JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — It’s been almost three weeks since abortion became illegal in Missouri and still a question for some, does the new law ban contraceptives and what is the definition of a medical emergency?
Democratic state leaders are asking Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to set the law straight. Within minutes of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last month, Missouri became the first state to ban abortion, sending more patients across the border.
Hours after the decision was released, Planned Parenthood announced it stopped abortions in Missouri. The only clinic left that performed the procedure was in St. Louis in the Central West End.
“We have seen the number of folks seeking abortion in southern Illinois triple,” the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri said Tuesday. “Our wait times have gone from just three days prior to the decision to now almost three weeks.
McNicholas testified in front of a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday morning, telling members about the consequences states like Missouri are facing.
“People will suffer unnecessary harm as doctors wait for permission from hospital lawyers to tell them that they can proceed,” McNicholas said.
She’s referring to Missouri’s trigger law, banning all abortions except for medical emergencies.
“In other words, for doctors to avoid prison time, instead of treating a patient before their health condition becomes life-threatening, doctors must contemplate how sick is sick enough before providing life-saving abortion care,” McNicholas said.
The General Assembly passed the “Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act” in 2019. Within the legislation, there’s a “trigger law,” meaning abortion would be abolished with a proclamation from the governor or the attorney general. The proclamation was signed minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court issued the decision by Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
“Our health center in Illinois, just across the Mississippi River has cared for patients who have traveled as far as 1,000 miles each way,” McNicholas told committee members. “Overturning Roe will not stop the need for abortion.”
The law defines a medical emergency as: “A condition which, based on reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert the death of the pregnant woman or for which a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
In an interview after the hearing, McNicholas said patients are waiting longer to have abortions due to the lack of clinics that offer the procedure.
“Our own experience in the last few weeks is that people will be pushed to later gestational age,” McNicholas said. “In the wake of the Texas decision, we saw 52% increase in folks getting abortion care with us in the second trimester and we should expect to see much more of that as access becomes more and more limited across the country.”
Another one of her concerns, more physicians are not being taught important procedures.
“The same procedures that we use for abortions are the ones that we use to manage miscarriages,” McNicholas said. “With about half of the country eliminating access to abortion, that means those residents and fellows in those states are now going to have fewer patients to learn from.”
Under the trigger law, if a doctor performs an abortion outside of a medical emergency, he or she can lose their license and face up to 15 years in prison.
“I think the way the law is written right now will result in people needlessly suffering and even possibly dying,” said Sen. Lauren Arthur (D-Kansas City).
She is one of the Democrats calling for a special session to fix the law to protect all types of birth control and to define medical emergencies. Arthur said she has constituents crossing the border into Kansas for health care.
“We also want to clarify that doctors can perform necessary medical procedures in the case of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages,” Arthur said. “I’m hearing from doctors and health care providers who say they want to provide the very best care for their patients but because of the uncertainty and the ambiguity in the law, it may expose them to legal risk.”
Parson said earlier this month all forms of contraceptives are still legal in Missouri.
“There are no changes,” Parson said on July 1. “Everything that was legal before that decision is legal today. There have been absolutely no changes whatsoever on contraceptives.”
He also said the state’s health department will issue more clarifications and guidelines. In a release, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said it’s responsible for regulating licensed abortion facilities and providers.
“Before and following the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling in Dobbs that overturns Roe v. Wade, Missouri law does not ban the use of contraception methods. RSMo 188.017 criminalizes performing an abortion absent a medical emergency, but this does not include pregnancy preventive measures.
DHSS is currently reviewing regulations related to abortion facilities to ensure their accordance with state law.”
Parson announced earlier this month he is calling lawmakers back to the statehouse for a special session on tax cuts. Arthur said in an interview if the governor doesn’t expand the call to include the Democrats’ request to include birth control, she doesn’t foresee any legislation getting passed.
“I suspect there will be a number of people with very different options on those issues and I don’t think there is any guarantee that we will end this session with any changes to our law on tax credits or tax cuts,” Arthur said.
Last year, in Missouri there were 48 abortions performed at an abortion facility in Missouri.
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