Missouri Protesters Stage 72-Hour "Women's Filibuster" to Challenge Bill that Extends Wait Periods for Abortions to 3 Days

At a podium on the capitol steps in Jefferson City, Liz Read-Katz kicked off what activists are calling a "women's filibuster" – a 72-hour protest in opposition to a bill that would triple the waiting period for abortions to three days and make Missouri one of only three states in the US with a 72-hour mandate. In a "story that could happen to anyone," the college-educated, stay-at-home mom told the crowd about "the most difficult choice I've ever had to make."

Happily pregnant and five years into marriage, Read-Katz and her husband believed that "our dreams were coming true."

"But everything changed at 16 weeks [into the pregnancy]."

Read-Katz and her husband found out that their baby, a girl, had severe abnormalities – including Trisomy 18, a diagnosis that would have condemned their daughter to a short, painful life in a hospital, if she had lived at all. "I made a choice best for myself, my family and my baby. I chose to have an abortion," Read-Katz said.

Other activists – telling stories of their abortion experiences, reading letters of appreciation to Planned Parenthood and blasting anti-choice politicians – plan to speak until Thursday at 2pm. The protest arrives after a legislative session during with conservative legislators introduced more than 30 anti-choice bills.

#moleg @GovJayNixon we are tired of restrictions on women's health! Veto the 72 hour waiting bill#womensfilibuster pic.twitter.com/1tMEedu0ub

— Daphne Slade (@Simply_Dapper) May 14, 2014

When it comes to anti-abortion legislation, waiting periods are up there with ultrasound mandates and false medical information - they exist to shame those seeking abortions and assume women don't really understand what they're doing when they get the procedure.

"You're acting like women are stupid, like women are idiots," state Sen Jamilah Nasheed said on the Senate floor last week. "You should not be in the womb of a woman."

Mandating extra time for a pregnant woman to "consider" her options is beyond condescending – it's paternalistic. And it shows very little understanding of what being pregnant is actually like.

Hint: it's not like considering car or carpet options, despite what state Rep Chuck Gatschenberger apparently thinks. The anti-choice legislator infamously made his inapt comparison when the bill was initially up for consideration:

There's lots of things I do going into a decision – whether that's a car, whether that's a house, whether that's any major decision that I make in my life. Even carpeting. You know, I was just considering getting some carpeting in my house. That process probably took a month.

Of course, unlike the women in his state seeking abortions, Rep Gatschenberger probably did not face a law that him to wait to buy a car after he'd made his decision, or one that forced carpet manufacturers to warn him about risks that don't exist. 

"The most frustrating part of tripling the mandatory delay is that it does nothing to reduce the rates of abortion," says Pamela Merritt, Communications Director at Progress Missouri.

"The Missouri legislature could have passed comprehensive sex education and had a real impact on abortion rates. Instead they dove for the bottom, played another round of political games," she added.

The 72-hour waiting period is just one of many anti-choice measures Missouri women are facing. Most of the restrictions this session were introduced with the intention of closing down the one remaining abortion clinic in the state (there were five providers in 2011), and included increased ultrasound mandates, increased clinic inspections and financial documentation requirements. The House has also passed a measure that would require minors to notify both parents before obtaining an abortion – a restriction pro-choice activists point out is unfair to teens who don't have relationships with both parents, and dangerous for those with abusive guardians.

"I've been doing reproductive justice work in this state for over seven years and I've never seen anything like this," Merritt told me.

Pro-choice activists in Missouri, who are using the hashtag#womensfilibuster, hope the action will garner the same kind of attention that Wendy Davis's Texas filibuster did last year.

When Thursday comes and the women's filibuster ends, the new waiting period for abortions will still be there. But so will women like Read-Katz, who will tell their stories until Missouri's anti-choice legislators feel the shame that they so desperately want to impose on women.

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