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Missouri now permits abortion only in cases of ‘medical emergency’ – but not rape, incest

ST. LOUIS – Shaking her head in disbelief while sitting at Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis, threaded her fingers together and bowed her head as the constitutional right to abortion unraveled.

“Oh my gosh,” Bush said Friday morning, her voice breaking as she was wrapped in a hug. “Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. Forty-nine years. Forty-nine years. I’m sorry. Forty-nine years and they strip it away. Forty-nine years. Thirty-six million people will be affected and it’s, ‘Oh well.’”

“Thirty-six million people and this is a far-right extremist Supreme Court that’s making this decision that affects other people,” Bush said.

Just minutes before, murmurs of “it just dropped” rippled through the room as a roundtable discussion with Bush, reproductive rights advocates, local officials and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra wrapped up.

The roundtable’s focus was on how to bolster access to abortion in a state already living a near post-Roe reality with only one abortion clinic. Even though it was expected, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning the constitutional right to the procedure that has been in place since 1973 still sucked the air out of the room when it was released.

“I’m feeling dismayed that it’s 2022 and this is where we’re at,” Michelle Trupiano, executive director of the Missouri Family Health Council, said after the decision was released. “And I am scared for all of the people today and yet to come that all of a sudden don’t know what they’re going to do.”

The impact was immediate.

Mere minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision was released, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt issued an opinion to kick off Missouri’s trigger ban — making Missouri one of the first states to outlaw nearly all abortions. Gov. Mike Parson soon followed with a proclamation declaring the law as in effect. 

“Today, the overruling of Roe and Casey permits Missouri to renew its proud pro-life traditions and restore basic legal protection for the most fundamental of human rights — the right to life,” Schmitt wrote. 

In a statement, Parson said he was pleased that power has been restored to the states.

“Nothing in the text, history, or tradition of the United States Constitution gave un-elected federal judges authority to regulate abortion,” Parson said.

Under Missouri’s trigger law passed in 2019, abortions will be permitted only in cases of a medical emergency. There are no exceptions for rape or incest under the law. 

Health care providers who violate the law can be guilty of a class B felony, which can result in five to 15 years in prison, and have their medical license suspended or revoked.

People who receive an abortion cannot be prosecuted in violation of the law.

Yamelsie Rodríguez

At a press conference, Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said the clinic notified Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services that abortion services in the state were being immediately ceased.

Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said the clinic conducted its final abortion last week. The clinic in St. Louis has been the state’s sole remaining abortion provider since 2018 after a Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic’s license expired and in the face of the GOP supermajority that controls Missouri’s statehouse steadily increasing restrictions.

“We have reached the end of the line for abortion care,” Rodríguez said.

Other provisions included in the law that banned abortions after eight weeks are currently blocked while the the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighs a challenge to those statutes. In a news release, Parson’s office said his administration is coordinating with Schmitt to resolve any litigation preventing implementation of the 2019 law.

Outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missourians gathered shortly after the decision was released to both celebrate and decry the news.

Mary Maschmeier (left), founder of Defenders of the Unborn, hugs a friend outside Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic as they celebrate the demise of Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.

Mary Maschmeier, a St. Charles County resident and founder of Defenders of the Unborn, said she cried as she saw the decision announced on Fox News. 

“Babies are not dying in the state of Missouri, beginning today…” said Maschmeier, who has advocated against abortion since 1985 and has previously been arrested for her efforts. “I just never thought I’d see it in my lifetime.”

Across the sidewalk, 20-year-old Saint Louis University student Kendyl Underwood said she was worried the ruling would signal the erosion of rights beyond just abortion, such as access to contraceptives.

“No one questions any of those justices’ rights to their religious beliefs or anything like that. They’re constitutionally protected,” Underwood said. “But now being a woman in this country is a fight in itself. And that’s ridiculous.”

With access to abortion already restricted in Missouri, thousands of residents travel to neighboring Illinois and Kansas each year to receive an abortion compared with the fewer than 200 procedures that occurred within Missouri in recent years.

Missouri lawmakers have floated ideas for policy changes in a post-Roe world, such as ensuring a right to abortion doesn’t exist in the state constitution and limits on access to certain forms of contraceptives; and abortion providers had already been laying the groundwork for the imminent fall of Roe.

Just across the Missouri border in Fairview Heights, Ill., Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region has partnered in a Regional Logistics Center to provide patients with wraparound support, such as funding travel and a place to stay so they can access the procedure.

In Kansas, Planned Parenthood Great Plains is working to establish the Center for Abortion and Reproductive Equity, or CARE, that aims to lower barriers to accessing care in the wake of increasing limits on access to abortion.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which had stopped providing abortions in Missouri years ago, announced it had paused abortions services in neighboring Arkansas. 

“Today this creeping march to crush fundamental freedoms has reached its awful conclusion: your body is not your own. Your rights are entirely dependent on where you reside,” Emily Wales, the group’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “Yet in this very grim moment in American history, Planned Parenthood Great Plains’ doors are still open and will stay open, to provide sexual and reproductive care today, tomorrow, and for years to come.”

This article by Tessa Weinberg is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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