Missouri’s Answer to Abortion Law Questions: Don’t Ask Us

The Parson administration’s response to questions from Missouri hospitals, doctors and others about what’s legal under the state’s new abortion ban is to tell people to read the law. and let the prosecutors interpret it.

The state health department released a fact sheet on the law on Wednesday following questions and confusion since the abortion ban went into effect when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled. quashed Roe v. Wade last month.

Missouri law prohibits abortion except in medical emergencies and when necessary to save the life of the mother, but it is unclear which medical conditions qualify for this exemption.

Confusion over the law notably led a major chain of Missouri hospitals to briefly stop providing emergency contraception known as the morning after pill, over concerns whether it could expose doctors to criminal charges for providing the drug, even to victims of sexual assault.

The Attorney General has unequivocally stated that the morning after pill is legal, but questions remain. Hospitals, doctors and lawyers said the law was vague and sought guidance from Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s administration and Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Schmitt’s office did not provide further legal advice on the law.

Parson had said the state health department would provide clarification and review existing regulations to make sure they align with the new law.

Department of Health and Elder Services guidelines mostly direct interrogators to read Missouri abortion laws and leave interpretation otherwise to prosecutors.

“Enforcement of criminal provisions of state law is left to local law enforcement agencies, local prosecutors, and the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for enforcement,” the document says.

A frequently asked question about the health department document is whether the agency can “provide legal advice so healthcare professionals and patients can know what is legal and what is not.” .

“No,” the fact sheet says. “DHSS is not authorized to provide legal advice to third parties.”

Prosecutors relied on the health department to issue guidelines.

Darrell Moore, head of the Missouri Attorneys Association, said the fact sheet helpfully outlines definitions of medical emergencies, abortions and what constitutes reasonable medical judgment in Missouri law.

“The truth is that the decision on what constitutes a ‘medical emergency’ and/or a ‘reasonable medical judgment’ will be case specific and left to local prosecutors, the attorney general, judges and juries,” Moore said in an email. “No one can give advice that will cover every conceivable medical emergency or what constitutes reasonable medical judgment in that medical emergency.”

Moore said he expects prosecutors to consult with medical providers to determine whether to press charges.

Missouri Hospital Association spokesman Dave Dillon said in a statement that hospitals are “committed to following the law,” but “the practical challenge is interpreting the law — in real time and on the front line. of care – where clinical judgment matters.

“The uncertainty about whether this judgment will be challenged is the challenge for doctors,” Dillon said. “It is impossible to know in advance whether a prosecutor or a member of law enforcement will agree with a clinician’s determination of the risk to the life of the mother.”

Health Department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said there was nothing more the agency could do.

“The department is unable to formulate advisory responses to various situations with distinct fact patterns,” Cox said. “The complexity of each situation is why Missouri law gives this analysis to physicians to use ‘reasonable medical judgment’.”