Editorial Roundup: Missouri

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 12, 2024.

Editorial: Having won on abortion, Missouri GOP just can’t stop attacking women’s health care

Not content with having already imposed the first statewide abortion ban in America in half a century (and one of the most draconian), Missouri’s Republican leaders are demonstrating once again that they are nowhere near done stripping women of health care access. This time, they’re specifically targeting poor women.

They say that’s not their intent, but it will be the effect of movement in Jefferson City to block Medicaid reimbursement funds from going to Planned Parenthood facilities in the state.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t provide abortion services in Missouri — by state law, it can’t. But its affiliation with out-of-state entities that do is being used to justify hampering low-income women’s access to cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and other crucial health services that have nothing to do with abortion.

The measure passed the state Senate Wednesday after an 11-hour filibuster by Democrats. It now returns to the House for a final vote. It is expected to pass; Gov. Mike Parson will almost certainly sign it. And health care options for thousands of women who can’t afford private health insurance will be dramatically narrowed.

In floor debate, state Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis County, accurately condemned the measure as a “bizarre quest to just continue to punish Planned Parenthood.” In reality, she noted, “This is hurting our very own constituents.”

Even from a strict anti-abortion rights standpoint, there’s no rational policy value here beyond expressing legislative malice toward an organization whose name has become synonymous with abortion rights — but which actually provides much more than that to women.

Planned Parenthood’s two Missouri affiliates serve some 20,000 women annually. About one in five of those women qualify for Medicaid, the state-federal health care funding system for low-income Americans.

Legislative Republicans have previously tried to use the state budgetary process to prevent Planned Parenthood from accessing Medicaid reimbursement for treating those low-income patients, but the courts have nixed that roundabout play.

The current legislation would prohibit any public funds from going to any entity affiliated with an abortion provider, even if that provider is in another state.

Unsurprisingly, the measure is spearheaded by Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman. The Arnold Republican has previously sponsored legislation seeking to make it a crime to help women leave Missouri for out-of-state abortions, to the point of censoring internet sites and billboards. Those ideas were as plainly unconstitutional as Coleman’s attempt to punish out-of-state doctors who treat Missouri women.

Coleman shruggingly suggested in floor debate this week that low-income women on Medicaid have plenty of other options for health care in Missouri. But in fact, there’s already a shortage of such services.

As reported by the Columbia Missourian, surveys from the Missouri Family Health Council Inc. have found that appointment wait times at clinics in the state that take Medicaid patients are fairly low at Planned Parenthood — between one to three days — while those trying to get into other clinics generally wait five to seven weeks.

That Coleman and her GOP colleagues are willing to burden already-struggling poor women like this speaks to their continuing, single-minded fixation on abortion, to the point of curtailing even non-abortion health care access. The House Democratic minority is unlikely to stop the bill, but they should use the debate to spotlight just how malicious the Legislature’s anti-choice brigade has become, even in victory.