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Missouri AG can prosecute abortion ban violations. Could patient data aid enforcement?

Jonathan Shorman and Kacen Bayless, The Kansas City Star on

Published in News & Features

Six minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision striking down Roe v. Wade, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt posted a photo of himself signing a legal opinion to trigger the state’s abortion ban.

The lightning-fast action by Schmitt, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, instantly drew national attention and allowed him to claim credit for ending abortion in Missouri as he fights to win a crowded primary race.

But many of the consequences of that moment — for women, for doctors and for Schmitt — are still uncertain.

Missouri now forbids abortion in nearly all circumstances, including in cases of incest and rape, under a 2019 law that was designed to go into effect when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Only medical emergencies are grounds to end a pregnancy.

That single exception opens the door to greater scrutiny by law enforcement of any abortion a doctor says was required because of a medical emergency. Missouri law gives both the state attorney general and local prosecutors authority to prosecute abortion-related crimes.

Just five weeks before the August primary vote when Schmitt will need to win over fervently anti-abortion Republican voters, the Missouri attorney general is now empowered to investigate potential violations of the ban.

 

“My Office has been fighting to uphold the sanctity of life since I became attorney general, culminating in today’s momentous court ruling and attorney general opinion,” Schmitt said in a statement on Friday. “I will continue the fight to protect all life, born and unborn.”

Schmitt didn’t elaborate on what shape his continued fight would take.

Six Republicans are running competitive campaigns for U.S. Senate. Schmitt, a former state senator and Missouri treasurer, has consistently polled among the top three candidates, along with former Gov. Eric Greitens and U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Greitens has touted an anti-abortion special session he called as governor, while Hartzler has a long relationship with social conservatives going back more than a decade.

Some local prosecutors, including Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, a past chair of the Missouri Democratic Party, and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, also a Democrat, have said they won’t bring abortion cases.

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