KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Missouri’s law banning most abortions is causing confusion for doctors and patients, according to one legal expert in the field.
“Doctors are definitely between a rock and a hard place,” said Yvette Lindgren, Associate Professor of Law at UMKC School of Law.
Under current Missouri law, abortions may be performed only in cases of medical emergencies. Doctors who violate the law could face felony charges and have their license revoked.
Lindgren, who has researched reproductive rights and justice and constitutional law for more than a decade, says the language in Missouri’s abortion law leaves doctors in an “untenable situation.”
“In this medical emergency language, we are expecting doctors to interpret its outer reaches and to essentially put their livelihood as well as their liberty on the line because this is a criminal prohibition,” she said. “It’s putting doctors in an untenable situation because we’re asking them to interpret very broad language of a statute at the peril of criminal liability.”
According to Lindgren, doctors, hospitals and lawyers will now have to consider how sick a person must be to qualify for an abortion under Missouri law.
“When a patient presents with an incomplete miscarriage, then doctors turn to abortion care to complete the miscarriage, but if there is a detectible fetal heart tone, doctors will not be permitted to use abortion in that context, so it is sometimes a race against time. There is concern with the pregnant person hemorrhaging or becoming septic before there is no longer a detectible fetal heart tone.”
The confusion on what constitutes an abortion and who can have one led St. Luke’s Health System to temporarily cease handing out Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, at its Missouri locations.
That decision was later reversed after Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office issued a statement saying, “Missouri law does not prohibit the use or provision of Plan B or contraception.”
Schmitt has not responded to questions or issued an opinion about what constitutes a medical emergency under Missouri law.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which is responsible for regulating abortion facilities and providers, is working on language to help providers interpret the law, but that likely won’t be ready for another couple of weeks, according to a DHSS spokesperson.
In the meantime, Lindgren said attorneys for healthcare providers will be making those decisions.
“That’s an untenable situation for doctors. We are asking them to turn away from their own medical judgment, from their medical textbooks and their learning and instead turn to in-house legal counsel, so lawyers are calling the shots.”
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