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Missouri GOP Blocks Abortion Exceptions, Goes After Planned Parenthood

While right-wing lawmakers attack abortion rights, Missouri is suffering from maternal and infant mortality crises.

Thousands of demonstrators march in support of Planned Parenthood and pro-choice during a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 30, 2019.

On Wednesday, the Missouri Senate blocked an amendment to the state’s near-total abortion ban which would have allowed exceptions in cases of rape and incest.

State Sen. Tracy McCreery (D) urged her fellow lawmakers to “show an ounce of compassion” for victims of sexual violence. “They’ve already survived enough trauma,” McCreery said. “They shouldn’t have to go to another state to get compassionate medical care.”

Missouri currently bans abortion except in medical emergencies when “a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.” The abortion ban also includes the ability for the state to pursue legal action — including both criminal and civil penalties — against providers who perform abortions outside of the exceptions. Conservative senators have also introduced bills that would allow homicide charges to be brought against women who seek abortion care.

While right-wing lawmakers double down on eroding reproductive rights in the state, Missouri is suffering from a maternal and infant mortality crisis. The state has a high rate of maternal mortality, despite 75 percent of maternal deaths in the state being preventable; from 2021 to 2022, Missouri was among just four states in the nation that saw a substantial uptick 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 right to an abortion was overturned, Missouri was already suffering from “maternity deserts,” or counties where access to maternity care services were limited or absent. According to a 2022 study by March of Dimes, nearly 50 percent of counties in the state had no hospitals with obstetric care or obstetricians or gynecologists. Missouri’s strict abortion laws have likely exacerbated this crisis, as evidence shows that OB-GYNs have been fleeing red states.

In addition to worsening maternal and infant health because of the state’s stringent abortion laws criminalizing health care providers, the state is going after Planned Parenthood, which provides STI testing, cancer screenings, and contraceptives in the state.

On Wednesday, the Senate debated a bill that would make Planned Parenthood ineligible to receive reimbursement from the state’s Medicaid program, despite, as the Missouri Independent reports, Planned Parenthood having not received any state funding for almost two years, as legal battles over previous GOP defunding decisions continue in the courts. Although Republicans failed to advance the bill to a vote, Planned Parenthood has warned that removing their services in the state would detrimentally affect public health safety.

“There are not enough sexual and reproductive health care providers to fill the gap,” said Vanessa Wellbery, vice president of policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. “This bill is discriminatory, it’s irresponsible, and it would issue a devastating blow to our public health safety net here in Missouri.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, only one state in the country, Arkansas, currently bars Medicaid from reimbursing Planned Parenthood services, though three states currently impose limitations on organizational involvement in their “spin-off” programs for family planning services.

“We are prepared, even if it takes many years, to hold those anti-abortion extremists accountable to the harm that they have done to Missourians,” Wellbery said. “Particularly the folks who face the most barriers to care and who are the most marginalized.”

In January, a coalition of reproductive advocacy groups — 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 — jumpstarted a ballot initiative campaign to enshrine the right of abortion in the state’s constitution. Organizers will need to collect 171,000 signatures by early May to qualify for the November election.

“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.”

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