Correction, May 20, 2:50 p.m. EST: A version of this article incorrectly stated that HB 457, an expanded “conscience” protection bill, had passed the House. It had a hearing but was never voted on.
Missouri’s 2013 legislative session closed on May 17, as the house and senate wrapped up their final day of voting. For low-income and uninsured women in the state, the end couldn’t come soon enough. Lawmakers made it a priority to block expansion of Medicaid and access to birth control, while at the same time funneling tax credits to so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which provide misleading or outright inaccurate information and are often run by volunteers passing themselves off as health-care providers. Add into the mix a new law that will make it more difficult for women to access medication abortion services, and Missouri politicians proved yet again their willingness to deny women access to health care.
“The Missouri Legislature is following a disturbing trend in state legislatures across the country,” said Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, and Paula Gianino, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, in a joint press release following the session’s close. “Just months after women’s health was a determining issue in a historic election, 42 states saw hundreds of provisions introduced to restrict access to health care and to put politicians between a woman and her doctor. Yet again, we are seeing the wrong priorities come out of the Missouri Legislature on matters of women’s health. Instead of increasing access to preventive health care, the legislature is working to restrict access to birth control and non-surgical abortion while giving millions of tax dollars to groups that are known to provide misleading information to women about their pregnancies.”
To curb the number of women able to access a less invasion early abortion procedure, the state passed a bill that forbids the practice of telemedicine as a means of delivering medication abortion, and prohibited the use of RU-486 unless the patient is in the physical presence of a doctor.
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Also passed this year is an extension of a program that allows donors to crisis pregnancy centers to write the donation off on their taxes. CPCs in the state claim that donations to their groups began to drop when the original program expired. Crisis pregnancy centers in many states have been under fire for passing themselves off as medical centers, for refusing to mention up-front that they do not offer abortion nor contraception nor provider referrals, and for spreading medically inaccurate falsehoods by claiming, for example, that abortion increases the risk of cancer, that contraception has high failure rates, and that condoms do not prevent sexually transmitted infections.
The legislature also refused to expand Medicaid, which will continue to affect low-income uninsured women who need access to basic preventive medical care. Currently, Missouri’s Medicaid program covers only citizens at 32 percent of the federal poverty level. The expansion, which would have been fully funded by the federal government, would have raised the cap to 132 percent of the federal poverty level (a single person making $15,000 a year would quialify). Expansion would have allowed an additional 267,000 individuals in the state to be covered by Medicaid, according to the Missouri Budget Project.
Still, there were a few reproductive rights wins. A bill that would have made it legal for medical providers not only to refuse to offer care or fill a prescription, but to refuse to offer a referral as well, failed. The state’s medication abortion bill might have required even more trips back to the clinic, but an amendment was passed eliminating such language. A bill to revamp an “informed consent” rules never gained any traction, and a spousal consent bill never got introduced.
Now, the legislature rests for another year. Meanwhile, activists on both sides will watch to see if Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon will veto the medication abortion bill, sign it, or simply allow the bill to become law by not acting.