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Pro-Choice Advocates Invited Rep. Barry Hovis To A Discussion On HB 126. Here's What Happened

Lindsey Grojean/KRCU

When Missouri lawmakers passed restrictive abortion legislation mid-May, those who were watching the news roll in may have also come across a video of Rep. Barry Hovis using the phrase “consensual rape” during a debate on the Senate floor. Hovis, who represents Jackson and co-sponsored the house bill, later apologized and claimed he misspoke.

Pro-choice advocates in his district, though, wanted more. So, Friday evening, Hovis visited with several community members at Beef O' Brady's to hear their stories of rape, health concerns with the abortion ban, and their general take on the hot-button issue.

Local Planned Parenthood volunteer, Kelsey Brianne organized the event. She thought it would be a good idea for Hovis to be held accountable by the women - and some men - in his district through an in-person Q&A.

“He’s our legislator, and he owes it to his constituents to kind of clarify or explain,” said Brianne. “I also wanted to give him an opportunity to hear from us about reproductive health issues that, as a man, he won’t personally face.”

About two weeks ago, Brianne contacted Hovis’ office regarding such a meeting, to which they agreed.

Here’s what happened.

Editor’s Note: Due to the large number of attendees, those who did not introduce themselves when addressing Hovis will be left nameless and referred to as “community members.”


Barry’s Perspective

A 30-year veteran of the Cape Girardeau Police Department, Hovis said he’s “always tried to strive for protecting innocent life.” He believes in life at conception, and when House Bill 126 came out, he agreed to vote with it.

“I felt that would decrease the amount of abortions in the U.S. which, in my opinion, I felt was protecting innocent life,” said Hovis.

After explaining his stance, Hovis proceeded to apologize for the “consensual rape” remark, adding that there was “no such thing.”

“I’m sorry if I offended anyone here. I want to make sure that’s clear,” said Hovis. “Working in law enforcement, I always took victims very seriously in what they did.”

Hovis said he made the comment while they were “catching heat” from lawmakers who believed there should’ve been exceptions for rape and incest. What he was trying to say, and “not very good at articulating,” was that many rape cases are different.

“There’s actually four statutes in Missouri that deal with rape. They deal with ‘A’ felonies all the way down to ‘D’ felonies. An ‘A’ felony could be life in prison, and a ‘D’ felony could be a few years. The moratorium didn’t start until 8 or possibly 12 weeks,” explained Hovis.  


“It’s a Huge Burden on a Woman”

One community member asked Hovis what his plans were to protect the women forced to carry a baby after the 8-week period allowed by the bill.

“Are women going to get paid maternity leave? Are we going to have access to affordable healthcare?” she asked. “And if life begins at conception, why doesn’t child support happen at conception?”

Another woman added that having a child is a “huge burden on a woman.”

“In Missouri we don’t have, that I’m aware of, state law that allows anyone to be able to take off and force an employer to let them,” responded Hovis, before several people jumped in.

Credit Lindsey Grojean/KRCU

“Sir, you’re forcing us to carry a child and raise that child for at least 18 years, and you don’t want to force an employer to pay for healthcare? To pay for maternity leave?” asked one woman.

Hovis pointed out that we lived in a “free society,” an observation many attendees argued with.

“If it’s free then we can choose to have an abortion,” voiced one community member.  

“You can under Missouri law, up until eight weeks,” responded Hovis.

“Why would you choose to make that a priority and not then deal with all of the repercussions from it? You’re putting that burden on women. These are very good questions, and we need answers,” asked another.

Brianne, the event’s organizer, asked Hovis if he would be interested in introducing a bill that would implement paid maternity leave.

“I would have to look at it and see what the cost is going to be, and see what kind of support we would have,” said Hovis.

“We’re going to have the cost,” said one community member. “The women in this room and others - maybe some that don’t vote today, but may vote in the future because of this - are going to carry a lot of the cost.”

Hovis said the state of Missouri continues to provide for the well-being of lower income families, who, if they’re at 200% of the poverty level or below, qualify for services such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“Let’s just say that the poverty level in the state is a dollar. So if you’re making up to $2, you still qualify for Medicare and Medicaid services and the different programs we have for food assistance, living expenses, stuff along those lines,” said Hovis.

