Prior to the 2012 election at least two states had reported seeing questionnaires from a group called National Pro-Life Alliance which asked candidates if, among other priorities, they would be supportive of bills that required spousal notification before an abortion. Despite the onslaught of new abortion restrictions flooding state legislatures once again this session, a straight spousal consent bill has yet to be seen.
But that doesn’t mean one isn’t out there.
“I’ve already seen the bill,” Missouri Democrat Representative Keith English told RH Reality Check by phone. “It’s here in the House. It’s sitting idle right now because they are waiting to see what happens with my bill.”
Rep. English’s bill is a new upgrade to the state’s informed consent law, which would require a person seeking safe abortion care to take a printout of an ultrasound home during the 24-hour waiting period. According to English, who is anti-choice, this would be a more effective form of “spousal consent” because it would allow a husband more access to convince his wife to continue a pregnancy at his request.
“There are too many loopholes,” Rep. English explained about a direct spousal consent bill. “You and I can both sit here and say that if there was some law that said that the father gets a choice that any woman could bring any man to sign in and say he was the father. What do you want to put in there? That there is going to have to be some sort of DNA test done before she can have an abortion? There are so many loopholes in that idea and so many financial constraints on both sides.”
Rep. English believes his own bill addresses those problems. “I consider this a consent type of bill. When does father have a say in continuing a pregnancy?” In Rep. English’s bill the ultrasound would be provided before the 24-hour wait begins, and printout must be supplied to each patient along with the other informed consent material. “That’s the point where the father comes in. They can look at that and say ‘This didn’t just happen because of me. This happened because there was another human being involved in the making of this decision, and maybe, maybe she will consult the other half and say, ‘You know, I’m not interested in continuing this, I would like to ask you, would you like to continue this? Because this is a decision that we did to make this thing happen.’”
The bill has been a passion of Rep. English, who said he had been working on it for years with his own representative before ever running for the House. Although he admitted that it would be difficult for rape and incest victims, he argued that it was “so miniscule” to the overall numbers that “although it is a factor, it’s something I’ll look into when we head into committee.”
Rep. English may have not chosen to put forth the model bill for spousal consent that he admits at least Missouri has received, but there is little doubt that a coordinated public relations campaign has been launched by anti-choice media to smooth the path for a bill to be introduced. For well over a month now Lifenews, assisted by Catholic News Agency and even Abby Johnson, have been increasingly discussing what they are claiming as the forgotten victims of abortion—the “fathers” robbed of their choice. They’ve even gone as far as to claim that true reproductive justice can only exist if husbands have the ability to force their wives to continue pregnancies the wives don’t want to carry to term.
At this point, due to Rep. English’s bill a true spousal consent bill is present, but idle. It may even be a sign that even Missouri’s own anti-choice politicians aren’t so extreme that they are willing to put their names to a bill that basically assigns wives as property and dependents to their husbands. But how long will that remain so in Missouri, and will that hold true in other states that no doubt have a model consent bill also waiting for someone brave enough to publicly sponsor it?