Editorial Roundup: Missouri

St, Louis Post-Dispatch. February 23, 2024.

Editorial: Now the right to get pregnant is under attack, too. Missourians can protect it.

With a single court ruling in Alabama, America’s radical anti-choice movement is no longer just impeding the rights of women to end unwanted pregnancies.

Now it’s impeding the rights of women who are seeking pregnancies.

That’s already the ironic practical effect of a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court last week that frozen embryos have all the legal rights of fully formed people, and so cannot be disposed of during in vitro fertilization treatments.

Within days of the ruling, Alabama’s largest hospital network paused IVF procedures for fear of facing lawsuits or criminal charges due to discarded fertilized eggs that are an unavoidable part of the process. Which means Alabama women desperately seeking pregnancy will have to travel to other states — as women desperately seeking to end pregnancies (including rape victims) already must do.

The ruling currently affects only Alabamans. But given the recent history in Missouri of state policymakers taking their cues from other radically red states regarding reproductive rights, no one should be surprised if this latest expansion of extremist politics into personal medical decisions takes root here.

That should drive home the urgency of passing Missouri’s pending abortion-rights constitutional amendment referendum, which also would protect reproductive rights more broadly.

With in vitro fertilization, eggs are medically extracted from a woman and combined with sperm in a laboratory. Once the fertilized egg forms into an embryo, it is placed into the uterus of either the woman who supplied the eggs or a surrogate, and the pregnancy continues from there.

First pioneered in the late 1970s, the procedure today is a relatively common way for infertile couples to have children, accounting for about 2% of U.S. pregnancies. In all, some 8 million Americans walking (or crawling) around today were conceived in a lab.

Because the complex IVF process doesn’t always work, multiple eggs are generally fertilized to increase the odds of getting a viable embryo. Unused embryos — often consisting of just one or a handful of cells — can be frozen for later implantation attempts. Upon successful pregnancy, unused embryos are typically discarded.

Friday’s court ruling stemmed from wrongful death cases brought by three couples who had frozen embryos that were destroyed in an accident at an Alabama fertility clinic. The plaintiffs essentially alleged that their offspring had been killed. Alabama law, like Missouri’s, prohibits all abortions from conception.

In its unprecedented opinion upholding the plaintiffs’ claim, the state’s all-Republican Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that “unborn children are ‘children’ … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics.”

In a concurring opinion that reads more like a Sunday sermon, Chief Justice Tom Parker confirmed that today’s anti-choice movement is at base a crusade to transform America into a biblical theocracy. “Human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God,” he wrote. “Even before birth all human beings have the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

Such blatant disregard for the First Amendment’s separation of church and state is commonplace on the political right today. Missouri’s own anti-abortion statute declares that “Almighty God is the author of life.”

In his dissent, Alabama Justice Greg Cook also referenced religion to note the real-world impact of the court’s ruling. “There is no doubt that there are many Alabama citizens praying to be parents,” he wrote, “who will no longer have that opportunity.”

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade last year allowed states to outlaw abortion at all stages of pregnancy, right-wing politicians and judges across the country have made clear they have no intention of stopping there — as the Alabama ruling again demonstrates. Having won the right to dictate the most personal medical decisions of half the population, infringement on other areas of reproductive rights is inevitable.

Luckily, the proposed constitutional amendment in Missouri to protect abortion rights until the point of fetal viability (the same standard that existed under Roe) is worded to apply to other reproductive issues as well. It would preserve for individuals “the right to make and carry out decisions about all matters relating to reproductive health care.”

That would prevent Missouri politicians from pursuing future schemes to deprive couples of in vitro fertilization services, birth control access and any other medical decisions that are manifestly none of the state’s business.

As we have written here before, those politicians are pulling out all the stops to prevent Missourians from having their say on these issues via the vote.

Citizens can fight back by signing onto the state petition drive to get reproductive rights on the ballot this year. The only way to fully guard against Alabama-level extremism spreading into statutes and court rulings here is to enshrine those rights in the Missouri Constitution.