New Missouri law threatens women’s fight for equality, family planning

By Janet Post
March 28, 2022

An anti-abortion bill introduced in the Missouri legislature March 8 would allow every person in the state to file suit against anyone who assists a woman from Missouri in getting an abortion anywhere in the country. The measure, authored by state Rep. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, who is running for state senate, would also make it illegal to manufacture or distribute abortion pills. The state legislature — with a majority who oppose legalized abortion — returns from a break March 21 and will consider the bill.

The bill, if passed, would become the most restrictive reproductive rights law in the country, significantly expanding on the Texas law that went into effect last September. In Texas most abortions are banned after six weeks of pregnancy and anyone in the state can sue anyone they claim helped a women get an abortion in Texas. It authorizes damages of $10,000 or more. The only exceptions are in cases of life-threatening medical emergencies, but not rape or incest.

“These moves are an attack on the fight for women’s emancipation, aimed at denying women the ability to decide when they will start or expand a family,” Naomi Craine, Socialist Workers Party candidate for Illinois governor, told the Militant. “Women and their families are fighting for jobs, protection from soaring prices, universal health care, decent affordable housing, access to family planning, including contraception, the right to adopt, and abortion.”

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 Dec. 10 not to block the Texas law. On March 11, the Texas Supreme Court voted unanimously to prevent challenges to the law. Twelve additional states are considering similar laws.

Only one clinic that can provide abortions is still open in Missouri, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, which fought and beat back a state government attempt to shut it down in 2020. The organization has another family planning clinic in Fairview Heights, Illinois, 15 miles across from the Missouri state border. More than 10,000 women from Missouri have received abortion care there, while many more have taken advantage of other family planning services, including birth control, cancer screenings and HIV prevention.

“Our doors are open,” Bonyen Lee-Gillmore, of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told the media. “Abortion is health care, and we will not back down from these intimidation tactics.”

Missouri is one of six states where opponents of women’s rights have succeeded in closing family planning centers and leaving only one that offers abortions. The others are Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia. By 2017, there was not a single medical facility providing abortions in nearly 90% of U.S. counties.

The areas of the country where abortion procedures face the most restrictions — and women have less access to Medicaid funding — have higher maternal mortality rates.

In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision decriminalized abortion, creating a “right to privacy” for a woman and her doctor to carry out an abortion up to the point of “fetal viability,” roughly 24 weeks. The court’s liberal majority had decided to act on its political views, shortcutting a far-reaching debate raging then over women’s rights. They based their ruling on medical criteria of viability, not the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause in the Constitution. These factors opened the door to decades of court fights.

The Roe ruling has, in fact, been a blow to the fight for women’s rights and for the working class. Middle-class women’s groups, and others, reduced the discussion to the “abortion issue.” Unconnected to the broader questions of workers’ ability to build a family and equal rights between women and men, this ensured that a relentless assault would result.

“Women’s rights are a key part of the broader fight of the working class against the attacks of the capitalist rulers and their government,” Craine said. “Working people and our unions can lead and win millions to back the need for family planning services, including contraception, child care, fully funded maternity leave, adoption and safe and secure abortion. Reproductive rights are fundamental to winning full social, economic and political equality, to unite and strengthen the working class.”