Missouri GOP Legislator: Halt Student Research on Abortion Care

Lindsay Ruhr, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, says she will continue her research on the effect of the state's 72-hour forced waiting period for abortions, despite a state senator's pushback.

Lindsay Ruhr, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, says she will continue her research on the effect of the state's 72-hour forced waiting period for abortions, despite a state senator's pushback. Shutterstock

A University of Missouri doctoral student is defying an anti-choice legislator by continuing her research on the effects of the state’s newly enacted 72-hour forced waiting period for abortions.

The student, Lindsay Ruhr, told Al Jazeera that she stands by her research.

“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,” Ruhr said.

Her dissertation focuses on why some women are signing consent forms to have an abortion but not coming back to receive abortion care after the state’s 72-hour forced waiting period. Missouri, with a legislature dominated by Republicans, is one of five states to require a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion. Three of those five, including Missouri, require that a woman seeking an abortion must undergo in-person counseling at least 72 hours in advance of the procedure, meaning she must make a preliminary visit to the clinic.

The controversy surrounding Ruhr’s research started last month, when state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) sent an October 30 letter to the university’s chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, saying that Ruhr’s research seemed like a “marketing aid for Planned Parenthood,” and pointing to the school’s recent disputes with the health-care provider. Pressure from GOP lawmakers for the the university to sever its relationship with Planned Parenthood had been mounting for months.

The University of Missouri this fall canceled contracts with Planned Parenthood, ending a 26-year relationship with the organization that had allowed medical and nursing students to complete clinical hours at Planned Parenthood-affiliated facilities. Shortly afterward, the university succumbed to pressure from the state’s Republican legislators and discontinued admitting privileges for a physician who in July allowed the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, Missouri to be licensed by the state to resume abortions.

About Ruhr’s research, Schaefer wrote, “This is a concerning revelation considering the University’s recent troubling connections to Planned Parenthood.”

“It is difficult to understand how a research study approved by the University, conducted by a University student, and overseen by the Director of the School of Social Work at the University can be perceived as anything but an expenditure of public funds to aid Planned Parenthood … in clear violation of Missouri law,” continued Schaefer, who is a chairman on the Missouri state senate’s interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life. 

In the letter, which is posted on the state senator’s Facebook page, Schaefer requests the following documents to determine if and how state funds are being used in Ruhr’s research:

  • The complete research study protocol for IRB project number 200068
  • Any communication in the possession of the Institutional Review Board or any other entity, employee, or agent of the University regarding this study
  • Any documents, correspondence, or communications in the possession of the University or its agents or employees regarding any funds used or to be used for this study.

Schaefer asked the university to provide all of the requested materials by 4 p.m on Friday, November 6. Mary Jenkins, a representative for the university, told Al Jazeera that they are still in the process of gathering the documents. 

In a statement, Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, accused Schaefer of trying to advance his career at the expense of the university.

“While it is hardly surprising that Senator Schaefer continues to attack the University of Missouri, it is disappointing that the Senator continues using taxpayer funds for political grandstanding,” McQuade said in her statement. “We call on Chancellor Loftin to remain stalwart in the face of political interference with academic freedom.”