Government & Politics

Q&A: What would Missouri lawmakers’ abortion bill really do? That answer and more

Missouri lawmakers are set to approve one of the nation’s most stringent anti-abortion bills, and Gov. Mike Parson has promised to sign it into law.

Here are some questions and answers.

What does the bill do?

It has numerous provisions, but the most noteworthy would criminalize any abortion beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergencies. There is no exception for victims of rape or incest.

Doctors who perform abortions after eight weeks face five to 15 years in prison. There is no punishment for the mother.

The bill also criminalizes abortions if they are being sought solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.

As a fail-safe if the eight-week ban is thrown out by the courts (see below), the bill also bars abortion after 20 weeks. Under this provision, if there is a medical emergency during the third trimester, physicians must attempt to save the child.

The bill 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.

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.

Aren’t Missouri’s abortion laws already among the strictest in the nation?

Missouri law requires that doctors must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals before they can perform abortions. Because of that requirement, there is only one facility in Missouri that is licensed to perform abortions — a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.

A woman seeking an abortion must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from following through. The doctor performing the abortion, not social workers or nurse practitioners, must provide the counseling. She must then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided.

The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortions is prohibited.

Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. Private insurance policies cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, unless individuals purchase an optional rider at an additional cost.

The governor is expected to sign it. Will this law go into effect quickly?

That’s unclear.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. Alabama’s governor signed a near-total abortion ban Wednesday.

Anti-abortion lawmakers in each of these states, and in Missouri, have made it clear they hope one or more of the bans faces a legal challenge that will make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the entire law, or pieces of the law, were challenged in court, a judge could block implementation until the lawsuit is resolved.

Sam Lee, a veteran Missouri anti-abortion activist and director of Campaign Life Missouri, said the bill approved by the Senate Thursday morning was written specifically to withstand legal challenges, right down to giving judges several other options if they believe the eight-week ban is too restrictive.

M’Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, said the Missouri bill is “absolutely a vehicle to undermine Roe.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit -- which would have jurisdiction -- has been “increasingly hostile” for abortion rights, Mead said. So while years ago “we would have been more confident about what would happen with an abortion ban in the courts, now we just don’t know. But we are sure going to try.”

Where can Missouri women still get a legal abortion?

Lee said the state’s abortion laws have already resulted in about half of Missouri women who get an abortion every year seeking it out of state.

Services are available just a few miles away from downtown St. Louis at a pair of facilities in Illinois — a Planned Parenthood clinic in Belleville, Ill., and Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill.

The laws in that state aren’t as restrictive. Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker, a Democrat, has vowed to make the state “the most progressive in the nation for access to reproductive health care.”

There are no providers on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metro. But abortion services are available at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Overland Park.

Last month the Kansas Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the state constitution protects abortion rights, a landmark decision that clears the way for legal challenges to a host of abortion restrictions.

“Planned Parenthood is committed to its mission of providing high-quality healthcare,” Mead said. “They are going to figure out ways for their patients seeking healthcare to access it, and if they can’t get it in Missouri, they can try to access it in neighboring states.”

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Jason Hancock is The Star’s lead political reporter, providing coverage of government and politics on both sides of the state line. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he has written about politics for more than a decade for news organizations across the Midwest.