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Missouri legislator seeks to make a point with measure to bar most vasectomies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2012 - In response to the recent vote by the Missouri House against requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives, state Rep. Stacey Newman has filed a bill to bar vasectomies “unless needed to avert serious injury or death.”

Newman, D-Richmond Heights, said Thursday she doesn’t expect the state House’s GOP leadership to treat her bill seriously, even though she has eight co-sponsors – all women. But Newman added that she introduced the bill to make a point.

“I was one of the ‘Silenced Seven,’ seven progressive Democratic women, who stood at the microphones for over three hours last Wednesday and were not allowed to speak on a topic unique to females,” said Newman, who chairs the House Progressive Caucus. 

“If we are going to seriously restrict access to birth control used by over 98 percent of Missouri women and widely used since 1960, then it’s only fair we legislate men’s access as well.”

Newman’s bill states, in part:  “In determining whether a vasectomy is necessary, no regard shall be made to the desire of a man to father children, his economic situation, his age, the number of children he is currently responsible for, or any danger to his wife or partner in the event a child is conceived."

The bill continues: “A vasectomy shall only be performed to avert the death of the man or avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the man.“

Newman said her bill is largely patterned after a similar measure introduced in the Georgia legislature by women lawmakers upset over the focus in Washington and in the states over allowing employers not to offer insurance coverage for contraception.

Newman’s bill was aimed, in part, at highlighting that it has mainly been male legislators in Missouri and in Washington pressing measures to curb abortion rights or coverage for contraceptives for women.

The backers of Missouri measures in the House and Senate addressing contraception, like their counterparts in Washington, say that their aim is to preserve religious freedom for employers and insurers and that access to contraception is not the primary issue.

The Missouri House passed a resolution Feb. 22, by a vote of 114-45, objecting to the proposed federal health care law requiring most employers or insurance companies to provide coverage for birth control.

Newman said she intentionally declined to seek any male cosponsors for her bill on vasectomies. She said she sought to highlight the fact that the male GOP leaders in the House avoided allowing most women critics a chance to speak on the resolution that she believes targeted women’s contraception.

Newman acknowledged that some critics may view her anti-vasectomy bill as a joke. “It doesn’t seem to be humorous when we are restricting women’s reproductive health decisions,’’ she said. “Why should ‘he’ not have to suffer government restrictions as well.”

She asserted that she and other like-minded legislators have been getting an earful from women voters over the past few weeks, as the contraceptive issue has been debated in Jefferson City and in Washington.

“Women,’’ said Newman, “are done with this nonsense.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.