Government & Politics

New abortion restrictions just took effect in Missouri. Here’s what that means

Supporters of legal access to abortion, as well as anti-abortion activists, rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. On Tuesday, a new law took effect in Missouri that some say will further limit women’s access to abortions.
Supporters of legal access to abortion, as well as anti-abortion activists, rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. On Tuesday, a new law took effect in Missouri that some say will further limit women’s access to abortions. File photo

A new requirement in Missouri probably will cause further delays for women seeking an abortion in the state, according to Planned Parenthood.

The new rule takes effect Tuesday. It requires the same physician who performs an abortion procedure to also provide the patient with the materials to meet the state’s informed consent laws.

“Basically, the same-provision mandate could force a woman to wait weeks to get an abortion because there are several things that have to happen,” said Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Planned Parenthood affiliate.

While Planned Parenthood opposed the implementation of the new law through a legal challenge that ultimately failed, others such as Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and Attorney General Josh Hawley are praising it.

The Star’s editorial board members chatted with Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley about the opioid crisis and new abortion legislation during a Facebook Live show in June.

Other provisions taking effect Tuesday include: a new law that allows the attorney general to prosecute violations of abortion laws; a repeal of a St. Louis ordinance that bans employers and landlords from discriminating against women who have had an abortion, use contraceptives or are pregnant; new whistleblower protections for employees of abortion clinics and new requirements for clinic inspections.

Lee-Gilmore said the same-physician mandate will require women to meet the informed consent rules — such as confirming they have read a booklet that includes the line, “[t]he life of each human being begins at conception,” view an active ultrasound and either accept or decline an audible heartbeat offer — at the same facility where they will have the abortion and by the same physician performing the procedure.

In the past, if a woman lived in Springfield, for example, she could meet those requirements at a facility near her home, wait the required 72 hours and then travel to Kansas City or Columbia for the procedure.

Now, two trips might be necessary, Lee-Gilmore said.

The new requirement could also cause scheduling conflicts among physicians, who will now have these additional tasks to complete.

“Planned Parenthood Great Plains (which services KC, Columbia and parts of neighboring states) has major provider shortage issues,” Lee-Gilmore said. “We are utilizing services of physicians from other states, nowhere near our health center.”

The new law is taking effect following a Jackson County Circuit Court judge’s ruling on Monday that denied Planned Parenthood’s call to block it.

Judge S. Margene Burnett wrote that the new requirement is “at best a moderate modification of the informed consent restraints already in place.”

Lee-Gilmore said that such an argument does not take into account the entire picture of abortion requirements in the state, which taken together is making it exceedingly difficult to obtain abortions in the state.

“Abortion access isn’t stripped away in one fell swoop,” she said. “Abortion access is stripped away one moderate restriction at a time. That’s how it happens in red states like ours.”

Burnett also wrote that Planned Parenthood’s legal challenge did not align with public interest because the provision was enacted by members of the Missouri General Assembly, who are “elected by the citizens of Missouri.” And she wrote that “the issue of abortion provider scarcity is not one of the state’s making” — an assessment that Lee-Gilmore disputed.

“It is indeed a product of the environment the state has created for providers,” she said.

She called the access to Planned Parenthood in Missouri “disgraceful.”

“We work around the clock to fight these restrictions and are well equipped to help our patients navigate this extremely complicated landscape,” she added.

Additional abortion requirements already in place in Missouri include: a 72-hour wait period between first consultation and the procedure, ambulatory surgical center requirements, a physician-only requirement (other states allow nurse practitioners to provide abortions), insurance ban (abortions cannot be paid for via insurance) and the informed consent mandate, which Lee-Gilmore said requires providing medically inaccurate information.

“Abortion is a time-sensitive procedure, and extreme delays like these will mean some people cannot access an abortion at all,” stated a Planned Parenthood release issued earlier this week. “These barriers are hardest on those who already face challenges to accessing care: young people, women of color, those who live in rural areas, and people with low incomes.

“More than 70 percent of (St. Louis region) patients have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.”

The same-physician requirement was passed as Senate Bill 5 by the state legislature during an abortion-focused special session called by Gov. Eric Greitens.

In response to Burnett’s ruling, Hawley released the following statement:

“I am very pleased with today’s ruling,” Hawley wrote. “SB5 enacts sensible regulations that protect the health of women in Missouri and we will continue to vigorously defend these.”

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg