Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft Blocking Missourians' Constitutional Rights

An Op Ed I wrote is in the St. Louis Post Dispatch today, discussing Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s unconstitutional delays making it impossible for Missourian’s to gather enough signatures to put abortion on the ballot, and let people vote on the issue.

The extreme abortion bill (House Bill 126) becomes effective next week,. It bans abortion after eight weeks with no exceptions for survivors of rape or incest, and certainly no exceptions for fetal anomalies like Grace’s. It’s utterly outrageous, and transparently shows that they want to control pregnant people, and want this to go to the Supreme Court.

I don’t know if I can express how hard it has been to watch our rights eroding around us after having our own abortion. We feel so strongly that we made the right decision for our desperately wanted daughter. Yet our lawmakers don’t care.

Jim and I repeatedly have testified both via correspondence and in person against bans like this, and our lawmakers don’t listen. They passed it anyway, despite us telling them what a horrible bill it is and how it’d hurt babies like Grace Pearl.

So we turned to the constitutional process next: Governor Parsons signing the bill into the law wasn’t the end: Missouri’s Constitution guarantees citizens the right to stop a new law from taking effect through the referendum process — a vote of the people. On May 28, the referendum process began. Under the Missouri Constitution, we should have had 90 days to collect 100,000 signatures in six different congressional districts. That isn’t what happened. Why? Because Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft chose to abuse the power of his office and join the race to ban safe, legal abortion in our state.

It is utterly unacceptable that Ashcroft is using his position to block the will of the people. His behavior is outrageous, manipulative and unconstitutional. Missourians deserve better, no matter where they stand on abortion. This is about protecting our constitutional rights.

You can read the full Op Ed here:

Robin Utz: Ashcroft's delay tactics defy Missourians' right to challenge abortion law

My husband Jim and I have been married for nine years, and we have wanted a baby more than anything. After four years of trying to conceive, including two rounds of in-vitro fertilization, three embryo transfers, a miscarriage and looking extensively into adoption, we finally got pregnant with our daughter, Grace Pearl.

The Day After We Learned about Grace's Disease: Missouri's Abortion Consents and Informed Consent Packet

I wrote last week on the anniversary of learning that Grace had a life-ending disease, discussing how the day unfolded and felt along the way. It was an enormous blow and shock to the system. Little did I know the amount of insult was going to be added to our devastating injury in the form of the process the state of Missouri imposes on women and families that want or need to terminate pregnancies. 

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I had been given hints about what was to come during our anatomy scan and subsequent discussion with our doctor, and then the follow up high-tech ultrasound to confirm Grace's diagnosis. There was talk about how we, at 20 weeks, 6 days pregnant, did not have a lot of time to make a decision about how to proceed. When we were called about scheduling time to come sign the consent forms, I was told we would have to try to sign them the next day because of the 72 hour waiting period, and that if we couldn't get that performed by by 21 weeks, 6 days (including the 72 hours), we'd have to go out of state to have the abortion. I was told we were lucky to be in St. Louis, home of the state's only abortion clinic (at Planned Parenthood). All of this stunned me and left me feeling misunderstood, unsupported and worst of all, judged. We had just learned our very wanted daughter would never get to live the life we'd dreamed of for her. Now we just wanted to get the necessary next steps over with as quickly as possible. The limitations and requirements felt hurtful and inappropriate to me, at a time when I was already deeply steeped in grief. I kept asking if there were exceptions for people like us: people that wanted their pregnancy but learned it would never result in a happy, healthy child, and that instead our child would die a painful, suffering death. To be informed over and over that there weren't exceptions told me that our lawmakers clearly hadn't thought the laws through well.  As I considered that unavoidable reality, I also considered how I would feel if I needed or wanted an abortion for other reasons, like an abusive partner, failed birth control and so on. I felt more and more like if the laws missed the mark on us, they'd missed the mark on so many other scenarios as well, and that therefore the requirements weren't appropriate for anyone.

As a privileged woman of reasonable means, learning about the ridiculous process required of us to do what was humane for our daughter was kind of like when you first learn that adults aren't always mature, kind or right after growing up depending on that as a fact. How much my privilege was still helping me in our terrible situation washed over me, leaving me heartbroken, indignant and shocked over and over. What about women in rural areas (100+ miles away) who needed the time and money to get to St. Louis or another state for the abortion? What about women who already had children and couldn't find childcare as soon as they needed to to sign the consents to meet the 72 hour waiting period and get the termination before time ran out? Anatomy scans happen between 18 and 22 weeks, so this isn't implausible in the least. We also were lucky to have jobs that accommodated our last minute scheduling needs, but many are not nearly as lucky. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from funding abortions, so it's exceedingly expensive at our stage of pregnancy ($1500 at Planned Parenthood, $8000 at a hospital, which is highly recommended at our stage of pregnancy because it is risky for me as the mother). Who can afford that at such short notice? I was blown away at learning this is how it really is to get an abortion in Missouri. 

