World & Nation

72-hour wait for Missouri abortions takes effect next month

Missouri abortion waiting period
Elizabeth War looks over a gathering of her fellow abortion opponents in the Missouri Capitol rotunda Wednesday, where lawmakers overrode a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon of legislation requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

In less than a month, a new law will require women in Missouri to wait 72 hours before they can have an abortion, after the state’s Republican-led legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the measure.

The Democratic governor had said the bill, among the strictest such laws in the nation, “serves no demonstrable purpose,” and also opposed it because it did not provide an exception for rape and incest. 

But during an all-day session focused on legislation vetoed by Nixon, lawmakers in the House on Wednesday easily overrode his veto of the abortion bill. And, although Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) tried to filibuster in the Senate late in the evening, the vote to override also succeeded there, although more narrowly. 

The law will triple the current required waiting period between the time a woman consults with a doctor about having an abortion and when the procedure can be performed, to 72 hours from 24 hours. Many states have laws requiring women to wait 24 hours, while Utah and North Dakota also have 72-hour waiting periods, though Utah grants exceptions in the case of rape or incest.


Anti-abortion lawmakers in Missouri hailed the override as a victory that could help prevent women from having abortions in the future. 

“In Missouri, we believe life is worth protecting and today’s vote sends a clear message that Missouri intends to defend those who cannot defend themselves,” said Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville), who was a sponsor of the bill. “Another 48 hours could very well be the difference between a life saved and a life ended,” he said.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis also released a statement supporting the waiting period, saying that women are often pressured into having an abortion by family and friends.

“Those three days can help a woman avoid a lifetime of regret,” said a statement from Karen Nolkemper, executive director of the Respect Life Apostolate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 


The law will go into effect in 30 days. Women in Missouri are also required to receive counseling that abortion rights supporters say is aimed at getting them to change their minds and not have an abortion.

Missouri has only one abortion clinic, and abortion rights advocates fear that requiring women to travel to the clinic twice to get an abortion could be stressful and cost prohibitive.

According to a study published in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the risk of death for women obtaining legally induced abortion grew 38% for each additional week of gestation. Women whose abortions were performed in the second trimester were “significantly more likely to die of abortion-related causes,” the study said.

Activists on both sides of the debate turned out at the Capitol, urging lawmakers to vote with them on the issue. 

“Today’s vote is just another example of our elected officials playing politics with the lives of women and their families,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Missourians have made it clear: They’ve had enough of extreme politicians interfering in personal, private, medical decisions, and they don’t support this law.”

The Missouri Legislature has been dominated by Republicans for the last decade, but the party achieved a supermajority in the 2012 elections, giving them the ability to override the governor’s vetoes without any Democratic votes. In Wednesday’s session, lawmakers also overrode Nixon’s veto of a bill that creates a training program allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

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