WASHINGTON ― Two Republican Missouri lawmakers seeking to further restrict abortion in the state joked with each other on the Senate floor Wednesday that women would be better off going to the zoo than to a doctor for an abortion, because there is a longer waiting period for euthanizing zoo animals.
State Sen. Bob Onder (R) spoke in opposition to a tax hike benefitting the St. Louis Zoo because he opposes the city’s proposed ban on employers and landlords from discriminating against women for their reproductive choices. Onder, whose bill targeting abortion clinics had been filibustered the night before, lamented ― falsely ― that zoos are more heavily regulated than abortion clinics in Missouri.
“The St. Louis Zoo gets inspected once a year!” Onder said.
“Maybe we should send the people that want an abortion to the St. Louis Zoo, because we know it’ll be safer,” state Sen. Wayne Wallingford (R) added.
Onder then pointed out that zoos have a five-day waiting period for euthanizing animals, while abortion clinics in Missouri require women to wait three days after meeting with their doctors before having the procedure.
“Let’s think about this. Babies, it’s three days, so although there are members of this body who don’t agree with that three days, babies are three days,” Onder said. “So, zoo animals, it couldn’t be more than 24 hours, right?”
“Five days, Senator,” he continued. He added: “I believe there’s some sort of requirement to notify in case some other zoo wants to adopt that animal. Isn’t that interesting?”
Abortion clinics are so heavily regulated in Missouri that only one facility in the state can perform abortions. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that a federal judge intends to block a pair of laws requiring that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers, or mini-hospitals, and that their doctors have admitting privileges at hospitals, because the Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that those laws are intended to shut down clinics rather than to make them safer.
But Onder wants to make St. Louis even less friendly to women who seek abortions. He suggested changing the tourism motto of St. Louis to say, “Where we protect our zoo animals, but it’s open season on Alternative to Abortion centers and pro-life organizations.” Then he took the apparent joke a step further, drafting an amendment that would rename the St. Louis Zoo the “Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park.”
The advocacy group Progress Missouri denounced Onder’s “drivel and lies.”
“Not only has he compared women to giraffes and zoo animals, but he has invoked the Holocaust and genocide in reference to a woman’s right to an abortion,” Progress Missouri said in a statement. “His colleague, Senator Wayne Wallingford, also suggested that we send people seeking an abortion ‘to the zoo.’ Unfortunately, this nonsensical rhetoric is as dangerous as it is disturbing, and there’s no place for it in public discourse.”
Onder later explained his rant in a Twitter post and clarified that he “never intended to offer” his draft amendment renaming the zoo.
“Yesterday’s floor debate was not about the St. Louis Zoo,” Onder wrote. “Rather it was about two important subjects: tax increases and abortion.”
He added, “My discussion on the Senate floor was completely intended to shine a light on the disservice that St. Louis City did to the people of our region by banning their freedom of speech and religion in making St. Louis an abortion sanctuary city.”