My First Time Testifying at the Missouri State Capitol: The Bad

As I mentioned in my last blog post, last week I testified against Senate Bill 408 at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, MO. SB 408 is one of the heartbeat ban bills that you might be hearing a lot about in the news lately, which prohibits an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected (around 6 weeks of pregnancy). The summary of the bill is: "Requires the use of a fetal heartbeat detection test prior to an abortion and prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected"

Senator Andrew Koenig

Senator Andrew Koenig

I'm going to get into the actual bill in a bit, but first I want to talk about one of the more negative parts of the day, especially in terms of its overall implications. I got up at 5 a.m. to be ready and drive to Jefferson City to testify in time for the 8 a.m. hearing of SB 408. This bill is sponsored by Andrew Koenig of the 15th district, which covers a swath of St. Louis county. Senator Koenig introduced the bill discussion by giving an overview of the bill, and then the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Subcommittee opened up the hearing to proponents and opponents. 

I was the first bill opponent to give my testimony, which is very similar to my Washington Post Op Ed. I got emotional a few times during my testimony due to the grief I obviously continue to feel, but also because I feel so strongly about my message and that we should 100% have the right to do what we did for our family as it was done out of love, and also pride for trying to do everything I can to make sure people are aware of our circumstances. We are fighting for Grace and the humanity with which we were able to treat her.

However while I was prepared to feel all of these emotions, I was NOT expecting Senator Koenig to choose the few moments I took delivering my testimony to use it as an opportunity to look at his phone. I was literally sitting right next to Senator Koenig, maybe a foot or two away at most, reading my personal account of ending my very wanted pregnancy and he was looking at his cell phone instead of paying attention to my experience and perspective in relation to the very restrictive bill that he is proposing felt distracting and disrespectful.

Perhaps this is common, but as a first time testifier, it felt disrespectful and dismissive to me, especially since Senator Koenig has three children himself and fosters. Furthermore, it was very distracting as I was focusing on my message; I don't work in politics every day. This is all new and unusual for me; I'm just a regular person with a regular job like everybody else, and took a day off of work (and drove over 2 hours each way) to testify. This, simply put, is and was a very big deal to me. It's vulnerable and hard. All while we're grieving the loss of our very wanted daughter.

Speaking more broadly than Senator Koenig's decision to engage with his phone rather than with me, I would hate to learn that this behavior is the norm for any lawmaker towards any individual testifying. This isn't a partisan issue, this is a respect issue. No legislator or representative should, in my opinion, be dismissive and distracting to a person that has made the effort to come to share their perspective on a bill or initiative that they are proposing and sponsoring. I feel strongly they should want to hear all sides of the issue to ensure truly good, intelligent, fact-based legislation that encompasses all of the the wants and needs of the constituents that it impacts as much as possible. In my particular case, thankfully the members of the Senate Seniors, Families and Children Committee that heard my testimony were far more attentive and appreciative of my testimony, even if they didn't agree with it, than Senator Koenig.

I think that all politicians should want to make laws that are as fair and inclusive of as many impacted parties as possible, but Senator Koenig's proposed bill leaves out a surprising number of his presumed constituents. It's easy to assume that the constituents that Senator Koenig represents are not as conservative (and presumably pro-life) as he is. I cannot find very specific data around how his district (District 15) voted, which happens to be right next to the one that I live in and is more Liberal than Conservative, but both are part of St. Louis County which voted Democratic in the major 2016 elections:

The 2016 Presidential Results by Demographic in St. Louis County

The 2016 Senate Results by Demographic in St. Louis County

The 2016 Governor Results by Demographic in St. Louis County

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You can review these graphs here.

This tells me that despite Senator Koenig, a Conservative, being elected, the constituents he represents are not likewise overwhelmingly Conservative themselves, and at a minimum likely not absolute in their politics. I tend to want compromise and legislation that serves as many people as fairly as possible instead of legislation serving a few at the expense of many, so I definitely have a bias, but I feel that Senator Koenig might do a better job representing his constituents than he currently is by proposing more moderate, fact-based, prevention-based reproductive rights legislature. In fact he is arguably an ideal candidate to offer more balanced, compromised-based legislation than a representative in a far more partisan district. I know another woman who lives in Senator Koenig's district who has had to make the same heartbreaking choice that we have, and I feel so sad for her that this is the person representing her. Senator Koenig isn't proposing logical ways to limit abortion such as bills that encourage sex education or contraception; instead he is proposing a 6 week abortion ban, one that doesn't even have exceptions for rape, incest or fetal anomaly. It truly is a horribly-designed bill with potentially disastrous consequences that won't actually stop abortions, it will just make them far more dangerous.

Heartbeat bills have well documented arguments against them, including that women often don't know they are pregnant soon enough to meet the proposed law's restrictive timelines, and that laws that outlaw abortion this early have been ruled in the past to be unconstitutional based on Roe v Wade (see here and here). All of this doesn't even take into account that states spend a lot of money fighting these rulings that overturn these laws. I would love to see us putting those funds towards sex education or contraception.

I hope my future experiences testifying are more positive experiences. While obviously I knew Senator Koenig and I have opposing views on reproductive rights, I didn't expect that my views would be so dismissed by him. I'd hoped he would at least be curious about my perspective, but if he was, it was not demonstrated to me in any way. I fear that this is how the vast majority of legislative debate goes right now, and it's very discouraging. We, as constituents, deserve far better, and I still hold out hope that the respectful, compassionate discussion that I built this website for can happen, but listening, which Senator Koenig failed to do, is a critical step.