That is how much I knew going into signing the actual consents to start the 72 hour clock and schedule our procedure. I had no idea how insulting the consents themselves would be. If the requirements I had encountered so far (geographical limitations, 72 hour waiting period, likely lack of insurance coverage, deadline that contradicted the recommended timeline of the anatomy scan guidelines per my doctor) were tone deaf to our situation, the consents and information we were given were downright callous and insulting.

When Jim and I arrived to sign the consents, we were met quickly by a doctor who, before reviewing the materials with us, warned us that she would have to guide us through some very difficult paperwork, but that it did no reflect how she, the doctor assigned to our case, felt about us at all. I quickly realized and confirmed that this was legally required paperwork, NOT medically required paperwork. I grew cautious and reserved, preparing myself for the worst. The state of Missouri delivered: we had to initial every line of this consent form 

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If you're reading this, feeling perhaps like it's appropriate, please consider the following: we were reeling from learning our intensely wanted daughter was going to die a painful, frightening death upon birth, if she made it that far. The care and support we encountered after learning that was being required to sign a consent saying I had seen an ultrasound and have heard a heartbeat. Imagine for a second how you'd feel in that situation. I was nearly 6 months pregnant. I had requested extra ultrasounds and had a home Doppler to check for Grace's heart beat every few days because I was so nervous after nearly 4 years of infertility and a prior miscarriage. This confirmation requirement was ridiculous, insulting and hurtful. Then I'm being told about Grace's anatomical and physiological features by a legal consent form instead of by my medical staff, as if I'm unaware. The doctor that just the day prior had given us an hour long ultrasound, detailing every feature. Would we allow this in our other medical decisions? Did they really think I needed education or reminding? I didn't need a government issued document to do this for me, especially when it included inaccurate information (more about that in a minute).

I couldn't believe I had to sign such an obviously biased and manipulative document (which highlighted all of the risks of having the abortion, but none of the higher risks of continuing the pregnancy, such as the very real risk to a woman's health), especially when my impending medical consents would cover everything necessary, and more importantly, were written using informed medical opinion and facts. The consent form lit me with indignation, outrage and defeat.

We had to take several breaks to process what we were having to sign. The layers of how openly against us our laws were kept washing over me. I have lived in Missouri all of my life. I have paid taxes here, voted in every election I can, volunteered here, defended it to people that want to call it backwards and ignorant. And here I was, a life-long citizen, being told I was less than a full human deserving of basic decency, bodily autonomy and incapable of making up my own mind about my pregnancy, because I had gotten pregnant. What a catch-22. I was deemed adult enough to be Grace's mother, but not to spare her an inevitable painful death. I wondered again if men would tolerate being treated this way. 

When we were done with the consents form, we were given the Informed Consent Packet:

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This is 36 glossy pages of tax-payer funded "education" on the fetus, carefully detailed (yet sometimes inaccurately) by gestational age before getting into the risks of abortion while ignoring the risks of continuing pregnancy (which are far greater than those associated with terminating a pregnancy (pages 13-15)). It inaccurately stated that fetuses start to feel pain at 22 weeks, while every doctor we talked to said 24-28. The packet is just as loaded with judgmental notes, starting with the first page where it notes: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.” This is of great debate, so I was angered that it was stated as fact, with utter disregard for the medical community's findings and opinions in regards to this. I didn't like that political opinions were being fed to me in my time of needing a medical procedure. And I wondered: what were we supposed to do? Say the packet succeeded in making me feel guilty and I wanted to change my mind. What was I supposed to do with that feeling? Not end our pregnancy? The information in the packet wasn't going to make Grace's disease go away, and all it did was make me feel disregarded, insulted, judged and utterly misunderstood. It felt like kicking us when we were down.

I asked if we had to take the packet with us, and were told no. Jim asked how many people had taken it with them and the doctor said the last one was probably taken 3 months ago. That told me a lot about how firm people felt once they made the appointment, and how much of a difference this packet likely made in the minds of the women it was designed to affect.

