Exclusive: St. Louis prosecutors likely won’t enforce new abortion law

Amid a backlash by urban prosecutors in states that have passed restrictive abortion laws, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell are indicating that they will not prosecute any cases brought to them for violating Missouri’s new “fetal heartbeat” law that makes abortions after eight weeks of gestation illegal, and mandates that doctors found guilty of violating the law face up to 15 years in prison. The law forbids prosecution of women who have abortions, and reserves the felony charges solely for “abortion providers”.

Sources familiar with Gardner’s thinking on the matter indicate she does not believe enforcing the new law is a priority, and prefers to use her office’s resources to prosecute defendants charged with violent crime rather than policing abortion providers. As a practical matter, her office’s hands-off position may not have much effect. While the only abortion provider in Missouri, the Planned Parenthood Clinic on Forest Park Blvd,. is in her jurisdiction, Planned Parenthood doctors have been clear that they have no intention of violating the state’s drastic new anti-abortion law.

In a written statement to the Northsider/Southsider and, Gardner’s spokeswoman said “We are currently examining the ramifications of the passage of recent abortion legislation on healthcare professionals who provide women’s health services in the City of St. Louis.”

At the same time, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell issued a statement, saying “Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and has been settled law since 1973. It is infuriating that this fundamental constitutional principle—and the humanity of women—is being put into play for political purposes.”

Gardner and Bell’s skepticism about the new Missouri law, which provides no exemptions for pregnancies by rape or incest, puts them in the company of prosecutors from Georgia’s four most populous counties surrounding Atlanta, all of whom say they won’t prosecute cases under Georgia’s new anti-abortion law, which is even stricter than Missouri’s, and bans abortion after only six weeks.

Prosecutors from Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties, which make up metro Atlanta, have all said they will not be bringing any cases to court of women and doctors who violate the new Georgia law.

In Michigan, where a 78 year-old law banning abortion is still on the books, but is never enforced, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has said not only will that law continue to not be prosecuted, her office will refuse to prosecute any abortion cases anywhere in the state even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade.

In Missouri, Gardner’s reported decision could effectively halt any prosecutions, since under Missouri law, the state Attorney General’s office is forbidden from prosecuting cases unless the local prosecutor—in this case, Gardner—makes a request, or unless a judge orders the A.G.’s office to take over a case because local prosecutors have a conflict of interest.

While Gardner has immediate jurisdiction, since the Planned Parenthood Clinic is in the City, and Bell’s opposition is so far theoretical, since there are no abortion clinics in the County, the opposition of the two, who have prosecutorial jurisdiction over one-fifth of the state’s population, is a further indication of the unpopularity of the Missouri law in the state’s urban areas.

And it now appears that, while Missouri’s anti-abortion law is harsh and restrictive, no one will be prosecuted for violating it.

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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