Women will not forget on next election day

Stacey Newman

Stacey Newman

Not to be outdone in the fervent race to the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade, Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature giddily passed its extreme abortion ban, HB 126, on the final day of the session.

Once signed into law, Missouri will join Alabama, Georgia and six other  states in mandating government-forced pregnancy.

This widespread mania enveloping red-state legislatures didn’t materialize overnight. Conservative legislators, using anti-medical, religious ideology, have been building attacks on women’s autonomy for years. In their zeal to discount science and fueled by President Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric of “infanticide,” conservative legislators have used their ignorance of human reproduction to exacerbate their mission of misogyny.

I know this because many of the Missouri anti-abortion zealots were my colleagues.

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I served for nine years on the Missouri House’s Children and Families Committee, which heard mountains of restrictive abortion and contraception bills. I spent hours in hearings aghast as males compared women’s pregnancy decisions to buying a car or a carpet. They insisted we women needed state-mandated waiting periods because we couldn’t make private decisions on our own.

Late night hearings veered regularly into the twilight zone as a male colleague compared sperm to a live tadpole and used manipulated props to propel his theory that fetuses were fully formed at six weeks of gestation. Not one Missouri legislator was an OB-GYN, yet most refused to acknowledge testimony from doctors highly trained in reproductive medicine when they testified year after year.

I witnessed first-hand legislative attacks on reproductive health care that grew alarmingly bizarre and hypocritical. I sat among female legislators who had very few children, if any, who voted to restrict access to birth control, even though they used it themselves. One female GOP legislator, a nurse, said in debate that “a pregnancy conceived in rape was a silver lining from God,” and others routinely compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust.

I fought back as medically inaccurate and fundamentalist, biblical language was inserted into state statute. Every reproductive bill debate included arguments rooted in evangelical religious doctrine.

Access to abortion care in Missouri has been reduced to just one clinic, while fake, faith-based clinics are awarded unlimited state tax credits as they routinely lie to pregnant women.

As a Democrat, I saw this extreme anti-women wave coming as my state political party actively recruited “pro-life” candidates. I was told to calm my hysteria as most of those on my side of the aisle refused to serve on the committee where these extreme bills multiply. Many regularly left the House floor to avoid abortion debates. It often was painfully frustrating as fewer than a handful of us women would stand to fight back.

We all see it now. Red-state legislatures including Missouri’s are following “Handmaid’s Tale” plotlines by treating women as subhuman. Punishing women by controlling our reproduction is their mission on steroids.

Missouri’s abortion ban bill, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, would force birth before most women know they are pregnant. It contains no exceptions for rape, incest or severe fetal diagnosis and includes felony provisions for physicians. Clearly unconstitutional, it is certain to be litigated immediately at a cost to taxpayers.

Nothing in the bill is based on the practice of evidence-based embryologic medicine, but the GOP sponsor, a lawyer for a building company, could not care less. Even more alarming is language that would dictate a Class B felony for “any person who knowingly performs or induces an abortion,” jeopardizing every woman who miscarries who would have to somehow prove she actually had.

The majority of voters refuse to support this cruel agenda. According to a July 2018 NBC/WSJ poll, 71 percent oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, and I would gamble that number just escalated. Because the reality is that one in four women, including women you love, will access an abortion in her lifetime, for a million various reasons that are none of your business.

Yet, Missouri GOP’s attitude towards women neglected one factor: the power of our rage. In their quest for sadistic control of our bodies, they forgot to factor in the collective fury of women of every age, background and ZIP Code.

Although term limits sent me home, I have not “quit.” At ProgressWomen.com, of which I am director, we are mobilizing women around the state who will show up en masse next Election Day with forced childbirth at the top of our list.

As my own state representative, Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, who succeeded me in the 87th District, said in his passionate debate against HB126 last week: “Women brought all of us into this world, and I sure hope they vote all of us out.”

Those who regard us as merely vessels?  Most defiantly, yes.

Stacey Newman is founder and director of ProgressWomen, an organization that since 2011 has informed, trained and organized thousands of Missourians on issues of reproductive rights, justice and equality through a feminist lens. From 2009 to Jan. 9, 2019 Newman was Missouri state representative of the 87th District, which includes Clayton and parts of Brentwood, Ladue, Richmond Heights and University City.