Analysis Abortion

Missouri’s War on Its Last Abortion Clinic

Imani Gandy

There's only one remaining abortion clinic in Missouri—a Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis—and anti-choice lawmakers are hell-bent on closing it, introducing nearly 40 anti-choice bills over the past two years.

At the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, Missouri Speaker of the House Timothy Jones (R-Eureka) took a tour of Missouri to lay out his agenda for the legislative session. Inartfully dubbed “4G,” Rep. Jones’ agenda included “Guarding and protecting Missouri values” and “Growth and opportunity for all Missourians” as two of the four “Gs.”

As the 2014 legislative session kicked off, however, it became clear that the Missouri legislature’s true agenda was to “Get rid of abortion.”

“We can continue to push our state in a direction that removes barriers to growth and prosperity, embraces smaller government and emphasizes individual freedom and free market principles,” declared Jones.

Ah yes! Individual freedom and smaller government: the twin principles held dear by the same fetus enthusiasts who are scrambling to deny women the individual freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies without a bunch of men telling them what to do, and who yearn for a government so small that it fits neatly into the uterus of every Missourian who has one.

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Rep. Jones certainly said the right things to the right people during his whistle-stop tour of Missouri. Growth and opportunity are exactly what embattled Missourians need; the state ranks as one of the worst in the nation for growing income inequality, with increasing levels of poverty, high unemployment, and record numbers of uninsured.

Considering Jones’ announced affinity for growth and opportunity, you would think that legislators in Missouri would focus on actually doing things that would help its struggling citizens through, for example, expanding eligibility for its Medicaid program, which, according to a recent report, would create 24,000 jobs for Missourians.

You would be wrong, though.

Instead, Republicans lawmakers, with an assist from a handful of Democrats, picked up where they had left off during the 2013 legislative session and embarked on a full-on anti-choice rampage. In the last two years, anti-choice legislators in Missouri have introduced nearly 40 bills, each designed to either regulate abortion out of existence or make sure that women couldn’t possibly get an abortion if they wanted to.

During this legislative session alone, Missouri lawmakers have introduced 31 bills aimed at chipping away at reproductive rights for Missouri citizens. None of those bills have yet passed, and it remains to be seen whether lawmakers will be able to do so before the legislative session wraps at the end of this month, or whether the bills will die a much deserved death, only to be whipped out again at the next possible moment. (Each of these legislative efforts and the legislators responsible for them can be viewed by perusing Rewire Data, Rewire’s interactive database.)

Given the current anti-choice political landscape, Missouri’s anti-choice fervor, in and of itself, isn’t particularly noteworthy. Certainly, Missouri is a leader in the race to a post-abortion rights dystopian hellscape that would make even Margaret Atwood shudder. Still, plenty of other states have been just as zealous about quenching their anti-choice thirst.

What makes the onslaught in Missouri remarkable, however, is that there is only one remaining clinic in the state—a Planned Parenthood facility located in St. Louis—and anti-choice lawmakers are hell-bent on closing it.

2013 saw multiple legislative attacks by anti-choicers on St. Louis’ lonely clinic. The first was a monstrous bill called the “Abortion-Inducing Drug Safety Act” (HB 177). Like so many bills being floated in state legislatures around the country, HB 177 was modeled on legislation drafted by Americans United for Life (AUL). It would have banned telemedicine abortions, and also would have required doctors administering medication abortion to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital, and follow the outdated Food and Drug Administration protocol for medication abortion. The bill also placed significant additional burdens on abortion providers, requiring them to purchase an extra million-dollar insurance policy to cover any claims brought by an individual “born alive” after an attempted abortion.

Anti-choicers weren’t able to ram AUL’s Mad Libs-style bill through the legislature, but managed to enact a pared-down version of that bill, HB 400, which simply bans telemedicine. HB 400 became law in August 2013 without the governor’s signature, thanks to a Republican supermajority in the Missouri General Assembly.

The attacks on Missouri’s sole clinic continued this year, with anti-choice lawmakers introducing HB 1478 and HB 1352, which would require the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to inspect Missouri’s sole clinic four times per year, even though current law already permits infinite inspections with no advanced notice. Also introduced were SB 770 and HB 1846, which require inspections of any ambulatory surgical center that provides five or more first-trimester abortions even though this precise regulation already exists in Missouri law.

These clinic inspection bills have been egged on by anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue, which, as reported by Robin Marty for ThinkProgress, has busied itself gathering information about the number of medical emergencies and ambulances at the clinic, even going so far as to file Freedom of Information Act requests with the City of St. Louis Fire Department’s Bureau of Emergency Medical Services seeking private information about the clinic’s patients. (Those requests were, of course, denied.)

In November 2013, Operation Rescue smugly reported that there had been 25 incidents of emergency patient hospitalizations since June 2009—a number that starts to look quite paltry when you take into account the fact that the clinic has 100 staff members and sees approximately 17,000 patients per year. Of course, the fact that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States—significantly safer than childbirth, even—is frequently ignored by anti-choicers desperate to find any violation (visible dust in an air vent, or rust on an IV pole) in the hopes that DHHS will shut down Missouri’s remaining clinic.

With anti-choicers lurking about, harassing clinic workers and patients and documenting the comings and goings of every ambulance and every patient, it’s no surprise that this sort of “gotcha!” harassment is finding its way into Missouri law. Anti-choice legislators want what anti-choice activists want: for Missouri to become the nation’s first “abortion-free” state. Of course, that would never happen; history tells us that when women find themselves pregnant and they do not wish to be, they’ll do whatever it takes, including resorting to unsafe procedures. Is that what anti-choice Missouri lawmakers want for the residents of their state?

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