I felt terrible for our doctor, clearly there to provide me with great medical care, being required to give us this inaccurate information, designed to manipulate me. She never failed to be supportive and compassionate with us throughout the entire process. 

We left the clinic to start our 72 hours of waiting, with the wound of our daughter's news still so new that it was increasing and spreading rather than being anywhere close to starting to heal. We added to it fury, disgust, helplessness and deep sadness at how we were treated by the state of Missouri, and how other women and families are treated. Do we not care about the psychological impact on our women over unborn fetuses? I never really got that concept so fully until then. 

Anyone close to me would tell you I'm a different person now than I was before we lost Grace. Having to choose to end our pregnancy was life changing and devastating, but being treated like ignorant, flippant, uninformed parents by the state of Missouri changed me just as much. It ignited an anger and sadness in me that has been just as difficult to cope with, and spurned me into advocacy and this website. It has not been fun to expose myself in this way, as we have grieved, and to sometimes meet condemnation for our choice. But that's how desperately and strongly I feel about our experience. I never want another family to have to go through such an awful process ever again. I'm just one person, but I'll do what I can to try to make it better for as long as I can. 

If our story filled you with the same feelings I've described, please consider sharing. The more people know about this reality, the closer we'll get to implementing real change. People need to know what the people they're voting for are doing, how badly written the laws are (and continue to be) and how it affects real families. 

 

 

My Second Time Testifying in Jefferson City: About the Bills and What YOU Can Do

Dana (right) and myself at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, MO

Dana (right) and myself at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, MO

I went to Jefferson City with my very good friend Dana today so we could testify to the Senate Families, Children and Seniors COmmittee about Senate Bill 1 (SB-1) and Senate BIll 6 (SB-6).

You can read about the bills (including full text) below, but the summary of each is as follows:

  • SB-1 (link) does a variety of things, but tries to circumvent Judge Howard Sachs' injunction based on on the Whole Women's Health v Hellerstedt ruling in the Supreme Court, noting that based on that ruling, Missouri's one abortion facility in the entire state constituted an unconstitutional burden on women seeking this reproductive health treatment, in addition to overly lofty requirements for abortion-providing facilities.
  • SB-6 (link) would remove St. Louis's ruling that organizations and companies cannot discriminate women for things like using contraception, being pregnant or getting an abortion based on moral or religious beliefs. 

I testified against SB-1 to note that while we were lucky we lived in St. Louis when we learned about Grace Pearl's diagnosis, had we lived further away, had children we had to find care for, had jobs that were not gracious in their flexibility with our sudden scheduling needs or couldn't afford the thousands of dollars necessary at such short notice (abortions are not covered by insurance in Missouri except for rare exceptions), we couldn't have terminated by the deadline of 21 weeks, 6 days (we terminated at 21 days, 5 days as it was). Such limitations would have absolutely hurt Grace, the unborn baby the bill is purporting to protect. Our story proves these bills need to be more thoughtful, considered and inclusive. 

You can read my full testimony for SB-1 (which I used to paraphrase from, and provided to the Senate Committee) here.

I testified against SB-6 noting that I should not be able to be discriminated against for terminating my pregnancy, as it's not appropriate to make assumptions as to why women choose to do this. We terminated our pregnancy out of love and concern, and feeling strongly that it to not do so was absolutely cruel. We also noted that while this is being proposed in defense of organizations that don't want to hire women that use contraception, are pregnant or have terminated a pregnancy (note: this is inclusive of nearly every single state a woman of reproductive age can exist in), the religious people in our lives hold beliefs that cannot be so simply assumed or compartmentalized, and it's inappropriate to try to do so to allow organizations to practice discrimination. Many of the people these organizations would be speaking on behalf of don't even agree with them. 

You can read my full testimony for SB-6 (which I used to paraphrase from, and provided to the Senate Committee) here.

In both testimonies I told the story of Grace Pearl, that we felt that it was the only humane, loving, moral choice we could possibly make, and that we and women like us deserve to be able to make that choice without hurdles, timelines or discrimination. I have two friends that had to do this just last week. It will continue to happen, and that is a reality that needs to be included in Missouri's bills and laws. 

I will post more very soon talking about how the day felt as a whole, but for now, we have urgent work to do: 

CALL, CALL, CALL!!

