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Missouri abortion law, regulations at center of US congressional hearing

  

Missouri — specifically the state’s new abortion law and licensing fight with a St. Louis Planned Parenthood — was at the forefront of a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday. 

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told lawmakers she’s concerned about the “outright confusion” among patients as states pass abortion restrictions — even if, like in Missouri, the bans have not gone into effect. 

“I’m worried that [patients] have the full realization that the people who are charged with protecting their health have completely abdicated their responsibility based on an ideological viewpoint,” McNicholas testified before the House Committee on Oversight Reform

McNicholas was one of five witnesses who testified during the three-hour “Examining State Efforts to Undermine Access to Reproductive Health Care” hearing. The hearing was predictably partisan, with lawmakers constructing their lines of questioning or personal anecdotes along their respective party’s position on abortion. 

Missouri has been thrust into the national spotlight after the governor signed a restrictive abortion bill into law earlier this year, banning the procedure after eight weeks with no exemptions in cases of rape or incest. However, its implementation has been stymied as it’s tied up in court. 

Jennifer Box, a St. Louis mother of three, told lawmakers about her decision to have an abortion after her unborn daughter had been diagnosed with a rare and almost always fatal genetic disorder.

Additionally, the state’s health department has been in a legal back-and-forth with a St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility, the lone abortion clinic in Missouri, over its licensing. The facility has been allowed to continue its operations as a state commission hears the case. 

Congressman Lacy Clay, the lone member of the Missouri delegation on the committee, requested Thursday’s hearing. 

“The assault against a woman’s right to make [her] own health care decisions is an insult to the basic values of individual freedom and limited government,” Clay, a Democrat, said. “Nowhere in the nation is that assault more urgent than in my home state of Missouri, specifically in the city of St. Louis, which I am so proud to represent.” 

Jennifer Box, a St. Louis mother of three, also appeared before lawmakers to testify about her experience and decision to have an abortion after her unborn daughter had been diagnosed with a rare and almost always fatal genetic disorder. She argued that despite her story, no woman should have to give an excuse for having an abortion. 

She also said “most people experience relief after an abortion.” And while her family cried over her daughter, it was in mourning, not from regret, she said. 

“Politicians like Gov. Parson are hellbent on finishing off what little remains of reproductive health care in my state,” Box testified.

Parson and Dr. Randall Williams, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) director, largely bore the brunt of criticisms levied at the hearing over regulations the state has imposed on abortion providers and the handling of the probe into the St. Louis facility’s practices. 

“DHSS is statutorily required to regulate 4,000+ facilities, and we will continue to act in good faith to ensure each of them is following our state’s laws and providing safe care for all individuals who use their services,” Williams said in a statement to The Missouri Times following the hearing. 

Aside from the two Missouri women, National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda President Marcela Howell also testified before the committee. 

Conservative commentator and author Allie Stuckey, who said she’s studied the “pro-abortion movement” for several years, was the lone witness for Republicans and had to leave the hearing early. 

“I am here as a woman, who believes that female empowerment, equality, and freedom are not defined by her ability to terminate the life of her child,” Stuckey said. “It is incomprehensible to me that we are having a debate over whether or not it is acceptable to kill a baby they’re born.”