Hovis said that, at times, women benefit more from social service spending if they are living independently, which has caused some parents to live separately so as to draw money from these programs. The goal was to make the programs cost-neutral using a flat rate, which would  benefit families whether or not they lived together said Hovis, and legislators are currently looking at ways to avoid penalizing full-timers.

A new “sliding scale” idea, he said, would prevent participants from “losing everything when they step off.”

One community member asked Hovis if he thought it was realistic to think that someone could raise a child on minimum wage.

“I would think that anyone could raise a child if they were making minimum wage,” answered Hovis. “Not every child will be born in the same circumstances in our country or in our state. Some children will grow up very poor in life, and some children may be born with a lot more means than what I ever had. “


No Concessions for Rape or Incest

A large portion of the discussion surrounded the bill’s lack of concessions for rape or incest.

Kendra Eads, executive director of the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence, shared her experience with a case where a couple attempted to impregnate their child, who was 12 years old. The parents were charged, and luckily the girl did not become pregnant, said Eads. But under the new bill, she would’ve had to have the consent of “the people who did this to her” to receive an abortion if she became pregnant.


Eads explained to Hovis that, when considering innocent life, establishing such parameters fails to recognize the uniqueness of each sexual violence case, and that having no concessions for rape or incest is “unconscionable.”

Hovis again stated the ban “doesn’t kick in until the two-month period,” and claimed that most people “know the moment they’re raped.” Eads explained that due to trauma and dynamics surrounding sexual assault, delayed disclosure is “incredibly common.”

“They know when they were raped, but that doesn’t mean they know their cycle or that they have the wherewithal to go and have a pregnancy test,” said Eads. “For my victims and for my work, it’s got to be more than eight weeks. There’s got to be exceptions. This is unacceptable.”

Hovis ventured to ask the group if they would be supportive of the bill, if they included an exception for rape or incest. Community members gave a resounding “No.” But some admitted that it would be “a step.”

“It would be better than what we have, and I would’ve been less likely to come out and talk to you,” said Eads.


Maternal Mortality and Women’s Health Concerns with HB 126

Health issues were also at the forefront of the evening’s discussion.

Planned Parenthood grassroots organizer Aaron Lerma said some have raised concerns that the ban may cause a higher maternal mortality rate, since the current ratio of deaths to births is 32.6 for every 100,000 births.

Hovis said the cause of this rate is currently the subject of one committee's ongoing focus study.

“Why wouldn’t you as a group try to get together and decrease the drug usage, decrease morbid obesity--which is probably the biggest problem Missouri has?” one community member asked. “Why aren’t you doing that before you go after women to demand to decrease their power and their ability to make decisions about themselves?”

The topic then changed to the bill’s time restrictions, with participants discussing many mothers may not know they’re pregnant by eight weeks due to the differences in women’s circumstances, particularly given when they would miss their period.

“And that’s only if you’re regular,” noted one community member.

Hovis said he didn’t know if the mortality rate would change due to the ban on abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy.

When asked if anything was being done to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, he said he always tries to “impress upon people to take personal responsibility.”

“I’m a big personal responsibility guy,” he said.

“I think most of us can agree that we would like to see healthier communities,” Lerma said. “But if there is no access to these services in this community without judgment and shaming, I think it’s very difficult to put that on the individual when we’re not opting into Medicaid expansion.”

Lerma did thank Hovis for his vote in favor of HB 47, which “would have stopped oral contraception prescription from expiring.”


In Closing

Following the body of the debate, one community member stated, “I’m sure none of us in here want to kill babies,” to which others agreed.

“It’s more along the lines of: if we had access to healthcare, if we had paid maternity leave, if we had better social pardons for children, then maybe we’d be like, ‘Yeah, let’s ban abortions. Because nobody has to have them, because it’s affordable to have a kid,’” she said. “But that’s not the circumstance.”

“Our goal is safe, legal, and rare,” added another community member.

Hovis recalled when democrats originally made that statement following the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision. But, "70 million babies later", he doesn’t “know how rare it is” anymore.

“If it would’ve stayed rare, I don’t think we’d be having this national debate right now,” said Hovis.