  • Call your state senator! To find out who that is, use this link. From there you can get the phone number. Tell them that you oppose Senate Bills 1, 5 and 6 because they are not based on medical necessity and are not making Missouri women or the unborn any safer, and that Missouri women deserve intelligent, inclusive bills that do not discriminate against them or make it more difficult for them to obtain constitutionally protected reproductive health medical care. This is critical for right now - the bill is still in the Senate and if we make our voices heard, we can make a real difference!
  • Call Governor Greitens! His number is (573) 751-3222, or you can text him via Resistbot if you're a Missouri constituent by noting you want to send to governor (you may have to unlock this level, but may not! Can anyone confirm?) Did you know you can send faxes from Resistbot from your Facebook Messenger? It's awesome - so much easier for typing than using my phone! You can use the same messaging as up above for the senators. 
  • Call you state representative! You can find out who that is here. Tell them that you oppose all new bills restricting reproductive rights as they are not considered, inclusive of all scenarios that prompt a woman to get an abortion, are unconstitutional as they apply undue burden, and are not actually pro-life. You can see the list of bills the are reviewing tomorrow (it's uncertain which ones they'll hear, but you can bet it'll be the ones that are AGAINST reproductive rights) here if you want to to review and mention them. 

Have any questions? Feel free to use the contact me page to send me a note!

Missouri's Capital building in Jefferson City, Missouri

Missouri's Capital building in Jefferson City, Missouri

I jumped into Dana's selfie with the Capital building. We both were running on little sleep, no lunch, a 2.5 hour drive (so far) and a day of hearing bills and testimony. I just couldn't stop myself!

I jumped into Dana's selfie with the Capital building. We both were running on little sleep, no lunch, a 2.5 hour drive (so far) and a day of hearing bills and testimony. I just couldn't stop myself!

 

 

 

Missouri Governor Greitens's Dangerous and Expensive Abortion Special Session

Missouri Governor Greitens announced on June 7th that he is calling a special session to discuss an anti-discrimination bill and to bypass the constitutionally protected right to an abortion reiterated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt decision.

Governor Greitens. AP.

Governor Greitens. AP.

This is unsettling in a number of ways:

  • Associated costs. There has already been one special session in Missouri this year and it cost taxpayors $66,000 for just a week, and that's with legislators only coming in on the days that there were votes. With it averaging $20,000 a day to have a special session, is this the best use of taxpayer dollars? The GOP-led legislature didn't approve a proposal which would have nullified the anti-discrimination bill, so it seems to be simply politically motivated instead of based in practicality, such as a legitimate emergency issue, especially since Governor Greitens is holding three campaign-like rallies before the special session to garner support for his initiatives.
  • This is not being pro-life. In a video message shared on Twitter on Wednesday, Greitens declares himself to be “pro-life” and “proud to support life — the lives of mothers, their children and the innocent unborn.” This hardly feels like it's about the health of women or fetuses as he purports - these measures will make it harder for women to get access to the healthcare that they need. I wonder what Governor Greitens would say to me, who terminated my pregnancy to protect Grace from pain and harm, and to protect my own health? If he's truly pro-life, he'd want to ensure women can access health care as they need it, that fetuses that receive devastatingly awful diagnoses like Grace did can be treated with care and compassion, and that women cannot be discriminated against for doing so. 
  • Greitens's initiatives are not common sense: It's hard not to just see Governor Greitens as another politician beholden to absolute pro-life donors. I would love to be wrong about that feeling, but the changes that Greitens wants to make (remove anti-discriminatory protections and go around a measure that insists women have access to health care facilities that provide abortions) are not common sense. Should I not get a job because I terminated my pregnancy after learning Grace had a fatal fetal anomaly? Should I not be able to get reproductive health care because I live in Joplin or Springfield? As Judge Sachs said in his decision to file an injunction, women's health is actually harmed more than hurt by laws that limit access to abortion-providing health care facilities. If Greitens were holding a special session to review a practical, inclusive, common sense initiative to find compromise between the parties, I'd be in full support of that. As it is, he wants to hold an expensive special session to endanger Missouri's women and, in our case, hurt our daughter and us for sparing her an inevitable and painful death.
Missouri State Capitol

Missouri State Capitol

I'm pretty discouraged to see this happening. I want to trust our politicians to truly do what's best for their constituents, not instead leaving their constituents feeling helpless, indignant and dismissed. Where is the compromise and practicality, and respect for our tax dollars?

