Jaco: Missouri pro-choice groups mobilize to fight fetal heartbeat abortion bill

In what was essentially the middle of the night, early Thursday morning, the Missouri Senate followed Alabama’s lead from hours earlier on Wednesday, passing one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation. It would make abortion illegal at eight weeks, with no exceptions for things like rape or incest. The bill needs another vote of approval in the GOP-led House before it can go to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who voiced support Wednesday for an earlier version.

If the so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill  becomes law, abortions in Missouri would be outlawed after the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy, once a heartbeat can be detected. Pro-choice groups in St. Louis call it a back-door way of making all abortions illegal and are mounting a campaign against the proposal in the Missouri Senate.

The sweeping bill, which passed the Missouri House in February by a 117-39 vote, seems designed to trigger a challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Missouri Senate is now considering, in the final days of the legislative session, whether to agree and join states such as Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in making an extreme anti-abortion proposal law.

Declaring that “God is the author of life,” the bill forbids abortion not only for fetal heartbeat, but for when a fetus can allegedly feel pain (roughly 20 weeks), if brainwaves are detected (generally around 8 weeks), for medical conditions such as Down Syndrome, and would outlaw abortion completely in Missouri if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

“It’s the most extreme bill we’ve seen in the country. It actually contains five different ways to ban abortion, in addition to other medically unnecessary restrictions,” said M’Evie Mead of Planned Parenthood, which operates Missouri’s only remaining abortion clinic in St. Louis. “So this bill is too extreme for Missouri.”

Planned Parenthood and allied groups are launching a campaign to defeat the bill in the Missouri Senate. But another St. Louis-based group is already looking ahead to when a conservative Supreme Court outlaws abortion, by providing women with information on do-it-yourself abortions using pharmaceuticals.

The group ReProAction is holding workshops and hosting webinars at its website to give women information on what the group calls self-managed abortion using  Misoprostol, a drug originally developed to treat ulcers, which induces miscarriages in pregnancies of 10 to 12 weeks.

“Self-managed abortion with pills is something that has happened since the abortion pill became available,” said Pamela Merritt, a St. Louis activist who co-founded ReProAction. “Throughout this country, particularly in the Midwest and the upper South, there’s already a crisis of access, which is one of the reasons why we feel it’s important that people understand self-managed abortion.”

ReProAction has also launched an online guerrilla war against anti-abortion legislators and supporters, posting videos of them making false medical statements about abortion along with corrections.

“This has nothing to do with religious beliefs of the so-called pro-life movement,” Merritt said. “This is about keeping women in their place.”

Anti-abortion legislators like Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr (R-Springfield), having already shut down every abortion clinic in the state but one, seem eager for this case to be picked up by the U.S. Supreme Court, where they believe the two justices appointed by President Donald Trump will unite with other conservatives to make abortion illegal again, as it was prior to Roe in 1973.

Meanwhile, the Midtown Planned Parenthood clinic is swamped as the state’s only abortion provider.

“We are overwhelmed, given the medically unnecessary restrictions that the Supreme Court already said shouldn’t be in place and that Missouri went through a back-door effort to re-institute,” said Mead. “The doctors and the health center staff are amazing in they’re helping those women.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mead and Merritt appeared on The Jaco Report.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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