Missouri As Antichoice Hotbed

At the risk of offending progressive Missourians, it does seem there is something at least mildly appropriate about the antichoice movement’s new Maximum Celebrity, Todd Akin, being from the Show-Me State. As Sarah Kliff reminds us at WaPo today, the state has long been a hotbed of legal and political challenges to abortion rights:

Missouri is the only state that has sent multiple challenges to Roe v. Wade all the way to the Supreme Court – and saw one succeed in affirming state rights to restrict abortion access. Its legislature defunded Planned Parenthood in the early 1990s, years before other states took up a similar cause.

And through the 2000s, Missouri has continued to pass some of the most aggressive abortion restrictions in the country. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the Show-Me-State an “F” on abortion access.

“I don’t think it’s correct to say Missouri itself is radically more pro-life than other states,” says Cynthia Gornley whose book, Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars, focused on Missouri’s abortion battles. “What they did have were unbelievably good pro-life organizers and pro-choice people who were quick to take the bait….”

The state also pioneered, alongside Nebraska and Virginia, a “partial-birth abortion ban.” That law, which outlawed a specific abortion procedure used in late-term cases, passed in Missouri in 1999. Congress took it national in 2003 with the Federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which outlawed the procedure in all 50 states….

Antiabortion legislation has not let up in recent years. Missouri tightened its late-term abortion ban last year to only allow exceptions for cases where the health of the mother is at risk. The legislature followed up this year with a bill barring employers from covering abortion in health insurance plans.

Maybe this legacy is a testament, as Cynthia Gornley says, to the superior organization of antichoicers. But I suspect they had a lot of raw material to work with. Like Louisiana, another antichoice hotbed, the state has an unusual dual concentration of Catholics (and in Missouri’s case, German Catholics, who have historically been more conservative than their Irish or Italian brethren) and Southern Baptists. There’s also the influence of the fundamentalist Missouri Synod Lutherans (who are actually more numerous in Nebraska, but still have a sizable presence in their home state). So there has been plenty of local clerical and lay support for The Cause, and that in turn has undoubtedly been a factor in the slight realignment of Missouri in a Republican direction in recent years.

As should be obvious by now, however, Todd Akin is testing the outer limits of what a Christian Right pol can say, think and do in a politically marginal state without offending even those voters who lean in his party’s direction. And that, along with the unwelcome attention being paid to the party-wide radicalism of the GOP on reproductive rights issues these days, is why the entire state and national Republican Party along with most of the conservative movement is frantically and so far unsuccessfully trying to kick the man to the curb.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.