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Legal abortion came to an end in Missouri on Friday with the activation of the state's "trigger law," banning the procedure minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its federal constitutionality.
The high court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization allows states to impose their own laws on abortion, overturning the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade that established it as legal under the U.S. Constitution. A 2019 law passed by Missouri's Republican legislature says "no abortion shall be performed or induced upon a woman, except in cases of medical emergency," taking effect after the Supreme Court "has overruled, in whole or in part, Roe v. Wade."
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, signed an opinion Friday morning activating the trigger law.
"With this attorney general opinion, my Office has effectively ended abortion in Missouri, becoming the first state in the country to do so following the Court’s ruling," said Schmitt, who is also running for U.S. Senate, in a statement.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson also signed a proclamation Friday activating the trigger law, arguing that "nothing in the text, history or tradition of the United States Constitution gave un-elected federal judges authority to regulate abortion."
"Thanks to decades of conservative leaders, Missouri has become one of the most pro-life states in the nation, and our Administration has always fought for the life of every unborn child," Parson said in a statement. "Today, our efforts have produced what generations of Missourians have worked and prayed for: Today, we have won our fight to protect innocent life."
What does Missouri's 'trigger law' do?
Missouri's law makes knowingly performing or inducing an abortion a class B felony, punishable by five to 15 years in prison. It does not make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and does not allow for prosecutions of women who receive abortions.
The ruling from the Supreme Court marks a key victory for anti-abortion activists and conservative lawmakers, who have made overturning Roe their primary political goal and argue that abortion is immoral. Abortion advocates and liberal elected officials have said curbing or eliminating access to the procedure will hamper women's ability to access essential health care and resources.
“Today is the worst case scenario for 36 million people of reproductive age who live in 26 states including Missouri where abortion is now poised to be banned," said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, in a statement. "Everything that led to the overturning of Roe should be a stain on our history from which we must learn and do better. This begins a rebuilding of a future with abortion equity — not just rights or access, but rights and access for all people."
"From this day on, we cannot accept compromise, middle ground, or ‘good enough’," Rodríguez added. "We must demand a system that creates abortion access for all people who need it, no matter their identity, insurance status, or zip code."
Public polling in recent months has indicated that a majority of Americans opposed the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and state bans on abortion. A June poll from Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of people believed abortion should be legal in many or all cases. Missourians, according to recent years' polling, are nearly evenly divided on the issue. A 2018 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 49 percent of the state's residents polled believed abortion should be legal in many or all cases, while 45 percent said it should be illegal.
Missouri's 2019 law also separately sought to ban abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy, but that portion has been blocked by a judge and is still under litigation. Since then, lawmakers have sought to use the state's annual budget to block Medicaid funds from going toward Planned Parenthood, which operates the state's sole abortion clinic in St. Louis.
Former Missouri Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican who led the chamber during its passage of that law, said in an interview Friday he felt "almost euphoric, jubilant," and praised the efforts of other Republicans who constructed House Bill 126.
"When we put together the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act in 2019, we included the trigger amendment, but I don't think any of us that were working on it at the time thought we would see this decision anytime soon," Haahr said.
He said abortion opponents and Republicans in the state should now turn to promoting crisis pregnancy care centers, to ensure that "as these babies are born, we want to make sure that they're healthy, that they're born in good situations, that we do everything to help them grow up."
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, said in a statement that "Republicans will not stop with abortion. They will begin stripping away access to birth control and contraception, in vitro fertilization and marriage equality."
“With Roe overturned, Missouri now requires people to remain pregnant against their will, treating them as little more than fetal incubators with no rights or role in the decision, even in cases of rape and incest,” Quade said.
Over the last decade, the number of abortions performed within Missouri has plummeted. In 2020, 167 were recorded within the state — down from 6,163 in 2010. Recent years have seen an uptick in residents crossing state lines for abortions; with the procedure now illegal, doing so will be a requirement for those seeking one.
Anti-abortion advocates gather in Jefferson City
Around 50 people gathered on the steps of the Missouri Supreme Court hours after the ruling, praying and praising the Supreme Court for what they described as a monumental victory decades in the making. A number of them were leaders or members of anti-abortion or other conservative organizations and groups.
"We know that the fight has been long," said Rep. Doug Richey, an Excelsior Springs Republican, while reciting a prayer. "The sacrifices that have been made over these five decades are real. The lost lives of unborn children will haunt us into the coming decades."
Lt. Gov Mike Kehoe, who is running for governor in 2024, also spoke to the crowd, calling it an "incredibly emotional day" as rain fell in the state capital.
Across the street with the state capitol building behind them, three young women gathered with signs in counter-protest. One sign said "abortion is a personal decision, not a legal debate." Another was directed at the governor — "@MikeParsons (sic), f--- you! End the war on women."
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Missouri 'trigger law' bans abortion after Roe v. Wade was overruled