By Alison Dreith
Last week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ripped reproductive health care access away from thousands of women and relegated Missouri to a one-clinic state.
In a decision that recklessly ignored precedent, the circuit court is allowing the state of Missouri to enforce targeted regulations on abortion providers (“TRAP laws”). What makes this decision even more enraging is that Missouri’s TRAP laws are virtually identical to the ones struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The Supreme Court clearly and decisively ruled that laws like these will add an undue burden to women seeking abortion care, making the procedure more difficult to access without adding any medical benefit. In Missouri’s case, this is absolutely true. The laws upheld by the circuit court require that doctors providing abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that the clinics must be licensed ambulatory surgical centers.
While those may not sound like major hurdles, both restrictions were passed specifically because anti-choice politicians know how difficult it is for providers to abide by these restrictions. Many hospitals refuse to give providers admitting privileges because of the stigma surrounding the procedure, religious affiliations, or fear of retaliation from the state, leaving quality physicians unable to provide care. Even more difficult is the ambulatory surgical center requirement, which forces clinics to acquire and maintain unnecessary equipment and infrastructure enhancements. This often forces clinics to close due to the significant financial and logistical burdens.
These restrictions, while painted by anti-choice politicians as “protection” for women accessing abortion, are an unabashed attempt to shutter clinics. Abortion is overwhelmingly safer than 99 percent of most other medical procedures. It’s safer than a colonoscopy, laser eye surgery, and carrying a pregnancy to term.
The 8th Circuit Court is giving Missouri the green light to enforce these laws, which means we’ll likely lose any and all progress we’ve made in the state in the past two years. Since Whole Woman’s Health opened up the opportunity for states to fight their TRAP laws, Planned Parenthood in Missouri sued the state and got an injunction that stopped the enforcement of these laws. The clinic in Columbia was almost immediately reopened, and Kansas City was right on its heels. Plans were in place to bring services to Springfield and Joplin. All of that grinds to a halt with this decision, effectively eliminating access to care for thousands of Missouri women that are in need.
While Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these obviously unconstitutional laws, there’s an important lesson to learn in the timing of this case: anti-choice judges who poorly interpret the law can greatly influence real women’s access to care. A panel of three judges on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, all appointed by Republicans, has effectively eliminated a majority of abortion clinics in Missouri with one fell swoop.
Now, imagine what Brett Kavanaugh could do if he was confirmed to join the four other conservative judges for a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the country.
In anticipation of Kennedy’s retirement and the confirmation of a more conservative judge, states have begun to pass laws that could make it to the Supreme Court with the hopes of overturning Roe v. Wade, criminalizing abortion and punishing women. The most egregious would be Iowa’s 6-week ban, which bans abortion before most women even know that they are pregnant. This case could end up in front of the Supreme Court as soon as next year.
Even if he doesn’t outright overturn Roe, Kavanaugh could simply uphold dangerous restrictions, like TRAP laws or the 6-week ban. Without directly overturning Roe, he could do serious damage to abortion access until care is all but impossible to find. This would force women to seek dangerous illegal options similar to the pre-Roe era where women died trying to access care.
The fight to stop Kavanaugh and the erosion of our rights has only just begun. Senate judiciary committee hearings are over, but we’ve yet to hear from Sen. McCaskill how she plans to vote. Red flag after red flag has popped up, including his inaccurate referral to birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs” and his leaked email that questioned if Roe was settled law and clearly stated that precedent can be overturned. Now, Christine Blasey Ford has come forward with her sexual assault story, and it’s clear Kavanaugh cannot be allowed to sit on the Supreme Court.
Sen. McCaskill says she wants to hear from her constituents all across Missouri, so it’s incredibly urgent that you keep calling her, every single day. Demand that she and Roy Blunt vote no on Kavanaugh, even if it feels like your voice isn’t being heard. Our calls will add up.
With the 8th Circuit Court’s ruling this week, we’ve already gotten a sneak peek of what reproductive freedom could look like under Kavanaugh. We have to stand up before it gets any worse.