The demonstrators of the Women’s March, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration at the end of January, feared it: reproductive rights are declining in the United States. The latest example is a bill supported by Republican Governor Eric Greitens, who is currently shuttling between the House and Senate in Missouri. The SB5, or «Missouri Omnibus Abortion Bill» («omnibus» because it is a catch-all), if it is passed, could have disastrous effects on access to contraception and abortion in this state of the American Midwest, already third of the country most restrictive in this matter.
For nearly 6 million people, Missouri has only one clinic that performs abortion. Minors under 18 must have permission from one of their parents to have an abortion performed. All women who wish to have an abortion must wait an incompressible period of 72 hours and two medical appointments before the operation. “In recent years in Missouri, many restrictions on access to abortion have piled up”, regrets Alison Dreith, the executive director of NARAL (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws) Pro-Choice Missouri, a pro-choice association present across the country.
“We must promote a culture of life”
The SB5 bill (for «Senate Bill 5») has already been amended and passed by the Missouri House on June 14, at the initiative of Governor Eric Greitens. The latter had decided, two days earlier, to recall the legislative body of the State for a “Special pro-life session” – as the opponents of abortion in the United States are called -, “To protect the life of unborn children and protect the health of women”, we read in the governor’s press release. The special session is an exceptional procedure, normally reserved for legislative emergencies (preventing an imminent factory closure, dealing with a natural disaster, etc.).
“I am pro-life, and I believe we must stand up for life and promote a culture of life here in the state of Missouri,” Governor Greitens justifies in a video posted on his Facebook account. The opening of the special session was hailed by many anti-abortion groups, such as Missouri Right to Life, or Campaign Life Missouri.
The proposed law aims first to protect Crisis Pregnancy Centers, “False clinics where we try at all costs to dissuade women from aborting, where contraception is said to cause breast cancer, where anti-abortion religious discourse dominates, s’agace Alison Dreith. If SB5 is passed definitively, organizations like mine will no longer be able to sue these centers because they lie to patients, for example ”. Missouri has 71 centers like these, 69 of which receive, at least in part, government funding. SB5 would also give the Missouri attorney general authority over statewide abortion law. New regulations would be put in place in the only clinic that in practice, such as an annual inspection, and “The Attorney General may, for example, decide to have it closed at the slightest breach, Alison Dreith advances. It’s a way to make abortion illegal, without making it illegal, and thus circumvent the Constitution. ”
At the origin of this special session, a new law adopted in the spring by the city of Saint-Louis (Missouri), historically democratic, which prevents any discrimination, in hiring as in access to housing, of women, which regardless of their choice of contraception or abortion. This prompted the governor of the state to say that Saint-Louis had become “A sanctuary city for abortion”, and that this law went against religious freedoms. Conversely, SB5 has been interpreted by certain feminist or generalist sites as allowing employers or owners to discriminate against women if they use contraception or if they have already had abortion. “It is a bad understanding of the law”, tranche Alison Dreith.
After the amendments made by the House, the law must go back to the Senate, a priori in mid-July, before arriving, if it is voted, on the office of Governor Greitens, who has already supported it several times. “The bill does nothing to improve the health or lives of the people of Missouri, denounced a press release from NARAL pro-choice Missouri, which judges it “discriminatory”. Rather, it prioritizes Governor Greitens’ personal political ambitions over the needs of the people of Missouri. ”
Eric Greitens, divorced forty-something, has an atypical career. This former soldier of the Navy SEALs, passed through the great Anglo-Saxon universities (Duke, Oxford) and full of humanitarian exploits, founded an association of aid to veterans (The Mission Continues), which he led until 2014. Noticed by several major media – 39e most influential person in the world for Time in 2013, which salutes its “Sense of sacrifice and commitment”, he who “help others with passion ”-, he quickly displayed strong political ambitions. He first tested the waters in the Democratic camp, his family tendency. Before turning his hand, and presenting himself as a “Conservative Republican” in July 2015, in a column published by Fox News. “I believe that in a free society we must defend religious freedoms and the 2e amendment, and protect innocent life “, he wrote there.
“The heart and the fist”
With her ultra-bright smile, square jawline and bestsellers (The Heart and The Fist, literally “heart and fist”), he was elected governor of Missouri in January 2017. Under the banner of the Grand Old Party (GOP), for which Greitens was not a favorite, however, the Republicans then supported the man of business John Brunner. “He is one of those political outsiders, in the same vein as Donald Trump, says Alison Dreith. True conservatives like Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio, still see him as a former Democrat. This special session is a way to get their attention, to build conservative legitimacy. ”
Journalist at Kansas City Star, the title of Missouri’s largest city, Jason Hancock has followed Eric Greitens from his early days in politics. “He’s an ambitious, a competitor, he assures. He is eyeing national functions, in the Senate or even at the head of the country, and it is no secret to anyone. For some time now, he has been trying to give himself a national scope. We see it everywhere, in Washington, meeting the executives of the Republican Party… ” The governor of Missouri also went a few days ago to an evening organized by the Koch brothers, oil magnates and big money-makers of the Republican Party. “Via his association for veterans, Eric Greitens has developed a whole network in the country, resumes Jason Hancock. It catches the attention of many people who usually don’t care about the governor of Missouri. ”
“The most unusual circumstances”
For the political journalist, there are two ways to understand the importance of SB5 to the governor. “Either we look at it from a pure cynical point of view, and we say to ourselves that with this law, he is trying to seduce the Conservatives, he who has never been their foal. Either we think he is really pro-life, that all of this is part of the debate around religious freedoms. If he’s a true believer, as he defines himself, he can be truly anti-abortion. “ That said, Jason Hancock confirms that the special procedure, used for such a subject, surprised him. “I have been covering the Missouri Capitol for seven years, and the circumstances are most unusual.”
These Missouri debates are part of a broader context of retreat in the area of reproductive rights across the country. The reform of health insurance wanted by the Republican camp – whose vote was postponed until after July 4, for lack of consensus among the elected representatives of the GOP – would lead to a strong delisting of Family Planning by the federal state. Activists of the organization were also demonstrating this Tuesday in front of Congress. In a red cape and white cap, like the female characters of The Handmaiden’s Tale, series based on the anticipation novel by Margaret Atwood. Airing these days on Hulu, it presents an extremely patriarchal totalitarian society, where women are reduced to their reproductive function. And finds a powerful resonance in America today.
Isabelle Hanne Correspondent in New York