GOP lawmaker tries to squelch Mizzou PhD student's research on state's restrictive anti-abortion laws

Sen. Kurt Schaefer complains University of Missouri student's research is "marketing aid" for Planned Parenthood

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published November 12, 2015 7:40PM (EST)

  (AP/Susan Walsh)
(AP/Susan Walsh)

A Republican state senator in Missouri is so concerned about the findings of a University of Missouri doctoral student's study on the impact and effectiveness of a new state law requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions that he is threatening to shut it down before she completes her dissertation.

In September 2014, Missouri joined a raft of states clamoring to pass ever more restrictive anti-abortion laws across the country and passed a law mandating a 72-hour waiting period over the veto of Democratic Governor Jay Nixon. The law also required a forced ultrasound, counseling on alternatives to abortion and a consent form.

Now, one graduate student at the University of Missouri in the School of Social Work, is working to examine the impact of that law for her PhD. “The purpose of this study is to better understand why a significant number of women sign the 72-hour consent form to have an abortion, but then never return to the clinic to have the abortion procedure,” the participant consent documents state. “Additionally, this study aims to understand how the new 72-hour waiting period in Missouri is impacting women and their decision whether or not to have an abortion.”

But one GOP Missouri state senator wants the study shut down on the grounds that is it illegal. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who is running for Missouri attorney general, objects to the study, arguing that it's merely a ruse to promote Planned Parenthood and abortions in violation of state law.

Schaefer, who is the interim head of the Committee on the Sanctity of Life, sent an October 30 letter to the university's chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, accusing the institution of using taxpayer funds to “encourage or counsel a woman to have an abortion not necessary to save her life.”

"The study does not appear to be designed as an objective, unbiased research project, but rather as a marketing aid for Planned Parenthood — one that is funded, in part or in whole, by taxpayer dollars,” Schaefer wrote, objecting to a section of the study's participant consent form that indicates that "the information you provide may help Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri improve its services to better meet the needs of women seeking abortions."

“I am all for unbiased academic research,” Schaefer said. “This does not appear to be unbiased academic research.”

The student, Lindsey Ruhr, is a research coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri and the study is being conducted at a local affiliate.

Ruhr, defended her research in an interview with Al Jazeera America on Wednesday. "I stand by my research project," Ruhr said. “I feel that my research is objective, and that the whole point of my research is to understand how this policy affects women. Whether this policy is having a harmful or beneficial effect, we don’t know.”

The university has also stood by Ruhr. The University of Missouri "will continue to strongly support academic freedom and the intellectual property of MU’s students and faculty,” spokeswoman Mary Jo Banken said in a statement.

President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, Mary Kogut, said Schaefer's letter to the university was meant as a scare tactic. “I also think what Sen. Schaefer is doing is intimidation of the higher education institutions of our state,” Kogut told the Columbia Daily Tribune.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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