After what we went through, I want to see our state laws become more inclusive to include situations like ours; the very real outcome of not doing so is babies like Grace being forced to be born into immense pain and death. But instead Governor Greitens appears to be insistent on instead pushing through dangerous and harmful initiatives that diminish Missouri's women down to assumptions and hypotheticals, and offer no compassion. 

 

If you would like to call Governor Greitens' office to express your concern and dissatisfaction with him calling a special session, costing tax payers $20,000 a day, for political reasons instead of emergency issues, his office number is (573) 751-3222

It is also helpful to call your representative; you can find out who yours is and their contact information here: link

Action Needed: New York's RHA Needs a Vote. How You Can Help.

This last presidential election was the most divisive in my lifetime, and one of the hot topics was abortion. I vividly remember watching the third debate, and wondering why someone would need a late term abortion, but also assuming that surely it would not happen that late in any statistically material way because someone just changed their mind about their pregnancy. I wanted to learn more.

I ask you to consider me, and women like me who are the faces of abortion statistics. We are slowly inching out from the shadows, as angry as we are devastated. Only 1.3 percent of abortions happen after 22 weeks, but each of us has a unique story.
— Erika A. Christensen

Less than a week after the debate I stumbled onto this story in Jezebel, which consumed my attention and brought me to tears. I occasionally rubbed my growing belly to reassure myself that things were still going well in my pregnancy. Little did I know then, Donald Trump would be elected on November 9, and we would learn that Grace was not viable on November 17th. The loss of Grace, and the governmental threats to my reproductive rights are impossible to exact from one another. My feelings about abortion weren't so clear before that. But now that I understood what a late term abortion looked like, and was about to experience one myself, I found myself grieving and furious with not just the awful hand that had been dealt to Grace and ourselves, but also the one that the government was handing us: a judgmental and intentionally painful process that was beyond insulting given our circumstances.

By coincidence I later virtually met the writer of the Jezebel article, and enthusiastically shared that her story was key in motivating me to share mine. And now again, Erika is stunning me with her eloquence, vulnerability and exceptional ability to unpack the complicated and articulate a messy emotional and legal situation in poignant and relatable ways. 

To shine a light on New York's Reproductive Health Act (RHA) S2796 bill, Erica wrote this excellent article in Rewire (later discussed in Jezebel as well). I could have pulled quote after quote from Erica's words, as they resonated so strongly with me:

Still in shock over this tragic turn of events, I lay on the table, looking up at the ceiling. My internal questions played like a tape over and over in my mind: Why am I here? Did New York expect me to carry this baby to term, only to watch him suffer and die?

Since then, I’ve tried to answer that second question. The only answer I’ve come up with is: yes.
— Erika A. Christensen

The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), S2796, which Christensen is advocating, does three things: (1) It takes abortion out of the penal code and puts into public health law; (2) it allows for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of non-viability, and in cases where either the life or health of the woman is at risk; and (3) it allows for advanced practice clinicians (APCs) to administer abortion care within their scope of practice. 

As Christensen points out, "The Roe decision hinged on the notion of viability, only allowing states to limit abortion access after a fetus was viable, which is generally considered around 24 weeks. In our case, our baby would never be viable". While I agree with all of the things the bill does, the bill allowing for abortions after 24 weeks in cases of non-viability is sufficient for me to believe this bill is incredibly important, and it's critical that it be heard by the New York State Senate.

If you feel like I do (that this bill is a common sense approach to making abortion laws in the state of New York more accurate, inclusive of all needs and thus pro-life, and common sense), here's what you can do, regardless of where you are:

If you're in New York:

The end of the legislative session on June 21. It is crucial that pressure is put on not only Sens. Flanagan and Hannon, but all of the senators. With that, here are four steps:

  1. Identify your district and senator here.
  2. Write/call your senator and express your support for the bill, and more importantly, for a vote on the bill.
  3. Get vocal on social media (RHAVote.com).
  4. Focus on the whole state. Got a friend in the Hudson Valley? Their senator is on the fence. Know someone out on Long Island? That’s where Flanagan and Hannon’s districts are.

Not in New York? Share, share, share! Please share this with your friends and family and ask those in New York to be engaged. Every little bit counts and makes a difference, and you never know when the person impacted could be your sister, daughter, friend, or you. 

You can find the homepage for the RHA here, and read Erika's piece in Rewire here: 

New York Forces Women Like Me to Carry Nonviable Pregnancies to Term - Rewire

New Yorkers, we need to act quickly: There's a bill making its way through the state legislature that can help people like me, who are the faces of abortion statistics, to access the care we need in our home state.