Missourians to give testimony on a bill to ban 20-week abortions


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A bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy has been scheduled for a hearing in the Missouri House on Tuesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, with co-sponsor Rep. Chrissy Sommer, R-St. Charles, the bill is similar to legislation that has become law around the country. Twenty-one states have enacted a version of the legislation. The most popular version of the bill was created by the National Right to Life Committee, according to Rewire’s legislation tracker.

The Missourian contacted Rep. Lichtenegger who was not available to comment on the legislation Monday.

Meanwhile at the federal level, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held a vote Monday on a 20-week abortion ban called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which failed to pass.

Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group and active supporter of this legislation, criticized U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill for voting against the bill on Monday afternoon. The organization said in a press release that it has started a digital campaign against the senator.

“Senator McCaskill’s vote in support of brutal late-term abortions isn’t just morally abhorrent, it defies national consensus and is a major political liability,” the Susan B. Anthony List said in a press release. “Shame on Senator McCaskill for doubling down in support of abortion on-demand, up until the moment of birth.”

A spokeswoman from McCaskill’s office said in response, “Claire believes we should focus on preventing abortion and not criminalizing women and their doctors.”

The Missouri legislation introduced this session and last year states: “No abortion shall be performed or induced on an unborn child of twenty-two weeks gestational age or older.” This age is defined as “twenty weeks after fertilization” or 22 weeks after the first day of a woman’s last period. The bill also requires abortion provers to report the age of the fetus and whether the fetus was able to experience pain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 percent of abortions are performed after 20 weeks.

Colleen McNicholas is a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization that has been vocal in providing data and information against anti-abortion legislation. McNicholas said the organization aims to highlight misleading information and pointed to multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that said a fetus at 20 weeks does not have the capacity to feel pain.

She said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wants to attend the hearing to talk about how the legislation is a violation of a woman’s rights. A different member of the group was scheduled to attend the hearing Tuesday along with other experts.

MU graduate Robin Utz had an abortion when she was around 21 weeks pregnant. Utz originally planned to testify in person before the House Children and Families committee, but said she will email her testimony because she was diagnosed with the flu late Monday.

After her personal experience with abortion in Missouri, Utz wrote a Facebook post that went viral. She went on to write an op-ed piece for the Washington Post about her experience.

A St. Louis native and now a reproductive rights advocate, Utz said she found out the baby she was carrying had a life-ending disease, which inhibited the baby’s lung development. She said three doctors confirmed that if she carried the pregnancy to term, the child would be stillborn or die painfully after birth.

Utz said that for her and her husband, abortion was the best choice. Doctors later told Utz, who had recently had a miscarriage, that the risks to her health would increase seven-fold if she went on with the pregnancy.

“I don’t know that I could explain how wanted (the baby) was, and then we were devastated to learn that (the baby) had this life-ending disease,” Utz said. “Every option was terrible, but that was the best one out of the ones we had available.”

However, when she made the decision, doctors told her to act fast because of Missouri abortion laws. Utz said she learned of the diagnosis at 20 weeks and five days because that was when she had her anatomy scan, a procedure that detects fetal anomalies.

She said doctors recommend that patients perform the scan between 18-22 weeks. Utz said she had no reason to believe she had to get the scan sooner.

According to Missouri law, the abortion would be illegal after 21 weeks and six days.

That’s when the process began to take an emotional toll on her, Utz said. She said she and her husband had to sign a consent form and wait three days to start the procedure.

“We had to literally have three hours of ultrasound the day before confirming the diagnosis, and then we were given this informed consent package that we were terminating the life of this separate, living, unique being,” Utz said. “Basically, implying that we were murdering our daughter.”

“Then they made us sign consent that we heard a heartbeat, which was so insulting because I cried every time I heard a heartbeat,” she said.

Utz said the process was so traumatic that she felt compelled to get involved in reproductive rights. She said it was frustrating to see the one-sided bias in the consent forms, which never acknowledged the risks to the pregnant woman’s health.

“This is the most insulting thing we’ve ever had happen to us,” Utz said, speaking of herself and her husband.

“I definitely felt judged,” Utz said. “I definitely felt they were trying to pull an emotional response from me from this loving decision.”

Planned Parenthood also issued a press release about the 20-week abortion ban that failed in the Senate on Monday.

Aaron Samulcek, interim president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, wrote that in states with the 20-week ban already in place “some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations, like finding it necessary to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but being unable to do so. Make no mistake, extremist politicians are putting women’s lives at risk to score political points through these dangerous measures that the majority of Americans strongly oppose.”

Supervising editors are Katherine Reed and Tynan Stewart: reedkath@missouri.edu, 882-1792.

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