In Missouri, a proposed bill would grant more freedom to pregnant people.
Specifically, the new law would, if enacted, eliminate a loophole that previously prevented pregnant people from getting divorced before they give birth. A previously existing law stipulates that divorces cannot be finalized without a custody arrangement in place – and such arrangements cannot be finalized until after the child is born, when paternity can be confirmed.
The existing law has come under new levels of scrutiny following the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that reversed Roe v. Wade. Proponents of the new bill have pointed out that failing to finalize custody arrangements until after the birth flies in the face of the assertion that life begins at conception – a foundational piece of the so-called logic behind Missouri’s total abortion ban.
In addition, there are presently no exceptions in the books for cases of domestic violence or abuse.
Democratic Rep. Ashley Aune is now seeking to close what she referred to as an “archaic loophole” that “horrified and confused” her when she first learned of it. “Women in domestic violence situations can potentially be trapped in a marriage and be unable to sever that legal tie with somebody if they’re pregnant,” she added to the Kansas City Star.
The requirement was included in the existing law in order to ensure child support payments for mothers and their wards. But its unintended consequences outweigh its merits, proponents of the new bill say – by emboldening abusers while also barring families in general from seeking out the arrangements that work best for them.
“It does impact women in domestic violence situations potentially disproportionately, but when families in general need to seek a divorce or a formal separation … I think we really struggle,” Sara Brammer, vice president of Kansas City domestic violence nonprofit Synergy Services, told the Star.
An initial hearing on the bill, recently held by the Missouri House Emerging Issues Committee, went smoothly. But insiders suspect that the proposal may struggle to get past the state Senate, where hard-line, “family values” Republicans may seek to shut it down.
One such legislator, Sen. Denny Hoskins, has already voiced his opposition. While he says he supports an exception in cases of domestic violence, he also told the Star that “just because the husband and wife are not getting along, or irreconcilable differences, I would not consider that that would be a good reason to get divorced during a pregnancy.”
Aune counters that, since abortions are inaccessible, preserving pregnant people’s autonomy in other regards becomes even more important. She told the Star: “In a state where we are currently forcing women to carry babies to term, I think it’s important that … women who are in that position who are also looking to get out of a marriage have the capacity to do so.”