In late October, a bill was passed in Missouri that requires women to attend a state-mandated counseling session three days before having an abortion. This is one of the longest waiting periods in the country. Because of this waiting period, and the lack of abortion clinics in Missouri, women seeking abortion care are being forced out of the state and ultimately delaying their care even more. A three-day waiting period makes it more difficult for patients financially and logistics-wise. It also makes it much more difficult for the few abortion providers and their scheduling.
Roberts worked on a 2016 study looking at Utah’s 72-hour waiting period, which it found increased women’s financial burden and logistical challenges, and pushed at least one patient past her provider’s gestational limit for abortion. Women ended up waiting an average of eight days between their initial visit and the procedure, Roberts said. She warned about an overall “lengthening and strengthening” of waiting period laws across the country.
In Missouri, the “strengthened” waiting period law will make schedules trickier for busy doctors and resource-strapped clinics. “There aren’t that many highly trained gynecologists who can do abortion procedures, and you’re now taking their time to do all of these consents ahead of time,” King said.
She also noted how unusual it is to mandate that the doctor performing a procedure handle the prior counseling of the patient. “In no other field of medicine is that the case,” King said. “Patients undergo procedures all the time where they are ‘consented’ in a very thorough manner by a trained health care professional who may not necessarily be the exact person doing their procedure.”
Eyes from both sides of the abortion debate see Missouri as a test case for how much leeway states have to introduce new waiting periods and bolster those already on the books. In 2011, not a single state had an abortion waiting period longer than 24 hours, according to Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute, and only seven states had policies that required women to make two trips to a clinic. Now, eight states have waiting periods of 48 or 72 hours, and seven additional states require at least two visits.
“I think of this as sort of an underground trend,” Nash told HuffPost. “I don’t know if those two words can really go together, but yes, we’ve been seeing more waiting periods. And it hasn’t gotten the kind of attention that some of the other trends have.”
Meanwhile, in her clinic just outside Missouri, King is also waiting to see the full effects of this latest abortion regulation. History leads her to believe she’ll see even more patients fleeing Missouri’s restrictions and walking through her doors. Before Missouri first instituted a 72-hour waiting period, only 40 percent of the clinic’s patients came from that state, she said. By last year, the figure was up to more than 50 percent.
“The thing that is most concerning about [what is happening] in Missouri is that there are what would seem like small changes to the existing law,” Kin said, “but that will make an enormous impact on the patients.”