Missouri’s top Democratic leaders urged Gov. Mike Parson on Monday to call lawmakers into a special session to pass legislation to protect access to contraceptives and treatment of ectopic pregnancies in the wake of Missouri’s ban on nearly all abortions.
In a letter sent to Parson, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo of Independence and House Minority Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield said questions had swirled regarding what is and isn’t legal when it comes to contraception and what falls under a “medical emergency” in Missouri’s trigger law.
A spokeswoman for Parson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mere minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Attorney General Eric Schmitt issued an opinion that put Missouri’s trigger law passed in 2019 in effect. Nearly all abortions are now illegal in Missouri, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Late last month, the Saint Luke’s Health System in Kansas City briefly stopped providing emergency contraception, citing the “ambiguous” nature of Missouri’s trigger ban. The hospital system reversed course after both Schmitt and Parson publicly stated that Missouri law does not prohibit the use of Plan B or contraception.
Meanwhile, medical providers told The Independent they’re fearful that patients with high-risk pregnancies will face delayed care in life-threatening situations because doctors fear prosecution under Missouri’s abortion ban. Under the law, abortions are now permitted only to save the life of the patient or to avoid substantial and irreversible physical harm.
“Therefore, to ensure that birth control remains legal in Missouri and to ensure that medical providers are empowered to save the lives of women with ectopic pregnancies, we formally request an extraordinary session of the Missouri General Assembly to pass narrowly tailored legislation addressing these two issues,” Rizzo and Quade wrote in the letter.
However, calling a special session on those topics may open the door for Republican lawmakers who seek to restrict access to contraceptives to pass new limits.
Last year, Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to ban certain forms of contraceptives from being paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, and have previously said “anything’s on the table” about revisiting those proposals in a post-Roe v. Wade world.
In an interview, Quade acknowledged that could be a possibility.
“It’s always a concern anytime we’re in Jefferson City that more extreme bills could be passed,” Quade said. “But the reality is, this is such a scary and confusing time for individuals and since we have the governor coming forward saying that these things are protected, we think that it’s worth that risk.”
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned two weeks ago, lawmakers have pressed Schmitt to provide clarity under the law.
Quade requested Schmitt issue a formal opinion to address confusion, like whether patients can be prosecuted for using contraception or if Schmitt intends to independently prosecute allegations of illegal abortions. Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, also sent a similar request calling for Schmitt to issue a statement.
Quade said Monday that neither lawmaker had heard from Schmitt’s office.
A spokesman for Schmitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Parson has already said he will be calling lawmakers back into a special session to cut taxes. In their letter, Rizzo and Quade suggested Parson expand that call to include the issues of contraception and ectopic pregnancies, which “would not result in additional costs to taxpayers.”
With Parson’s office also previously issuing a statement that “contraceptives are not abortions,” Rizzo and Quade said it would be in line with the governor’s policy positions to do so.
The state health department also affirmed Missouri law does not ban the use of contraception and said in a news release late last month that the department “is currently reviewing regulations related to abortion facilities to ensure their accordance with state law.” The department has yet to provide additional clarity or regulations.
Quade said Democratic lawmakers would have a full slate of proposals later this year for legislation to address these issues.
Meanwhile, the 2019 law that contained Missouri’s trigger ban also contained provisions that banned abortions at eight weeks and if the procedure was being sought solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test or screening indicating Down Syndrome. Those pieces of the law were blocked while the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals weighed arguments in a lawsuit challenging them by Planned Parenthood.
When Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortion in Missouri was banned, Planned Parenthood moved to dismiss the case as moot. As a result on Friday, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the previous orders blocking the provisions’ enforcement and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.
“A pre-natal Down syndrome diagnosis should not be a death sentence, and because of our efforts, it no longer is,” Schmitt said in a statement Monday. “I’m proud to have led this fight to protect individuals with Down syndrome and uphold the sanctity of life.”
This article by Tessa Weinberg is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.