It’s Like We’re Incentivizing Sexual Assault at This Point: The New Missouri Legislation

Missouri just passed a new bill into law that prevents judges from finalizing a divorce or separation if the wife is pregnant. Frighteningly, this law makes no exceptions even in cases of domestic abuse.

Missouri is not the only state to pass such a law. In fact, Arizona, Arkansas, and Texas already have similar laws in place. These laws make it so that the courts must wait until a woman has given birth to finalize a divorce and issue custody and child support arrangements.

The passage of such laws just feels like another drop in the bucket toward the complete dehumanization and curtailing of rights for women.

Already, in some states, women can be prosecuted for having an abortion—even if they cross state lines into a state where abortion is legal. There is reason to believe, based on preliminary evidence from these states, that rape victims who become pregnant and secure an abortion could face higher penalties for the abortion than the men who raped them would receive for sexual assault.

In some states, marital rape is not even recognized as a crime, or may have narrower or lesser penalties if it is criminalized.

And now, in states like Missouri, women cannot divorce their husbands if they are pregnant, even if there is demonstrable evidence of abuse.

So, if a woman can’t abort an unwanted pregnancy, can’t divorce a man while she’s pregnant, and might face worse consequences for aborting a pregnancy after rape (which would include marital rape) than the man who raped her would face …

… it’s almost like there is a legal incentive for men to sexually assault & impregnate women against their will.

To those who would say, why does it matter if they can’t get a legal divorce while they’re pregnant? It’s just a formality—a piece of paper?” I say this:

Imagine being a mom who has another baby on the way. You are being abused by your husband and need to get you and your children to safety, but because your husband doesn’t let you work, you have no means to provide for yourself on your own. A divorce decree would ensure that you could at least have some help supporting yourself and your kids in the form of child support, but you can’t get that until your baby is born.

So, stuck and desperate, you have to sit in your terrible circumstances until the baby is born.

How is this pro-life? How is this pro-family? How is this anything other than another grab at women’s rights?

This is how they do it. Little by little; death by a thousand cuts.

We need everyone, but especially those with race, class, or social privilege, to please consider using your voting power. Please think of women with less power and privilege than you. Please consider the women who are unsafe and have no way out under some of these laws. Women are begging you to please understand that not all women have access to the same safety as you, the same financial stability as you, or the same societal privilege as you. Laws like these do little to impact white, able-bodied women with material wealth and class privilege. But they can have a huge impact on poor, non-white, disabled, and socially marginalized or oppressed women who don’t have access to the same privilege as wealthy white women.

Sadly, it is often white women, acting as collaborators with their white husbands, who vote for these oppressive laws that subjugate other women. These laws, historically, are allowed to stay in place until white women’s privilege no longer shields us from the consequences of the law, and then we see a vocal outcry against them from white women.

Can we please not do that this time? White women and other women with material wealth and privilege, can we please see this for the crisis that it is right now, while it’s affecting other women who do not share our privilege?

This is not right. It is not moral. It is little more than a patriarchal attempt at oppressing women for the benefit of men.

And our dissent must be loud.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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