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Access to abortion pill may be restricted in state-funded clinics

September 28, 2000
By: Lauren Shepherd
State Capital Bureau
Links: SCS HB 1596

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's anti-abortion laws will restrict access to the federally-approved abortion pill RU 486 according to key players in the state's abortion-rights debate.

Abortion-rights supporters and opponents both agree the pill -- approved Thursday by the Food and Drug Administration -- would be covered by a state law that prohibits use of state funds for abortions.

The pill, made from a chemical called mifepristone, is considered an early abortion procedure. It can only be used within 49 days of the beginning of the woman's last menstrual period. With the FDA approval, the drug will be available to any clinic or hospital.

Missouri's restrictions on public funding for abortion, in place since 1986, could restrict facilities that can prescribe or dispense the pill.

"We already have law on the books that does not allow public funding for abortions -- that would include chemical abortions," said Patty Skain, Executive Director of the Missouri Right to Life.

And last year in a state appropriations bill, the state prohibited money from going to organizations whose family-planning wing shares a name, facilities, employee wages or equipment with its abortion services wing.

Paula Gianino, President and CEO of the St. Louis region of Planned Parenthood, said the abortion pill would fall under that provision.

"This is not a method for family planning," Gianino said. "Our family planning clinics would not be providing this."

But she said the organization's abortion affiliate will offer patients the pill.

The organization's decision to not offer the pill as part of its family planning program underscores the controversy surrounding public funding for abortions in the state.

Lou DeFeo, general counsel for the Missouri Catholic Conference, said both the public and the legislature agree that any type of abortion should not be funded at the state level.

"There's very broad concerns in the state and the legislature that public money should not be used to fund abortions, no matter how they're done," DeFeo said.

One of the Senate's leading anti-abortion legislators warned that if any state-funded clinic attempted to administer the pill, the state could cut appropriations for the facility.

"It's no secret that the General Assembly neither supports or endorses abortion and they don't want to make it simpler or easier for someone to access or get an abortion," said Sen. David Klarich, R-St. Louis County.

Another anti-abortion rights lawmaker - Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, predicted that the issue could become a focus for debate when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.