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Missouri Advances Bill Targeting Abortion-Specific Training in Medical Schools

The bill would likely exacerbate the maternal mortality crisis in the state and worsen existing health care deserts.

The Missouri state capitol building dome is pictured in Jefferson City, Missouri.

The Missouri House is advancing a bill aimed at limiting abortion-specific training at both private and public medical schools within the state. Sponsored by Rep. Justin Sparks (R), the bill, HB 2621, also seeks to prohibit collaborations between medical schools in Missouri and clinics located in other states for the provision of such training.

“If a university or research institution is going to be involved in that practice, then there will be essentially a financial penalty on the endowment of such institution,” Sparks told Missourinet.

If Missouri outlaws abortion-specific training, doctors may not have the needed information to act in medical emergencies. Additionally, bills like HB 2621 would likely exacerbate the existing maternal mortality crisis in the state and worsen health care deserts.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of the constitutional right to abortion, Missouri activated its trigger ban, effectively prohibiting the procedure except in medical emergencies when “a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” Providers who perform abortions outside of the allowed exceptions could face criminal and civil penalties.

HB 2621 is the most recent attempt by Missouri lawmakers to go after abortion health care in the state. Earlier this year, the Missouri Senate blocked an amendment to the state’s near-total abortion ban that would have permitted exceptions in cases of rape and incest. Moreover, some conservative senators have advocated for bills that would allow homicide charges to be brought against women who obtain abortions.

As right-wing legislators intensify efforts to diminish reproductive rights in the state, Missouri is grappling with a maternal and infant mortality crisis. Despite 75 percent of maternal deaths being preventable, Missouri still struggles with a high rate of maternal mortality. Moreover, between 2021 and 2022, Missouri was one of only four states in the nation to experience a significant increase in infant mortality rates.

“A 2022 report by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that documented Missouri’s worsening maternal mortality crisis recommended that the legislature extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women from 60 days to a year,” the ACLU of Missouri said in a statement. “Yet, the state continued to mandate that unwilling women remain pregnant and failing to provide this postpartum care to women after they give birth, despite the availability of federal funding for that purpose.”

Even before the abortion right was overturned, Missouri grappled with “maternity deserts,” where access to maternity care services was scarce. According to a 2022 March of Dimes study, almost half of the state’s counties lacked hospitals providing obstetric care or OB-GYNs. The state’s strict abortion laws likely worsened this crisis, as OB-GYNs have been leaving conservative states.

In January, a coalition of reproductive advocacy organizations — including the ACLU of Missouri, Abortion Action Missouri, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes and Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri — launched a ballot initiative campaign aiming to safeguard the right to abortion in the state constitution. To make it onto the November ballot, organizers must gather 171,000 signatures by early May.

“Passing this amendment will end our state’s abortion ban and make sure Missourians and their families can once again make the decisions that are best for them,” Tori Schafer, the deputy director for policy and campaigns at the ACLU of Missouri, said in an interview. “We believe that decisions around pregnancy, including abortion, birth control and miscarriage care, are personal and private. And that they should be left up to patients and their families.”

Advocates are hopeful that the ballot initiative will be successful. Polling from 2022 reveals that half of Missourians were against the Supreme Court’s ruling dismantling the constitutional right to an abortion. Moreover, similar ballot initiatives have succeeded in every state where abortion was on the ballot.

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