Missouri State Senators Joke that Women Should Go to the Zoo for an Abortion

It would be unbelievable if it weren’t true. Last Wednesday, Missouri state senators Bob Onder and Wayne Wallingford joked on the floor of the Missouri senate that women seeking abortions should be sent to the zoo rather than to an abortion provider. The Senators made this outrageous statement (and more) during a floor vote on whether to pass a tax increase that would benefit the St. Louis Zoo. Senator Onder went on to make completely unsubstantiated claims that abortion provider facilities are unsafe, that zoo animals who are going to be euthanized face a longer mandatory delay than women seeking an abortion, and to argue that passing abortion restriction laws should be as easy as passing laws regulating the zoo.
First of all: State lawmakers are apparently comfortable comparing women’s health care to zoo animal care during an official Missouri Senate floor discussion. I will just let that speak for itself.

But on to the substance: The senators’ implication that abortion is under-regulated in Missouri is preposterous. To be clear, abortion is an extremely safe procedure that has unfortunately been targeted by anti-abortion politicians in states who want to regulate it out of existence. Missouri is one of those states – it has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Abortion clinics in Missouri must meet very specific licensing requirements that regulate the physical building and require regular inspection. Only physicians are allowed to provide abortions, and clinics are required to be within 30 miles of a hospital, with no exception for rural areas. Additionally, every patient must receive in-person biased counseling and written materials “designed to discourage her from having an abortion.” She then must wait at least 72 hours (the longest waiting period in the country) before she can actually have her procedure. Missouri’s restrictions are so severe that there is only one clinic left in Missouri that provides abortions for women across the entire state.
Why were these senators talking about zoo animals and abortion? They are mad at the city of St. Louis for passing an ordinance in February that prohibits employers and landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception, or have an abortion, among other reproductive health decisions. Senator Onder also proposed an amendment to rename the zoo the “Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park,” claiming, as other Missouri politicians have, that the ordinance makes the city an “abortion sanctuary” and violates freedom of religion.  While Senator Onder’s amendment was purely a tool for him to make a statement about an important attempt by St. Louis to protect its residents’ reproductive health decisions, he and Missouri politicians are meanwhile taking actual concrete steps to undo it. The Missouri House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would kill the St. Louis ordinance and prevent other Missouri cities from enacting similar antidiscrimination laws. If that bill becomes law, it will be a deep shame that politicians who devalue women’s lives enough to compare their health care to that of zoo animals are able to overturn the efforts of a city trying to protect its residents from discrimination.