Republican male senators suggest women 'go to the zoo' to get an abortion'

Rachel Roberts
The senator sparked outrage when he suggested women should 'go to the zoo' to get an abortion: AFP

A pair of male Republican senators in the midwestern state of Missouri sparked fury when they suggested women would be safer getting abortions at the zoo than in a clinic.

During a debate on a tax increase that would benefit St Louis Zoo, Senator Bob Onder attempted to link it to the city's recent anti-discrimination ordinance which would ban employers and landlords from discriminating against women who have had an abortion.

Claiming it had made itself an "abortion sanctuary city", he filed an amendment to the Zoo Tax Proposal, which said it should have to change its name to “The Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park.”

Republican senator Wayne Wallingford also suggested women should go to the zoo to get a termination “because we know it will be safer”.

Mr Onder then picked up the zoo theme and compared having an abortion to putting down animals.

“Let’s think about this,” he said, referencing the state law that requires a three-day waiting period before a woman can have an abortion, during which time she must receive state-sponsored counselling to discourage her from going through with the procedure.

Senator Bob Onder was one of the two Republicans who jokingly compared abortion to euthenizing animals

“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. So, zoo animals, it couldn’t be more than 24 hours, right?”

He then explained that the waiting period for euthanising zoo animals is five days.

“I believe there's some sort of requirement to notify in case some other zoo wants to adopt that animal,” he said, before reportedly laughing. “Isn't that interesting?”

“Maybe we should send the people that want an abortion to the St Louis Zoo, because we know it'll be safer,” his colleague Mr Wallingford replied.

Senator Wayne Wallingford insisted he was joking when he made his suggestion that women should 'go to the zoo' for an abortion 'because it will be safer'

The day before this exchange took place, Democrats in Missouri had filibustered a bill that would have bolstered the rights of pregnancy crisis centres in St Louis which are reportedly run by pro-Lifers and provide misleading information.

Critics say the three days a women has to wait between seeing a doctor and being allowed to have an abortion is burdensome and can be costly, especially for poorer women.

Mr Onder was referencing his belief that there should be a much longer waiting time and that even zoos have a five-day waiting period before they euthanize animals.

Following a swift public backlash, Mr Onder went on a local Fox News talk radio show to defend his comments.

“When we're debating on the Senate floor, sometimes we make serious proposals, and sometimes they're tongue-in-cheek to make a point,” he said. “The humorlessness and the lack of appreciation for irony and satire on the left is on full display here.”

Republican legislators in the state of Missouri like Onder have waged a war to stamp out abortion access in the state and shut down the last Planned Parenthood centre that offers abortion care.

The restrictions on Missouri abortion clinics are so tight that the facility in St Louis is the only one in the entire state.

Abortion is not free in the state or covered by insurance plans except in the case of rape, incest or where the life of the mother would be put at risk by continuing the pregnancy.

A federal court is currently in the process deciding whether to overturn the major restrictions—including laws that put impossible requirements on clinics and have been ruled unconstitutional in Texas—that have prevented more clinics from providing abortions.

“Not only has [Onder] 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,” campaign group 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.”