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New Abortion Restrictions Take Effect In Missouri, Minus 8-Week Ban

A volunteer with Coalition for Life St. Louis protests outside Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
A volunteer with Coalition for Life St. Louis protests outside Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue.

A federal judge has put a hold on Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban, but has left other provisions of the controversial law intact.

The parts of the law that prohibit abortions because of race, sex or Down syndrome diagnosis and updated requirements to pre-abortion counseling went into effect last week. Doctors say those new regulations victimize patients and compromise doctors’ medical ethics. 

"I think it's incredibly shaming to ask patients to delineate all the reasons why they’re seeking an abortion, because the reality is we believe that every reason to have an abortion is a valid reason,” said Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. 

Physicians won’t explicitly ask if patients are seeking abortions for the prohibited reasons or perform tests to determine why, said McNicholas, who also works at Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services. But if patients mention they are seeking an abortion because of the prohibited reasons, the clinic will have to refer them to an out-of-state clinic, she said.

The law also requires the clinic distribute state-provided information about abortions causing fetuses potential pain to clients it refers to clinics in other states such as Illinois. 

Senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachsblocked the law's provision banning abortions at eight weeks from going into effect, pending a ruling on an ongoing lawsuit challenging the ban. Planned Parenthood and the ACLUsued the state over the law, which the Republican-led Legislature passed in May. 

Authors of the law say aborting fetuses with Down syndrome or because of their race or sex is discrimination. 

“It sends a message of dwindling support for their unique challenges [and] fosters a false sense that disability is something that could have been avoidable,” the law’s authors wrote. 

But Planned Parenthood officials said the ban victimizes patients, especially ones who are terminating an otherwise wanted pregnancy.

“This can be a really difficult decision for them,” McNicholas said. “I feel like this particular provision layers on more regulation and is particularly cruel to those people.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will add a question to the form physicians are required to fill out before they perform the procedure. On that portion, the doctor will have to certify they had “no knowledge” the abortion was provided because of one of the prohibited reasons. 

“Is it going to be some sort of lengthy investigative process? The answer is no,” said Randall Williams, director of the department. “It’s a simple attestation by the provider.”

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Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.