waiting period) to perform the abortion.
  • The milder version said that the information offered in the informed consent sessions had to be “medically accurate.” With Margaret Donnelly heading the Department of Health and Senior Services, believe it: that provision would have been enforced.

Pro-choice senators voted for the bad, but less onerous, version–though not before Bray reamed out Republicans. (If you didn’t read about it, treat yourself to some red meat.)

And the hotheads in the House blew their top that their precious coercion nonsense had evaporated and that Columbia was getting a three year reprieve. There was talk in the hallways about how the Senate version had been written by ACLU lawyers! House anti-abortionists refused to vote for it, so the whole hoopla ended up being moot for another year.

The only people who breathed a sigh of relief were the pro-choicers and, oddly enough, the people on the pro-abortion side who make their living working on this issue. As Justus pointed out, there are more than sixty anti-abortion laws on the Missouri books, forty of them passed since 2000. Unless Roe is overturned, pretty much everything that can be done to put up barriers to abortion has been done. But those folks making their living off of the quarrel don’t want to lose their livelihoods. It’s a cottage industry that is working very hard to perpetuate itself.

So they’ll be back, come January. And this year’s sparring was, what?, round nine of a fight that could go past fifteen rounds. See you next year for round ten.