Missouri's Role in the Threat To Roe

Missouri has had a recent flourish of activity surrounding abortion restrictions, but you should know that the state originated the initial restriction that led to the most destructive laws of the 2000’s. Even though it seems like we are just hearing about all of these new laws for the first time, the anti-abortion game plan has been in the works from Conservative activists in the state for a long time. Missouri is a flagship state for effectuating abortion-limiting laws that have withstood court scrutiny and substantially helped to chip away at Roe v. Wade for decades.

So, what began with a false argument of “safety and protection for women,” turned into more laws seeking to destroy access to abortion through building regulations, hospital provider relationships, location requirements and reporting demands.

In 1986, the Missouri General Assembly passed a law making it a misdemeanor for physicians to perform abortions unless they had admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. Missouri was the first state to enact this kind of restriction which argued that the law was not an undue burden to a woman because it sought to “protect” women. But the real truth about this kind of law is that clinics would now have difficultly in complying as the requirements would be too difficult to meet. It also became politically difficult for abortion doctors to get admitting privileges, as hospitals in the area had the authority to refuse to grant privilege for any reason. The success of this law spurred on other restrictions on abortion in Missouri including a 72-hour waiting period, parental consent for minors and tighter restrictions for insurance coverage. It’s also important to note that Missouri is one of the many states to recently enact a version of a Heartbeat Bill (HB126) that limits abortion to the first eight weeks of pregnancy.

These Missouri restrictions sparked the beginning of laws throughout the 2000’s that targeted restrictions on abortion providers called “TRAP” laws. TRAP laws sought to shut down abortion providers and make it more difficult for people to access abortion all under the faux premise of “protecting women.” They were fueled by a heavy Republican majority in statehouses all over America throughout the 2010’s. So, what began with a false argument of “safety and protection for women,” turned into more laws seeking to destroy access to abortion through building regulations, hospital provider relationships, location requirements and reporting demands.

The Supreme Court struck down the Texas version of the admitting privileges law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. The court found that unnecessary regulations requiring providers to obtain often unattainable admitting privileges and comply with prohibitively expensive building regulations constituted an “undue burden on [the] constitutional right” to abortion. But the reality of the TRAP laws was that many states experienced a substantial closure of abortion provider clinics while ongoing litigation slowly determined if the process was even legal and this was disastrous in terms of access. Missouri went from five abortion clinics in 2008 to only two in 2017. By 2018, only one facility remained open as Planned Parenthood’s Columbia Health Center could no longer meet new state requirements and was forced to close. This left Missouri with only the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic and they now join Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia, as a state with only one clinic that performs abortions.

The latest attempt to close the last remaining open abortion clinic in St. Louis was made by the Missouri Department of Health recently when the state entity refused to renew the last clinic’s license, claiming they had failed to meet critical health standards. The state even ridiculously accused Planned Parenthood of failing to properly complete abortions, claiming that women were leaving the clinic still pregnant after botched procedures. The St. Louis clinic responded to the necessary changes demanded by MDH, but refused to comply with a request that the department interview all of its physicians, some of which are not Planned Parenthood employees but rather independent providers. Missouri DHS threatened to close the clinic and Planned Parenthood filed an emergency request for relief in the courts.

Missouri Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer granted the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic a temporary restraining order on May 31st that enabled the clinic to remain open and temporarily continue to perform abortions. Judge Stelzer stated in his ruling that the clinic had demonstrated it would suffer “immediate and irreparable injury” if the license was forced to lapse. Although this should be considered a critical victory, the issue is not formally resolved and the judge will be hearing arguments from both sides again on Tuesday morning to consider the merits of the case and make a permanent ruling. Stay tuned…

Update: Read about the challenge to Missouri regulations by St. Louis Planned Parenthood doctors who will cease doing unnecessary and invasive pelvic exams at patients’ initial consultations: Abortion Clinic to Defy Regulation

Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero and a Scholar” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.