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‘Where does it stop?’ Protesters oppose Missouri abortion ban on Plaza in Kansas City

Protest of Missouri abortion bill: ‘Reproductive rights are human rights’

Protesters marched through the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City Sunday, May 19, 2019, in response to the near-total abortion ban passed last week by Missouri legislators.
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Protesters marched through the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City Sunday, May 19, 2019, in response to the near-total abortion ban passed last week by Missouri legislators.

Protesters marched Sunday on The Country Club Plaza in Kansas City to demonstrate against a near-total abortion ban passed by Missouri lawmakers late last week.

Starting at the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain on West 47th Street, demonstrators carried signs that read “Safe Abortions Save Lives,” “We Should All Be Feminists,” and “I’ve Heard Enough from Old White Men.”

Madison Womack of Kansas City organized the protest to send a message that the ban is wrong, she said.

“It’s absurd,” Womack said. “We wanted to bring attention to what is going on and to how ridiculous it is.”

Womack decided to organize the protest Thursday when she could not find an existing one to attend. She created the event on Facebook expecting to draw maybe 20 people.

Instead, many more showed up Sunday. The Kansas City Police Department estimated the crowd at 1,500 to 2,000. No arrests were made.

“It’s gotten really big,” Womack said. “People are really pissed off. They want to make a change.”

The measure Womack and others were protesting Sunday is the most restrictive in Missouri’s recent history: a ban on abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape and incest.

The Missouri House passed it Friday on a 110 to 44 vote and it is on its way to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk for final approval.

The bill would criminalize any abortion beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergencies. Doctors who perform abortions after eight weeks face five to 15 years in prison. There is no punishment for the mother. The legislation in Missouri follows similarly restrictive actions in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

In Kansas City on Sunday, women, men and children swelled the ranks of the protesters.

After gathering at the fountains, demonstrators marched through the heart of the Plaza chanting: “We will fight for reproductive rights.”

At one point women chanted: “My body, my choice.” And men answered back: “Her body. Her choice.”

“If somebody doesn’t stand up, where does it stop?” Amanda Cruse of Kansas City said. “It starts with us today.”

Andrea Dillon of Kansas City, North, attended the march with her husband Andrew and their two sons, ages 6 and 7.

“I have my children, I made that choice for me,” she said. “I’m here for the little girls who get raped, who are victims of incest and for women who get pregnant and don’t know until after eight weeks.”

She said she attended with her family because she wanted her sons to see history and to understand that they don’t have a right to tell the women in their lives in the future what to do with their bodies.

“We are trying to teach them right and show them that if you stand up for something, something might happen,” she said. “You have a voice.”

The vote on the ban Friday in Jefferson City was largely along party lines, but not entirely so.

State Rep. Joe Runions, D-Grandview, voted in favor and state Rep. Rory Rowland, D-Independence, voted “present.” One anti-abortion Republican voted against the bill because there were no exceptions for rape or incest.

A day before the Missouri Senate vote, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that bars virtually all abortions at any stage of pregnancy. Other states, including Georgia and Mississippi, have banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be heard.

The intent is that one or more of these laws will draw a challenge to return the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court. Activists hope a new conservative majority will overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision affirming a woman’s right to an abortion without undue government interference.

The Missouri chapter of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists urged Parson to veto the bill.

Missouri already has highly restrictive abortion laws. Only one clinic — a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis — offers the procedure. The nearest clinic that offers abortion in the Kansas City metro area is in Overland Park, Kansas.

The measure establishes criminal penalties for abortions sought solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.

The bill also doubles the amount of medical malpractice insurance an abortion provider is required to have. Physicians who perform medication abortions must have something called “tail insurance”, which continues to cover them after they’ve retired or changed employers.

It also expands a tax credit for pregnancy resource centers, family planning entities that discourage abortions. Those who donate to the centers will be reimbursed by the state for up to 70 percent of their contribution, higher than the previous 50 percent rate. The bill eliminated the cap on the tax credit, though its current $2.5 million ceiling has never been reached.

Lastly, if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, Missouri law would automatically ban all abortions.

Parson has been an enthusiastic supporter of the bill. He has until July 14 to sign it.

Alison Cioffi of Kansas City said she was drawn to the protest Sunday because it’s important to protect women’s rights. She chided Missouri lawmakers for thinking they can impose rules on women’s bodies.

“You can see all these women, both young and old, really wanting to make a change,” Cioffi said. “There have a been a lot of women in history that have made progress so that we can have the rights we have today. Taking them away from us is a step backwards — and we shouldn’t be going back.”

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Robert A. Cronkleton gets up very early in the morning to bring readers breaking news about crime, transportation and weather at the crack of dawn. He’s been at The Star since 1987 and now contributes data reporting and video editing.

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