JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans want to make it a crime for abortion clinic staff to ask ambulances to respond to calls at their facilities without sirens or lights, a move that abortion-rights advocates say is unnecessary and another veiled attempt to restrict access to abortion providers.
The proposal would establish a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to a year in prison or a $2,000 fine, for clinic workers who make such requests that "interfere" with medical assistance, according to Republican Sen. Bob Onder, who's been involved in crafting the legislation.
If approved, the law may be the first of its kind in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute, a national research group that supports abortion rights.
Republican Gov. Eric Greitens and other supporters say the plan would protect women's health. They argue the state needs to ensure that the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis — currently the only licensed abortion provider in Missouri — doesn't ask ambulance workers to use certain building entrances or to turn off emergency lights as a way to avoid attention from anti-abortion activists who regularly protest outside.
"If any of the governor's proposals improved health and safety for our patients, we would be the first in line to endorse them," Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday. "Regrettably, the governor seems more interested in creating additional unnecessary restrictions against abortion providers and patients."
Kogut has previously acknowledged there were times where the organization "may have asked that the siren wasn't on so that it didn't alarm other people," but she said Planned Parenthood has since dropped policies on ambulance lights and sirens. She has said the St. Louis clinic doesn't hesitate to call emergency services if help is needed.
Onder and Greitens' spokesman, Parker Briden, said Friday that despite Planned Parenthood's insistence it doesn't make such requests, they want a ban enshrined in state law.
The proposed criminal offense is part of a larger bill aimed at abortion in Missouri, where Greitens called lawmakers into a special legislative session last month to specifically address abortion issues. The first-term governor, an abortion opponent, brought lawmakers back to work in part because of a federal judge's ruling that overturned some state abortion laws.
"If a woman needs help, abortion clinics shouldn't be able to tell an ambulance to come slowly — to not use their lights and sirens — or to go around to the back gate, just because they are worried that an ambulance arriving might make their abortion clinic look bad," Greitens said in a statement in June.
"This language has nothing with the health and safety of women," Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, said Friday. "It has everything to do with trying to trap providers as a way to trip them up, and shut down clinics that way."