Missouri Republicans Are Waging a Trump-Style War Against Women

Opponents of abortion rights are escalating their crusade at the state level.

Victoria Albert

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens addresses the crowd at Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery on February 22, 2017 in University City, Missouri. (Photo: Michael Thomas/ Getty Images)

Last month, Mis­souri State Rep. Mike Moon pio­neered a new style of polit­i­cal adver­tise­ment: behead­ing live chick­ens on social media.

This state-level uptick in Trumpian political theater is galvanizing progressives.

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, 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.’”

Vic­to­ria Albert was a Sum­mer 2016 edi­to­r­i­al intern at In These Times. She is now pur­su­ing a master’s degree in mag­a­zine jour­nal­ism at New York Uni­ver­si­ty. She tweets at @victoria_alb3.
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