‘Doctors need a seat at that table:’ Governor Parson weighs in on abortion law confusion

Today, Governor Mike Parson was questioned by reporters seeking clarification on what is considered a medical emergency.
Published: Jul. 14, 2022 at 3:53 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - There has been confusion regarding Missouri’s new abortion law signed by Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

Abortions are only allowed in medical emergencies. The law went into effect nearly three weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

Today, the governor was questioned by reporters seeking clarification on what is considered a medical emergency.

“I don’t know if there’s ever going to be a clear-cut answer how to do that,” said Parson. “But, one thing I do know, it’s not for bureaucrats and attorneys to make that decision.”

He said doctors must have a seat at the table when those decisions are being made.

The governor said the issue is “complicated” -- too complicated for a special session.

“It’s going to take time to figure out how to do this,” he said.

Earlier this week, Missouri Democrats had requested a special session to settle legal questions.

“It’s nice to hear the governor finally say bureaucrats shouldn’t come between a patient and their health care provider, but he’s about three years too late after signing extreme legislation into law that does the exact opposite,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade in a statement. “Now, instead of bringing legal certainty to the right of Missourians to access and use birth control, the governor has opted to stick with vague assurances.”

Quade said the state needs a special session to settle the issue before “innocent Missourians are wrongfully dragged through the criminal justice system, not after.”

“In the last few weeks, I have heard from doctors who want to provide the very best care for their patients, but they know that there is enough uncertainty in the law that it may put them or expose them to some legal risk,” said Missouri State Senator Lauren Arthur. She is a Democrat representing District 17, which includes Kansas City.

The confusion in Missouri is being cited as an example for other states dealing with their own abortion questions.

“If you’re wondering what will happen if Kansas loses access to abortion care, you can look at Missouri where contraception questions, emergency situations, ectopic pregnancies are all up for discussion, and providers are scrambling to figure out what’s legal and what’s not,” said Emily Wales with Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

This week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services responded with a one-page, four-question document entitled Regulation of Missouri Abortion Facilities — Frequently Asked Questions in response to questions from doctors and hospitals seeking clarification on the state’s interpretation of the new law.

In the document, the DHSS says while the department regulates abortion facilities to ensure patient safety, the enforcement of the criminal provision are up to prosecutors and Missouri Attorney General’s office.

It goes on to say that the DHSS cannot provide legal advice to providers or facilities. It also provides links the the legal definition of a “medical emergency” and “reasonable medical judgement.”

Jeffrey S. Howell, the executive vice president of the Missouri State Medical Association, said he’s not surprised by the department’s action.

“It’s not DHSS’ job to interpret that law,” said Howell. “That’s a job for the courts. Or, the legislature could step in and clear this up in 2023.”