Missouri’s War on Its Last Abortion Clinic

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.

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 RHRC Data, RH Reality Check’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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  • SamuelThomas

    So the Planned Parenthood in Columbia, MO is closed? What about the one in Joplin? Springfield? Kansas City? There are a lot of them. Why are they saying this is the last one left?

    • Arekushieru

      Um, are you seriously that ignorant? Or is it that we must repeat it a hundred more million times before certain people get it through their thick skulls that not every Planned Parenthood provides abortions. The International Planned Parenthood affiliate in my city does NOT provide abortions.

      • Guest

        I know first hand that the Planned Parenthood in Columbia, MO provides abortions. It also says so right on the website. Where is the data that shows that the clinic in St Louis is the last abortion clinic in MO?

        • Imani Gandy

          The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia provides abortion referral services (and says as much on its website). It does not perform abortions. It does not say that it provides abortion on its website.

          • JamieHaman

            Now, I’m embarrassed, should have read one more comment down. Sorry to repeat yours.

        • JamieHaman

          Work on your reading skills. It will save you a lot of embarrassment. The PP in Columbia Mo. does abortion referrals, not abortions.

      • SamuelThomas

        I used to live in MO and I have personally been to the Planned Parenthood in Columbia MO. I did not know that they discontinued abortions. That is terrible. Thank you for being so gentle with me in explaining your position.

        • Arekushieru

          Um, perhaps if you don’t want to experience hostility, you should stop making disingenuous claims that hurt women and are clearly a simple distraction from the actual point of the article. After all, abortion referrals are FAR different from providing abortions. The one in my city does provide abortion referrals, it does not provide access to actual abortions, themselves. Perhaps you should have made that distinction in the first place? SMDH.

          I have to ask, though, since your name signifies you are a man, for what reason did you need to visit the Planned Parenthood? If not for an abortion, where did you learn that they provided abortions at the clinic? If you were assigned female at birth but transitioned to man, that could explain how you acquired firsthand knowledge, then, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t make sense, either. After all, transgender, agender (such as myself) and cisgender feminists are, traditionally, allies. But your public profile makes it clear that that is not the case, as well.. .

    • Imani Gandy

      The only Planned Parenthood that performs abortions in Missouri is located in St. Louis. The other locations provide other health-care services, but not abortions.

  • pockysmama

    Because none of those locations perform abortions, just the St. Louis PP does, the other locations provide other services.

  • SamuelThomas

    When did the other Planned Parenthood’s stop providing abortions? 20 years ago they all provided abortions.

    • JamieHaman

      Most stopped providing them when federal funds were cut off by the states who distribute them. Texas for example managed to cut off all federal funds, not just for actual abortions, but to any family planning office that is affiliated with abortion providers. So Texas is going to have a bumper crop of children whose parents are not in a financial position to care for, to feed, to cloth, to house their children.
      Many of those children will be neglected, and generally unwanted. There will be some who are abused unto death, by family members who also do not want these children. This isn’t pro life, this is a forced birth position. It is infuriating.
      We can thank the so called pro life advocates who refuse to consider that actual women are more important than a fetus, particularly a fetus that is unwanted, and unplanned for.

      • Ella Warnock

        As a native Texan who escaped for good a few years ago, I really hope Texas experiences a metric shit-ton of budget and finance issues due to so many more people requiring assistance. They bloody well deserve whatever they get (the PTB, of course). The tragedy is that poor women, children and families are on the short end of the stick, as always.

        • JamieHaman

          lol, They will, and guess what else? That sh*t bird Rick Perry who enacted this mess will not be in office to clean it up or fix it, at all. What he will do, is cry, scream, and throw a general fit over whoever gets elected raising any taxes (here’s hoping it’s Wendy Davis) to restore the programs that prevented this problem in the first place.
          God knows Texas doesn’t need that idiot Gregg Abbott in office with his seeming misogyny or his adviser Ted Nugent either.
          imo Texas does need to restore funding for education, funding for women and children’s services, quit letting foreign countries build and own toll roads, whew, that list goes on and on. Better stop here.

          • Ella Warnock

            Ted Nugent the child molester. And those fundie, tea partiers swoon like schoolgirls when he stomps into a room. ***spit***

  • TheBrett

    The telemedicine ban seems like it would be difficult to enforce as long as the patient gets the drugs needed some other way and they don’t report it to the police. Still awful, though, and pretty clearly not about “safety”. If they do manage to close the last clinic, Missouri folk can look forward to a lot more ER visits from women after they have miscarriages from self-aborting with RU-486 and misoprostol they bought off the internet.

  • paula

    “…they’ll do whatever it takes, including resorting to unsafe procedures. Is that what the anti-choice Missouri lawmakers want for the residents of their state?”

    Do you really think they care? They have an agenda and they want it their way. Once they have made abortion illegal, they will be patting themselves and each other on the back for doing their part to protect others from the sin that they believe abortion to be. It will become a matter of, “what happens to the ones that are forced to submit to unsafe procedures is their own fault for having an abortion” and they will insist that they have done all they could to put this country back on the right path. What happens after that is not their job.

    While in my much younger days I was pro-choice (and fought that fight), I grew to abhor abortion and personally feel that it is taking a life and is therefore wrong. However, I feel that it is more wrong to force other women to live their lives according to what I believe. And to have lawmakers make decisions on what you can do with your own body just flies in the face of what living in a free country should mean. Of course, now they “force” everyone to have health insurance, can charge women for how they behave when they are pregnant, etc. so it just goes to show that even at this late date, I continue to be very naive.

    The bad news is that the young women of today have never known what is was like not to be able to rely on safe medical treatment when they wanted/needed an abortion. Stories of how women took their lives in their hands to have an illegal abortion and just that, stories. Here’s hoping that they wake up and put their voices and votes behind protecting their rights over their own bodies or they will find out.

    • Arekushieru

      Don’t know what you mean by everyone being ‘forced’ to have health insurance, btw…. The people who don’t have health insurance probably don’t have it for reasons OTHER than that they don’t want it, after all.

  • Suba gunawardana

    It’s really time to take religion out of healthcare, and provide elective abortions in hospitals just like any other procedure.