Pro-Abortion protest sign reading 'mind your own uterus'

The Extreme Hypocrisy of the Missouri Statute Essentially Banning Pregnant People From Getting a Divorce

Hey Missouri, is a fetus a person or isn't it??

A bizarre Missouri law has been getting national attention after a viral tweet and subsequent story from the Riverfront Times revealed a little-known statute essentially barring pregnant people from getting divorced.

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Under the Missouri law, a pregnant person can still file for divorce, but a judge can and typically does refuse to grant that divorce until they have given birth or are otherwise no longer pregnant, possibly via a miscarriage or abortion, which is, of course, also now a crime in Missouri after six weeks. (The other states where this law exists—Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and Arizona—also have heavy restrictions or outright bans on abortion or are currently working to implement them.)

If that sounds like some dystopian-level archaic misogyny, it definitely is! It’s also dangerous. People who are experiencing intimate partner violence are more at risk of being killed by their abusive partner during pregnancy and homicide is the leading cause of death among pregnant women. In 2009, a Washington court ruled in favor of a pregnant woman whose husband had become abusive, declaring that the state’s Equal Rights Amendment prohibited gender-based discrimination, which includes denying her the right to get a divorce based on her pregnancy status.

So why can’t a person get divorced if they’re pregnant?

The reasoning behind this archaic law is rooted in a stunning degree of hypocrisy. The actual statute doesn’t give a reason, it simply says that a woman involved in a divorce filing will have to state her pregnancy status along with other extremely basic facts like her name and address.

But Danielle Drake, the woman at the center of that Riverfront Times article, not only had to deal with the law personally and resubmit multiple divorce filings—one after learning she was pregnant and then again after she’d given birth—but she’s also a family law attorney, so she has a unique amount of insight here.

According to Drake, the reason why pregnancy will put divorce proceedings on hold is that courts can’t make custody rulings until the baby has been born. Why? Because, as she puts it, Missouri divorce law “does not see fetuses as humans.”

That’s pretty incredible given that Missouri, like so many other states, is investing heavily in the idea of fetal “personhood” as the entire justification for banning abortion.

“You can’t have a court order that dictates visitation and child support for a child that doesn’t exist,” Drake tells the paper. “I have no mechanism as a lawyer to get that support going. There’s nothing there because that’s not a real person.” Another family law attorney told the outlet that this applies even if there is absolutely no dispute over custody, paternity, or anything else that could be an issue.

So in family court, a fetus is not a person until it’s born. But the text of Missouri’s law banning abortion says that a fetus is “a separate, unique, living human being” and that the “life of each human being begins at conception.” We’ve always known that there’s no factual basis for those statements but it’s still pretty incredible to see these state lawmakers contradict themselves on actual legal precedent.

It’s clearer than ever that these anti-abortion Republican politicians literally just make these things up as they go and couldn’t know less about pregnancy and the entire reproductive journey. Just look at Missouri governor Mike Parson in this interview from last week, say that the details of a medically necessary emergency abortion should be left up to—brace yourself for the hypocrisy—the pregnant person and their doctor.

These people have literally no idea what they’re doing and the amount of control over us is frankly terrifying.

(image: SETH HERALD/AFP/Getty Images)


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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.