Abortion advocates, some lawmakers continue push to clear up ambiguity surrounding medical emergencies and birth control in Mo.

Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 10:29 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - It’s back to square one for pro-choice advocates and state Democrats to get protections in place for abortion services in Missouri. Governor Mike Parson is clear, reproductive rights will not be on the agenda for any special session this fall.

Bonyen Lee-Gilmore is the Vice President of Strategy and Communications for Advocates at Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. She said she and others are working through what she calls an abortion crisis in the region.

“The Republican leadership are making it clear what their agenda is,” Lee-Gilmore explained. “They are not stopping at abortion, they are starting at abortion.”

“I am fearful, and it’s clear to me women in Missouri, particular of a child-bearing age are not safe,” State Senator Lauren Arthur told News 4 over Zoom.

It’s agencies like Planned Parenthood working with Democratic lawmakers like Arthur to change systems in Missouri. One concern is ambiguity in the law about medical emergencies, following the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe versus Wade.

“Although we know the appropriate treatment, in that case, is an abortion, the question is when that procedure takes place is left ambiguous in state law,” Arthur shared. “Issues like that, lawmakers need to revisit to make sure there is no doubt doctors can perform it when deemed appropriate as opposed to when the law says.”

“I think the Department of Health will make those clarifications for us,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson told News 4 in June.

We also asked Parson if access to contraceptives and birth control will be at risk in the future in Missouri.

“As a pro-life governor, and legislator, that’s where you will see this go,” Parson responded.

Now, Governor Parson has since spoken about medical emergencies. Last Thursday, he said publicly he trusts doctors’ judgment in times of crisis.

“Doctors need to have a seat at that table,” Parson said. “And frankly, they’re more qualified to be able to make that decision than anybody else.”

Critics said that’s not enough.

“That does not carry the same weight as official guidance, and official guidance doesn’t carry the weight as changing the law, so there is no room for interpretation,” Arthur said.

“For decades, reproductive healthcare providers, abortion advocates have begged politicians in the state to trust doctors and patients to make these decisions, and for Gov. Parson to now make the statement he trusts doctors is too little too late,” Lee-Gilmore shared.

Lee-Gilmore is also critical of exceptions as part of abortion bans. She said they are not good enough because they don’t help as many people.

For example, she said Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri in the last 18 months performed zero abortions because the woman was raped or a victim of incest.

A real concern is doctors and hospitals pausing services because of fear of felony charges and prison time. That’s the penalty the Missouri GOP has in place.

News 4 reached out to area hospitals asking for a clarification of how it’s instructing doctors.

Bethany Hope with Mercy said as a Catholic health care system, Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services. “With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, we will continue to provide excellent care consistent with the Directives,” Pope explained. “In tragic situations when a pregnant mother suffers from an urgent, life-threatening condition, Mercy provides all medically indicated treatment to save her life.”

Dave Dillon with the Missouri Hospitals Association told News 4 the law is pretty straightforward but the concern is interpretation.

“These decisions will largely be based on a clinical interpretation of a patient’s health in real-time,” Dillon said.

He also said he doesn’t know if a change would influence a physician’s decision-making.

News 4 also contacted the BJC Network and is still waiting for a response.

After the Governor’s comments, The Department of Health and Senior Services released this one-page document. It describes what constitutes as a medical emergency to allow a doctor to provide an abortion. It references a “legal definition” and “statutory language”.