Last month, Missouri State Rep. Mike Moon pioneered a new style of political advertisement: beheading live chickens on social media.
In a June 12 video posted to his Facebook page, the representative grotesquely dismembered a chicken while delivering an anti-choice stump speech. It is easy to draw parallels between Moon’s crude grandstanding and that of President Donald Trump, who recently drew ire for tweeting that Morning Joe host Mika Brzezinski had a “low IQ” and was “bleeding badly from a face-lift” when he met her last December.
Yet, Moon’s chicken-beheading spectacle was not the most Trumpian event that occurred in Missouri that week. On the same day that Moon’s bird met an untimely death, Republican Gov. Eric Greitens — a man who switched parties in 2015, had no previous political experience, has famously bullied and published the personal information of his political opponents, and is currently under investigation for receiving illegal campaign donations — called the second special legislative session in less than a month in attempt to advance his anti-choice agenda.
Legalizing discrimination against women who get abortions
Greitens’ anti-abortion crusade is two-pronged. First, he hopes to overturn a St. Louis city ordinance that bans discrimination against women who have had an abortion, use contraception, or make any kind of controversial reproductive choice. This permission to discriminate still applies to the rest of the state, despite the fact that numerous bills similar to the city ordinance have been proposed in recent years.
A 2016 report from the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) finds that permitting this type of discrimination is detrimental to women’s reproductive rights. When Wisconsin passed a law requiring employers to cover birth control in 2009, the report notes, the Madison Archdiocese told employees that they could be fired for asking for that coverage. In 2004, teacher Kelly Romenesko was fired in the same state after taking time off to undergo in-vitro fertilization.
Greitens also aims to ram through additional unnecessary procedural restrictions on abortion providers. The first Senate bill proposed in the second session, SB5, allows the attorney general to prosecute abortion providers without first contacting local officials, and bans clinics from asking ambulances to not use sirens or flashing lights when responding to calls. It also requires the Missouri Department of Health to conduct annual, unannounced inspections of abortion facilities.
These restrictions come at a vulnerable time for Missouri abortion providers. In April, a Missouri federal court shot down two other burdensome procedural restrictions that had reduced the number of abortion clinics in Missouri to one. The 1.2 million women of reproductive age who require Planned Parenthood’s services often had to travel over 370 miles to reach the St. Louis clinic, where they were then subjected to a grueling 72-hour waiting period. After the April ruling eliminated key, onerous restrictions, Planned Parenthood said it would expand its services to four additional locations.
SB5’s additional restrictions, and the precedent they set, threaten this expansion.
‘Mean’ and ‘unprofessional’ debate
SB5’s debates have largely echoed Greitens’ rancor. A St. Louis rabbi described the hearings as “mean” and “unprofessional” after he testified, a sentiment shared by the many physicians, religious leaders, and community members who have spoken out against the bill.
The legislature spent 10 days debating in June, and is poised to resume on July 24. Legislators predict that the session could continue for as many as 60 days, with each day costing taxpayers an estimated $20,000. Pro-choice advocates note that, if used differently — say, to actually benefit women’s health — the same $20,000 could cover annual health exams for 100 Missouri women.
Yet, as Greitens and his supporters are well-aware, any bill they pass is doomed to fail on most fronts. While they may be successful in overturning the anti-discrimination ordinance, the provider restrictions that conservatives have suggested likely violate the precedent set by Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a 2016 Supreme Court decision that invalidated similar restrictions in Texas. In that ruling, the Court noted that, in order to implement additional restrictions, the proponents must be able to prove a medical benefit — a standard that Greitens and his supporters will find difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.
“It is unconstitutional,” notes Rep. Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis County), a member of the committee debating SB5. “But it’s not stopping them from doing it. And it’s not stopping the consequences.”
Progressive coalitions have taken note. “Planned Parenthood stands ready to pursue all legal options based on the [regulations’] impact,” notes M’Evie Mead, Director of Policy and Organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri. “If the impacts — or the way they are regulated and enforced — create a barrier that is difficult to surmount as a provider or a patient, that will be considered an undue burden and Planned Parenthood would seek the legal remedies available.”
“The Court has said that they’re going to side with medical experts when evaluating the medical necessity of any regulation,” Mead adds. “And there’s not a single medical expert testifying in favor of this legislation.”
In the footsteps of Trump?
It is clear that Greitens will be unlikely to deliver on his anti-abortion promises. What is less clear is his long-term strategy. Many news outlets have suggested that Greitens is considering a run for president — or at least for a seat in the state senate. This grandstanding, though detrimental to Missouri’s women, could win over conservative backers. In 2016, Greitens was the only Republican gubernatorial candidate who failed to win the support of Missouri Right to Life, a relationship he seems eager to change.
“He’s following [Trump’s] game plan,” Newman says. “[The election] showed that it works, and that’s what he’s doing here.”
This state-level uptick in Trumpian political theater is galvanizing progressives. On June 14, 13 organizations — including the ACLU of Missouri, the Missouri State Women’s Political Caucus, and Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri — held “The People’s Special Session,” during which over 200 Missourians traveled to the capital to both protest the second session and observe the Children and Families Committee while they debated SB5.
Newman has also developed her own mechanism for voter engagement. This January, she launched Gov. 101, a seminar that teaches constituents the basics of legislative procedure and empowers them testify at state-level hearings and call their legislators. She has hosted five seminars to date, each with over 300 attendees.
At their core, the sessions reinforce the importance of engagement in local politics. “We put in your hand, a card, eight-by-five, of all of your elected [representatives],” she explains. “Not just their names, but their e-mails and their phone numbers. And we said ‘here, glue this to your refrigerator, because you have to be tracking, you have to be knowing, you have to be contacting.’”