Those who can become pregnant in Missouri will soon have their future decided in a state court in St. Louis. Stacey Newman is the Executive Director, ProgressWomen, a social justice organization fighting for justice and equality, particularly for reproductive rights and against gun violence. Newman served as the 87th district Missouri State Representative (Clayton, Richmond Heights & University City) from 2010-2019. She discusses women’s right to abortion and the need to less restrictive legislation around women’s health.
On Oct. 28th, The Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission began hearing the licensing appeal of Missouri’s Planned Parenthood’s Reproductive Health Services clinic, the lone surviving abortion clinic in the state. Last June, Missouri Health and Senior Services director Dr. Randall Williams denied the clinic’s renewal of license based on regulations, often punitive, that he can decide on a whim. An OB-GYN, Dr. Williams mandated invasive vaginal exams for abortion patients until national public outcry convinced him to repeal the medically unnecessary exams.
The clinic case is receiving national attention as public support for legal access to abortion has reached an all-time high of 77% according to a poll conducted by National Public Radio. Abortions are still being performed at the clinic due to a Circuit Court injunction, but Missouri could become the first state in the nation without an abortion clinic.
Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure which one in four women — people that many of us know and love — will have in their lifetime. Yet, conservative state legislatures for years have passed abortion restrictions, many medically inaccurate, which punish patients and physicians. Extreme abortion bans, like House Bill 126 signed by Gov. Parson in May, are unconstitutional and go against the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision. However, that does not deter the GOP from attempting to route an abortion ban to be reheard and here at home, play politics with medical licensing rules.
This is not the first time in Missouri’s history that access to abortion has been threatened.
In 1820, Missouri became one of the first states to ban abortion. Prior to that, abortion was acceptable, practiced and considered a private matter. Although Missouri’s ban was law, physicians continued to privately perform abortions for decades based on “therapeutic reasons.” Abortion was still accessible, but only for those who could afford a doctor – like today, being pregnant but poor and presented with no choice.
One of those physicians in 1936 concluded that abortion bans were “antiquated, ridiculous and unjust.” Dr. Frederick Taussig, a Washington University OB-GYN and professor, published a nationally acclaimed medical book, “Abortion, Spontaneous and Induced.” The book shook up the established medical community for years. He was aghast at the gender and class power imbalance for those who had no options. Taussig also gathered his friends and opened the first St. Louis birth control clinics (contraception was still illegal) which they eventually named Planned Parenthood Association clinics.
Physicians connected to Washington University are still leading the charge to protect abortion access as our GOP-controlled legislature codifies religious dogma into scientifically inaccurate statutes. Doctors and medical students have testified, written op-eds and published ads opposing the GOP-sponsored abortion ban (currently blocked by a federal court).
Lengths the Missouri GOP legislators have gone through to interfere with legal abortion access has exacerbated lately. Area Reps. Nick Schroer and Mary Elizabeth Coleman published numerous false online statements insisting the St. Louis clinic had closed. The GOP continues to confuse, harass and threaten those seeking an abortion which is inexcusable and dangerous.
I have faith the Missouri Administrative Commission will overrule the state’s license denial and the clinic will remain open, for now.
But Dr. Taussig’s words in 1936 still ring true today: “More consideration must be given to the right of women to control their own bodies.”
At a time when Missourians insist on more access to healthcare, it is outrageous that those who can become pregnant are most at risk to lose theirs. Again.