Don't look now, but another state is trying to punish women for having abortions

Missouri is adding its name to a growing list of red states advancing draconian anti-abortion measures

Published April 18, 2016 9:58AM (EDT)

  (Joshua Roberts / Reuters)
(Joshua Roberts / Reuters)

While Democrats are hectoring each other over the Bernie-versus-Hillary fracas, state-level Republicans are busily rolling back LGBT rights, voting right and, most obviously, reproductive rights. Choosing a president is serious work to be sure, but when 23 states are entirely controlled by Republicans, with an additional seven state legislatures controlled by the GOP but thwarted by Democratic governors, it seems as if a re-calibration of priorities is in order. This goes especially for anyone -- Bernie supporters or Hillary supporters -- who choose to stay home in November because their favorite presidential candidate didn't secure the nomination. Such nearsighted foot-stomping entire ignores down-ballot races where all of these nightmarish bills are being easily passed into law.

Sure, Bernie's tax returns and Hillary's transcripts are important, but as both factions stab each other in the face on Twitter about these minuscule points of friction, Missouri Republicans are confirming Donald Trump's notion of punishing women for having abortions.

First, it's important to establish just how unhinged the Missouri Republicans are, and we need'nt look any further than the existence of the state Senate's "Sanctity of Life" committee. Yes, the Missouri state legislature has a "Sanctity of Life" committee tasked with the following:

(1) Conduct an in-depth analysis of the Planned Parenthood business model and the methods by which they dispose of human remains from aborted fetuses;

(2) Investigate into whether Planned Parenthood, and any of its affiliates or associates, is or has engaged in activity contrary to the laws of this state;

(3) Determine whether any state dollars have been directly used in such activity or used in a manner to offset expenses so that Planned Parenthood and any of its affiliates and associates might engage in such activities.

(4) Investigate whether any person, past or present, employed by the State of Missouri had any prior knowledge of any such alleged activity or misuse of state funds.

(5) Examine and investigate any other issues the committee deems relevant to the allegations brought forth against Planned Parenthood.

Perhaps someone ought to inform the committee's chairman, Republican Kurt Schaefer, that the state's attorney general already investigated Planned Parenthood and found no evidence of any wrongdoing. Frankly, it doesn't appear as if Chairman Schaefer really cares about whether his state previously cleared Planned Parenthood of any grisly illegalities, especially when there are charges to falsify and, yes, lists of names to compile.

It turns out Schaefer's "Sanctity of Life" committee is forcing Planned Parenthood and other clinics to turn over lists of names of women who've had legal abortions in Missouri between 2010 and 2015. Various officials with clinics across Missouri are facing contempt charges if they don't turn over the medical records -- which, by the way, would violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week:

On a 24-8 vote, senators agreed to move forward with contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis and Southwest Missouri and Dr. James Miller of Pathology Services Inc. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.

So far, Kogut and the others have refused to turn over the records and will likely face prison for protecting the identities of women who've had abortions. As of this writing, there's exactly zero national outrage over this clear violation of HIPAA, not to mention the fact that GOP lawmakers are compiling lists that could be easily accessed by industrious hackers or anyone seeking copies of public records from the state Senate. What could possibly go wrong?

It gets worse.

Just last month, the Missouri House passed a bill requiring that underage girls receive parental consent from both parents before having an abortion. (Current law demands only one parent.) Furthermore, despite the state's attorney general finding no evidence of illegal fetus tissue harvesting, the Missouri House voted last week to ban fetal tissue donation.

The Associated Press:

The Missouri House is advancing legislation to ban donation of fetal tissue from abortions. House members in a voice vote Tuesday gave the legislation initial approval…. It needs a second vote in the House to move to the Senate.

Fascinating move given how Missouri already has a ban on fetal tissue research on the books. The donation of tissue is still legal, but the research isn't. Combined, however, this leads to one immovable conclusion. If fetal tissue donations are banned, as with the research itself, then all aborted fetuses will simply be tossed out with the medical waste instead of being used to cure diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. It's not explicitly what Missouri Republicans want, but by banning tissue donations, they're forcing clinics to just toss the fetuses in the garbage. Which is, of course, a extremely bizarre preference for self-identified pro-lifers, especially those who sit on the so-called "Sanctity of Life" committee.

For the record, meanwhile, here's the menu of anti-choice laws already on the books in Missouri (via the Guttmacher Institute):

  • A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided.
  • Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two separate trips to the facility.
  • Abortion is covered in private insurance policies only in cases of life endangerment, unless an optional rider is purchased at an additional cost.
  • Health plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion when the woman’s life is endangered.
  • Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment.
  • The use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion is prohibited.
  • The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
  • Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

So, yes, let's make sure we completely vet the two Democratic candidates for president, but it's almost equally as important to keep tabs on what's happening at the state level since crap like Missouri is going on all the time, and it's being done with little protest or national attention, be it from the traditional press or online activists ensconced in the political internet. And, in terms of Trump's threat to punish women, it's already happening in Missouri and elsewhere. The GOP's chorus of mea culpas about punishment ought to ring hollow to anyone following state politics where women (as well as LGBT citizens and minority voters) are facing a worsening inquisition by overzealous Republicans.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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