Archaic Missouri law denies pregnant women the right to divorce, even in cases of domestic violence

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Mar 18, 2024 at 01:48 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Imagine if one day, a woman who is trying to escape a violent relationship with an abusive partner seeks out help from her lawyer to explore options for starting the divorce process. However, rather than being counselled through the steps, the lawyer informs her that she cannot finalise a divorce in the US state of Missouri because she is, wait for it, pregnant.

A controversial law in Missouri has put a glaring spotlight on both reproductive rights and women’s rights across the US. The bill, which requires individuals to disclose their pregnancy status before filing for divorce, has sparked widespread condemnation and urgent calls for change. This archaic law, reminiscent of a bygone era, not only impedes the legal dissolution of marriages but also perpetuates cycles of abuse and control while trapping pregnant women in dangerous situations.

The statute’s origins, traced back to 1973, may have been well-intentioned, as it was aimed at ensuring the welfare of mothers and their children by addressing custody arrangements, child support post-birth, and adequate provisions.

However, its application today serves as a glaring example of systemic oppression and reproductive coercion. This sexist legislation effectively functions as a ban on divorce for pregnant individuals, leaving them vulnerable to continued abuse and manipulation at the hands of their spouses.

According to Newsweek, Missouri is not the only state with such restrictions. Similar bans exist in Arizona, Arkansas, and Texas. Additionally, in seven other states—including Hawaii, Maine, and Delaware—judges are reluctant to approve divorces when one spouse is pregnant.

Ashley Aune, a 38-year-old Democratic legislator, was shocked when she discovered that women in Missouri were prohibited from completing a divorce if they happened to be pregnant—regardless of whether they were facing abuse from their spouse. “I was floored that this was still on the books,” she told The Independent.

Such legal barriers not only perpetuate cycles of abuse but also exacerbate reproductive coercion, a disturbing tactic employed by abusers to control their victims’ reproductive autonomy. Following the erosion of the constitutional right to abortion, there was a dramatic 99 per cent increase in calls to the National Hotline for Domestic Violence within the initial year.

@nowthisimpact

Did you know if you’re pregnant, married, and living in Missouri right now, you are unable to get a divorce? Here’s what to know about this outdated law that also exists in 3 other states. #missouri #marriage #divorce #pregnancy

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In the face of such injustice, brave advocates like Aune refuse to remain silent. Aune’s impassioned advocacy for House Bill 2402 seeks to grant family court judges the discretion to expedite divorces in cases of pregnancy, offering a glimmer of hope for survivors trapped in abusive relationships. This legislative initiative, if enacted, could be a game-changer, empowering survivors to reclaim their agency and break free from the shackles of abuse.

Missouri has a notorious reputation for its stringent stance on reproductive health and autonomy. It proudly took the lead in banning abortion post the overturning of Roe v Wade in 2022, stubbornly refusing exceptions even in cases of rape and incest. The state’s approach is like taking a giant leap backwards into the Dark Ages of reproductive rights.

According to a 2023 report by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, there have been alarming rates of pregnancy-related homicides between 2018 and 2022. Shockingly, 75 per cent of these fatalities occurred among Black women, highlighting a concerning disparity in maternal mortality rates.

Now, forgive me for getting a tad opinionated here, but what kind of world are we living in where women have to fight tooth and nail for the basic right to make decisions about their own bodies? It’s as though we’re caught in a twisted time warp, with lawmakers playing puppet masters with our fundamental rights. And for what? To satisfy some antiquated, morally rigid agenda that’s as outdated as a dial-up modem.

Let’s call a spade a spade: these lawmakers are not just out of touch, they’re downright dangerous. They’re waging a war on women’s autonomy under the guise of “protecting life,” conveniently turning a blind eye to the very real dangers that lurk in the shadows of reproductive coercion and domestic violence.

In the words of pioneering feminist icons like Gloria Steinem and Audre Lorde, the fight for reproductive justice is inseparable from the broader struggle for gender equality and liberation. Their powerful legacies inspire us to stand in solidarity with survivors and demand an end to systemic oppression in all its forms.

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