Critics pounce on new abortion restrictions

Both sides rush to interpret the law.
Friday, September 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:02 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Reaction to Missouri’s new abortion law has been swift, with both sides weighing in on what it will mean.

Since Gov. Matt Blunt signed the law into effect Thursday afternoon, abortion-rights opponents have been voicing their approval.

“We’re really excited and strongly support the provisions,” said Susan Klein, Missouri Right to Life’s legislative liaison. “We are just trying to make sure that parents are involved in their minor daughters’ decisions.”

Abortions will still be available in Columbia and St. Louis, but the Springfield clinic might have to shut down under the law, said Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. The law states that doctors performing abortions must have clinical privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of where abortions are performed.

The Springfield abortion clinic doctor has had difficulty obtaining privileges at local hospitals because of political reasons, Brownlie said.

Requiring hospital credentials could pose a challenge, Brownlie said, because hospital employees are hesitant to involve themselves in medical controversies such as abortion.

Supporters say the provision protects women by ensuring that they can receive treatment at a hospital if complications arise.

“That’s for the safeguard for any woman coming to a clinic who might have complications,” said Nile Abele, executive director of Columbia’s Open Arms Crisis Pregnancy Resource Center, an organization emphasizing alternatives to abortion. “It’s a good requirement for clinics that provide abortion services.”

Members of St. Louis-based Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice say the law is vaguely worded and fear the ambiguity might affect how they can counsel young women.

“The bill is very vague and will silence what the clergy say to the youth in their congregations,” said the Rev. Rebecca Turner, the group’s executive director.

The lawsuits clergy members could face might force religious officials to distance themselves from advising youth or talking about pregnancy, Turner said.

“They (clergy) can decide what risk they’ll take in having private conversations,” she said. “We are not referring any woman to our clergy counselors until there is a temporary restraining order.”

Increased family communication and family preservation are important issues, said Larry Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference.

“It’s very inappropriate for a clergy person to be counseling a minor not to talk to her family or evade Missouri’s laws by crossing over state lines,” Weber said. One restriction, which allows parents to sue individuals who help their daughters obtain abortions out of state, was prompted by concern that minors were going to Illinois to have abortions without parental consent.

Vagueness makes the bill unconstitutional, said Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.

Critics say they think the bill’s use of the terms assist, aid and induce, as opposed to medically induce, will contribute to confusion among pharmacists who dispense oral contraceptives or individuals who want to help pregnant girls but might hesitate in fear of civil liability.

“How do you conform your conduct to the law if you don’t know what you’re going to be punished for?” said Sumners, a practicing constitutional lawyer.

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