Missouri abortion-rights advocates will push back against the state’s new anti-abortion law, as well as regulatory attempts to close Missouri’s only remaining abortion clinic, with a three-pronged strategy that will use the courts, ballot boxes and ground-level action to fight abortion restrictions.
Appearing on The Jaco Report, officials from both Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union outlined plans to go on the offensive, at almost exactly the same moment St. Louis police were arresting more than a dozen pro-choice activists who had blocked the entrance to Gov. Mike Parson’s St. Louis office in the Wainwright State Office Building downtown.
If the Planned Parenthood clinic on Forest Park Avenue is forced by the state to close, the organization’s Angie Postal said the St. Louis office would help women access two nearby abortion clinics in Illinois, where state lawmakers have expanded access to abortions.
“We’ll work with our providers in Illinois to make sure that woman has access to abortion,” said Postal, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of Policy, Education, and Community Engagement in the St. Louis office. “We plan to work closely with the Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights, as well as the Women’s Hope Center in Granite City, to make sure women who come to us can still have access to abortion services.”
If the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in St. Louis is allowed to remain open, Postal said, the same tactic will apply to women who seek abortions but are more than eight weeks pregnant. The new Missouri law outlaws abortions after eight weeks of gestation.
Meanwhile, the ACLU is seeking approval from the Missouri Secretary of State to circulate petitions to put a measure overturning the Missouri law on the 2020 statewide ballot. Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU in Missouri, added that the ballot language might be expanded to write guaranteed abortion access into the Missouri Constitution.
“The Missouri legislature and the governor have gone way beyond what Missourians support with this bill,” Rothert said, noting that although Missouri is a red (Republican-controlled) state, he believes voters don’t support the new law, which makes no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. “Most Missourians do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. They don’t want to make abortion illegal in all cases.”
Rothert also said that the ACLU might go to federal court to challenge the constitutionality of the Missouri law, which is what the organization did in both Alabama and Mississippi.
Postal said that charges that the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic had been found “deficient” for medical and sanitation reasons were completely untrue, and that the deficiencies cited were because the clinic had not obeyed what she called “invasive” regulations.
“One of the deficiencies we had to address was not providing a pelvic exam for a medication abortion,” she said. “That means that our doctors would have to put their fingers inside a woman’s vagina when it’s not medically indicated.”
She laid much of the blame at the feet of Parson. “His goal, and it has been his goal his entire political career, is to make safe abortion inaccessible in Missouri.”
The ACLU’s Rothert said recent comments by state lawmakers showed that the ultimate goal was not women’s health, as many abortion opponents claim, but control over women and the elimination of abortion.
State Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican from O’Fallon in St. Charles County, tweeted last week that many women falsely claim they were raped in order to get late-term abortions a few days before their due dates. State Rep. Barry Hovis, a Republican from Jackson, in southeastern Missouri, said on the House floor that most rapes are “consensual” and that women who claim their pregnancies result from rape are probably not being truthful.
“We’ve been going for years pretending that restrictions on abortion are really about protecting women’s health,” Rothert said. “That was never true, but that was a way to pretend we weren’t just letting the government into folks lives. Now these guys slipped and said what they really think, and what their real motives are.”
And Postal thinks the extreme nature of the new Missouri law, and attempts to close the state’s only abortion clinic, have galvanized many voters, especially women, who have previously sat out the abortion debate.
“I think with them showing their hand with these extreme abortion bans that don’t include exceptions for rape or incest, I think that some of the people who maybe before weren’t speaking out are going to take to the streets and are going to start taking a stand on this issue.”