JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Before the start of Tuesday’s press conference regarding the findings of a yearlong investigation by the Republican members of the Senate Sanctity of Life Committee, everyone could not help but notice the elephant in the room.
But in this case, the elephant was a kangaroo.
An unidentified person affiliated with Progress Missouri, which describes itself as a “progressive advocacy organization,” dressed up as a kangaroo in judge’s robes as a form of protest regarding the investigation into Planned Parenthood by the Senate Interim Sanctity of Life Committee led by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. The kangaroo was escorted from the fourth floor mezzanine before the conference began.
The kangaroo in judge’s robes, says Progress Missouri Executive Director Laura Swinford, represents “Kurt’s Kangaroo Court”, a moniker that many opponents of the investigation use to classify the actions of the committee. A kangaroo court is typically used to describe a court that has the appearance of fairness, but whose verdict has been decided before the trial has begun.
Progress Missouri also started a hashtag for the name on Twitter in April.
“We try very hard to actively shine a light on the good things and the bad things that are happening in Jefferson City and we try to find a creative way to do that,” Swinford said. “What better way to tell the story of a kangaroo court than to have a kangaroo judge?”
— Progress Missouri (@ProgressMO) July 5, 2016
Swinford rejected the idea that the senators were looking out for the welfare of women as they stated they were trying to accomplish in their investigation. The results of the investigation were announced Tuesday, with Schaefer calling the results of the investigation of Planned Parenthood’s practice to be “bordered on outright medical malpractice.”
“They talk about standing up for women’s lives and health and not one of those people that was speaking yesterday supports Medicaid expansion,” she said. “We find that kind of ridiculous.”
Progress Missouri has focused on Schaefer and the committee’s investigation since it began last July, but they are not the only ones highlighting what they see as a loaded game against Planned Parenthood. Many other liberal figures and organizations across the state have said that the investigation is simply an act of political pandering during an election year for the primarily GOP members of the committee to shore up their bases with the significant anti-abortion voting bloc in the Republican party.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, served on the interim committee as one of two Democrats (the other was Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis.) She did not attend yesterday’s press conference as she was out of the country, but a staffer from her office said she had not been invited to share the findings of the other senators. Schaefer said Tuesday since the findings were not officially from the committee which was dissolved at the end of last year’s interim, there wasn’t a need for Schupp to attend.
“This is a misguided attempt to respond to the recent Supreme Court decision on the Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt case,” Schupp said. That Supreme Court case found last week that certain abortion regulations in Texas, which are similar to some in Missouri, are unconstitutional.
“It is a misuse of taxpayer time and dollars to undermine a woman’s access to the full range of safe, legal, and affordable reproductive health care services,” she continued.
Schaefer did not immediately return requests for comment, but he has been battling accusations that the the committee was meant for political gain since the committee started its investigation, especially since he’s running for attorney general. he said in August that the tapes from the Center for Medical Progress which prompted nationwide outrage and sparked state and federal investigations spoke for themselves.
“Anyone who says that exposing what’s in that video, which is abhorrent on a moral, a legal, on any level, to say that somehow bringing that to the attention of the public, that baby parts, lungs, heads, hearts are being harvested for profit, to say that that’s somehow politicizing it, that’s sickening,” he said.
Regardless of liberal opposition to the findings of the investigation, the General Assembly will likely use them to craft more specific legislation for the 2017 session designed to close gaps in what they see as inconsistencies in abortion law that Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates will call overly restrictive.
Multiple abortion laws, most notably Sen. Bob Onder’s SB 644, were introduced to the House and Senate last year with veto proof majorities due in large part to findings of the Sanctity of Life Committee’s investigation.