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Lawmakers consider 24-hour waiting period for abortions

February 06, 2003
By: Melissa Maynard
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - After Sharice Stanley told a nurse she didn't want to go through with the abortion, the nurse smiled and told her to just get it over with, she would feel better tomorrow.

But she did not feel better tomorrow, nor did she feel better the next day.

Since having the abortion, Stanley has suffered from anorexia, guilt, shame, depression, cervical cancer and thoughts of suicide -- all of which she blames on her abortion.

She said she was never examined by the doctor or informed of possible consequences.

Stanley was one of eight people who testified Wednesday in front of the House Health Care Policy Committee, which was examining a bill that would require physicians to meet with patients at least 24 hours before performing an abortion.

The House and Senate are considering nearly identical bills that would require a doctor-patient meeting to discuss potential physical and emotional side effects. Physicians would be required to provide proof of financial responsibility and to screen patients for risk factors that might increase the likelihood of side effects. Similar legislation has already been enacted by 15 states.

Under Missouri law, physicians and patients are required to sign a form acknowledging that the patient has given "informed consent," but this exchange can take place at the time of the procedure.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Susan Phillips, R-Kansas City, said women need time to digest the information they receive from physicians.

"It's not like getting your ears pierced. You can't just let the holes grow back," she said."This is an irreversible procedure."

According to Mark Weber, the Executive Director of the Missouri Catholic Conference, this bill would ensure that patients get adequate time to confer with physicians. Weber said Missouri patients seeking abortions are generally alloted little to no time to meet with physicians prior to the procedure.

"We would find that to be wrong with a tonsillectomy or a wart removal and other minor procedures people have done," he said.

Phillips said patients often meet with counselors or in groups of 10 to 15 people.

But Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, said the bill unfairly singles out abortions and does a disservice to women.

"I don't think that these are decisions that are made lightly," she said. "I find it a little insulting to women that the assumption would be made that we haven't done any background work, that we need more time or a different approach from what is done with other, often much more serious procedures."

Wilson said that because abortions can only be obtained at a few locations in Missouri, the 24-hour delay could actually postpone abortions for weeks, possibly bumping the procedure from the first to second trimester. Doctors might not be available to see patients two days in a row.

According to Planned Parenthood, this has been the result in Mississippi, where the number of second-trimester abortions rose significantly after similar legislation was enacted. Planned Parenthood also said the delays could cause unnecessary financial burdens because second trimester abortions are more expensive.

But Phillips said the limited number of abortion clinic locations already makes it necessary that most patients seeking abortions spend the night near the clinic, therefore making the 24-hour delay truly only a 24-hour delay.

Phillips said that this is an easy, common-sense bill.

"We have to wait five days if we're going to have breast implants. We have to wait thirty days if we're going to have a sterilization," she said. "This is certainly as serious as that."