Missouri and Reproductive Rights Don’t Seem to Mix

Missouri is getting a pretty bad reputation regarding abortion rights. I have already written about the Missouri law that would require abortion providers to undergo expensive and medically unnecessary renovations that would effectively close the clinics and make abortion unavailable in the state.

Now a ruling (of sorts) has been made:

A federal judge ruled Monday that a new Missouri law imposing stricter safety regulations on abortion providers might be constitutional if the state softened the requirements.

The ruling means Planned Parenthood can continue to provide abortions in Columbia and Kansas City while the organization and the state Department of Health and Senior Services negotiate waivers on certain safety requirements.

. . . U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith ruled Monday that the law could violate Planned Parenthood’s constitutional rights if the Missouri health department adopted regulations so harsh that they posed an undue burden on Planned Parenthood.

Smith ordered Planned Parenthood to tell the health department exactly what regulations it wanted waived within 30 days. The department then must respond within 30 days.

The Judge also ruled that if the restrictions are applied to facilities that provide only medically-induced abortions, that aspect of the law would likely be unconstitutional.

So is this a victory? It’s hard to say. The good news is that the clinics can stay open. The bad news is that there is going to be a drawn out fight between Planned Parenthood and Missouri legislators over what is and is not “reasonable.” Planned Parenthood has already agreed that they would meet any reasonable health requirements, but I’m sure that what they consider reasonable is quite different from what the anti-abortion lawmakers think is reasonable. Of course, all of us would have liked to see the law thrown out entirely. But quite honestly (and sadly), I’m not sure that we could have expected more than this.

But that’s not the end of Missouri’s publicized trials with restricting abortion. A new lawsuit has revealed to the general public that female inmates are restricted from having abortions.

Federal appeals judges asked pointed questions Monday of lawyers defending Missouri’s 2-year-old policy banning inmates from obtaining abortions unless medically necessary.

. . . Both sides agree that a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision, also over Missouri prison rules, governs the issue of which rights prisoners must surrender. That time, the issue was inmate correspondence and marriage, and the decision led to a four-factor test of whether a regulation is constitutional.

Judge William J. Riley said there was a strong case for the first factor, which says there must be a “valid, rational correlation” between the regulation and a government interest, in this case, safety.

The second factor says that inmates must have some alternative means of exerting a constitutional right. Riley said there were none. “I think it’s dispositive in this case.”

Seems pretty clear cut, doesn’t it? And yet the policy has been in effect for 2 years. How, you might ask, can anyone defend denying women their right to medical care? Oh, it’s good.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Pritchard argued Monday that prison officials’ primary concern is with the safety of prisoners, guards and the public. He said a trip to the St. Louis clinic had a “greatly increased” risk of escape, especially since she could have an accomplice waiting among the anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic.

You know, at least the state of Missouri and I can agree on one thing– anti-abortion protesters are often dangerous and/or criminals.

Of course, despite the ridiculousness, none of this is actually funny. Apparently, 30 to 50 inmates in Missouri are pregnant at any given time. And statistically, 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and 25% of all pregnancies end in abortion. Since women in jail are disproportionately likely to be poor and/or drug addicted, it serves to reason that the rate of unplanned pregnancy among inmates than the general population. The state covers the entire cost of pregnancy and child birth for inmates. Abortion, by contrast, must be payed for by the inmate and would cost the state $348 for transportation and security (no figures were released for the cost of childbirth to the state). Only 14 female inmates have been able to access abortions since 2002. Do the math, and you’ll see that a lot of inmates have likely wanted abortions and been unable to receive them.

When you go to jail, you surrender a lot of civil liberties. That is precisely why we try to avoid incarceration, and why we fight so strongly against imprisonment of people who do not deserve it. But I have never heard that one of the rights being surrendered is that of not being forced to give birth. And that is precisely what the state is doing: forcing female inmates to give birth. We do in fact have laws against unreasonable punishment and specifying what type of physical force can be exerted on inmates. I do not think that it is any stretch to suggest that forcing a woman to be pregnant and give birth is torture.

And if human rights aren’t important to you (read: if you’re a Republican), it’s also about safety. Think about it: in the absolute best of times, women who are pregnant and to not want to be will do pretty desperate things to end their pregnancy if abortion is not available. Inmates are disproportionately likely to have some form of mental illness and/or a propensity towards irrational decision-making. And then there are just the general facts of prison life, which could and have driven many mentally healthy people insane. Somehow, I think that forced pregnancy in the prison system just might result in violence towards others or towards oneself. Is solitary confinement or suicide watch less expensive than the $348 it takes to provide an inmate with an abortion (that she pays for)? Probably not. But then again, most of us already know that this isn’t about money.

Here’s to hoping that the judge in the case has a brain.

0 thoughts on “Missouri and Reproductive Rights Don’t Seem to Mix

  1. Tiberius

    Ah . . . but the injunction remains while these negotiations over reasonableness remain, and will be dissolved only if the judge is convinced one side or the other is being unreasonable. So, more is going on than just a butting of heads between the state and PP; if they cannot agree, someone will have to convince the judge that their position is reasonable or the other side is not. The judge’s views will be very important, and I guess at this point they are still a wild card.


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