There has been a slew of anti-abortion legislation of late, including the Alabama bill prohibiting abortion in cases of incest and rape – but thanks to a legal loophole, Missouri could be the very first to stop offering the service entirely since Roe v. Wade.
A court hearing will be taking place today to decide the fate of the state's only health center to offer abortion care, whose license is due to expire on Friday (May 31).
If the two sides (Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services) fail to come to an agreement and the license is not renewed, the clinic will have to cease service – leaving 1.1 million Missourian women of reproductive age in the "dark" with no access to "safe, legal abortion care". It is not as brazen as the Alabama bill but as many have pointed out, withholding the license is effectively a ban on abortions achieved through indirect means.
While technically-speaking abortion remains legal in the state, the Department of Health and Senior Services has refused to renew the center's license unless staff who perform abortions submit to questioning. Questioning, Planned Parenthood says, that could lead to criminal proceedings or board review for the medics involved.
The department claims to be investigating "deficient practices" at the clinic but has not hinted at what these potential concerns may be. Needless to say, the developments have been met with widespread disapproval and calls to protect reproductive rights at a federal level.
This is just the latest in a string of measures to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that protects a woman's right to choose whether or not to continue with the pregnancy on the basis of her right to privacy (the Fourteenth Amendment). While the ruling protects that right, it allows room for state regulation – a technicality many anti-abortion politicians have adopted as a means of restricting access.
"Every year the licensing process has become more and more challenging as the state has effectively weaponized the regulatory system within the state to regulate abortion out of existence," David Eisenberg, medical director of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told CNN.
If the regulations were "about promoting and protecting the well being of Missourians, we would be talking about expanding access to Medicaid [and] expanding access to basic reproductive health services," he added.
Just last week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill banning abortions after the eight-week mark, which is due to come into force in August. (Fittingly, Parson was surrounded by women dressed in red – the color not just of those in the Republican Party, but of the handmaids of Gilead.) While women seeking termination cannot be prosecuted under the law, doctors who perform the procedure can face jail time of up to 15 years, even in cases of rape or incest.
It also includes a provision that would automatically trigger an outright ban on abortions if Roe v. Wade is ever reversed. (Medical emergencies being the sole exception.) But if this license isn't renewed, Missourian anti-abortionists won't have to wait for that to happen.
"This is the world that the Trump administration and Republican public officials across the country have been pushing for – a world where abortion care is illegal and inaccessible in this country," Leana Wen, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
"Missouri’s governor just signed an extreme ban into law, but he is not waiting until the law goes into effect: his administration is ending access to safe, legal abortion care."
Today's lawsuit was initiated by Planned Parenthood, who are requesting a restraining order against the state to prevent changes to its abortion care. (Non-abortion services, including STI testing and birth control, will continue to operate after Friday.) Proceedings were due to begin on Wednesday but were postponed for unexplained reasons.