Wash U Experts: Law professors discuss Missouri’s new abortion waiting period

Sepper, Appleton weigh in on recent action from the Missouri state legislature

On Sept. 10, the Missouri legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon and enacted one of the United States’ strictest waiting periods for women seeking abortion.


The law will require a 72-hour delay, and that delay won’t make women safer or improve health outcomes, said two experts on health and family law from the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Missouri already had some of the most onerous abortion laws in the country,” said Elizabeth Sepper, JD, associate professor of law and an expert on health law. “As a direct result, Missouri has only one abortion provider. Women had to wait at least 24 hours and make two visits, traveling on average 100 miles each way. Many women have abortions because they can’t afford to have another child or to become a mother at all. This law just adds to their financial burdens.

“The law seems to have the sole purpose of burdening women’s exercise of their constitutional rights,” Sepper said. “It sends the message loud and clear that Missouri’s legislators don’t respect women’s decisions about their bodies and their lives.”

If a court doesn’t stop the law from going into effect, Sepper said, a woman who is raped and becomes pregnant will have to suffer carrying that pregnancy for at least three additional days.


Susan F. Appleton, JD, the Lemma Barkeloo & Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law and an expert on family law, also questions the effectiveness of longer waiting periods.

“I don’t think there is any evidence to suggest that longer waiting periods have the outcome lawmakers claim they intend — changing women’s minds because of thoughtful reflection,” Appleton said.

“If a woman has decided to have an abortion, she will find a way to do so. This law may chase women out of the state to have the procedure performed elsewhere, as some supporters conceded. Yet, recent cases raise the question whether a state may force its citizens to go elsewhere in order to exercise their constitutional rights,” she said.

“New abortion restrictions represent a growing trend in some states,” Appleton said. “With respect to waiting periods, the Supreme Court has upheld a 24-hour requirement, despite the burden that multiple trips to a possibly far-away clinic might impose.

“Given how health risks increase as pregnancy advances, how much can that waiting period be lengthened before it constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to have an abortion?” Appleton said.