Abortion fight enters new chapter in Missouri after Whole Woman’s Health decision

Rep. Diane Franklin speaks to anti-abortion activists outside the Columbia Planned Parenthood Dec. 12, 2016. (Travis Zimpfer/THE MISSOURI TIMES)

Missouri laws requiring ambulatory surgical center rules and admitting privileges for providers in jeopardy

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Just hours after lawyers for Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge for an injunction on two Missouri abortion laws Monday, anti-abortion activists across the state promised supporters and members of the media that they would blow the whistle on illicit activities committed by the noted reproductive health care provider. In Columbia, Rep. Diane Franklin, Kathy Forck of 30 Days for Life, and others spoke before a small crowd of 30-odd activists on both sides of the issue to unveil the findings of an investigation they promised would require “swift and critical action by authorities.”

Instead, the anti-abortion activists offered many of the same findings from the Senate Sanctity of Life Committee investigation offered in July, with additional focus on ambulance calls to the only abortion provider in the state: the St. Louis Planned Parenthood.

Five different protests supplemented by state legislators took place Monday, one at each of Missouri’s five Planned Parenthood clinics. Reps. Kurt Bahr, Mike Moon, Rick Brattin and Sen. Ed Emery each spoke and rallied supporters in St. Louis, Springfield, Kansas City and Joplin respectively.

The burst of activity from anti-abortion activists comes on the heels of major moves by Planned Parenthood to begin providing abortion services for Missouri women in locations outside of the St. Louis center. In the 11 years since a 2005 law was passed requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, the number of clinics in the state providing abortion services has dwindled from seven to just the one in St. Louis.

But a Supreme Court decision from this summer gave a massive boost to abortion rights supporters and activists. The nation’s highest court ruled 5-3 in late June on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstadt, finding that a Texas law requiring admitting privileges for abortion doctors at a nearby hospital and requiring abortion facilities classified as ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) were both less a way of ensuring a woman’s safety and health and more a method to restrict their access to a constitutional right, as decided by the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Missouri has two identical-in-principle laws to the Texas regulations, and Planned Parenthood Great Plains (PPGP) and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri (PPSLR) have pounced on the opportunity provided by Whole Woman’s Health to get them overturned. A lawsuit filed Nov. 30 in federal court aims to have those laws deemed unconstitutional, and Monday’s injunction asks those laws be suspended until the court has ruled on their constitutionality.

If that injunction comes through, PPGP President and CEO Laura McQuade says services could resume in the relative blink of an eye.

Planned Parenthood's Laura McQuade speaks to the crowd at Mizzou Sept. 29, 2015. (Travis ZImpfer/The Missouri Times

Planned Parenthood’s Laura McQuade speaks to the crowd at Mizzou Sept. 29, 2015. (Travis ZImpfer/The Missouri Times

“We are prepared at the Columbia and mid-Kansas City facilities to resume services immediately,” she said. “The provider is ready, the staff is ready… within a week’s time, we would be prepared to offer the service.”

Mary Kogut, McQuade’s counterpart for PPSLR, added they believed they could begin offering abortion services in Springfield and Joplin in the first quarter of 2017 if the injunction succeeds.

There are promising signs for McQuade and others in her corner. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled admitting privileges placed an undue burden on abortion access, much as the U.S. Supreme Court did.

But anti-abortion advocates have already begun fighting back, especially since the prospect of abortion services returning to the Show-Me State en masse would mark a substantial blow against decades of progress in the fight to end abortion from the state.

“Planned Parenthood is asking for a carve out from standard clinical medical practices,” Franklin said in her speech to supporters about the new lawsuit. “Every one of these ASCs is subject to the regulations. Why should they be the exception?”

Pro-life figures state that the current regulations are in place to protect the health of women who use these facilities, and the protests at Planned Parenthood Monday emphasized 63 calls for ambulances to the Planned Parenthood of St. Louis. Activists could not confirm all of those ambulance requests were for women who had undergone abortion procedures but emphasized that the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was an unsafe environment for women seeking care there. Bonnie Lee, a registered nurse and anti-abortion activist, said comparable ASCs like endoscopy centers had far fewer incidences of ambulance requests.

Legislators have also already pursued options to beef up existing laws based on the findings of last year’s investigations by the House and Senate. Franklin pre-filed HB 194 to better track the remains of aborted fetuses and ensure that fetal tissue in Missouri is not used in medical research, even if gifted by the person to whom the remains belong. Sen. Bob Onder has pre-filed similar legislation.

Rep. Tom Hurst has filed a bill similar to a piece of legislation passed in the Texas legislature that gives women the right to dispose of fetal remains after an abortion in a manner they choose, including cremation or burial. NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri Executive Director Alison Dreith says laws like these have nothing to do with promoting a woman’s health or well-being.

“It’s just punishment and shame when you make a woman decide that kind of thing,” she said, adding that she expected more laws like this to pass given the overwhelming Republican majority in the General Assembly, but that she was not sure whether it would be a priority for the party.

“After Whole Woman’s Health, they’re throwing whatever they can… emboldened by this new Trump administration,” Dreith said.

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