Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democratic presidential candidate, is promising to fight a Missouri law that bans most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.
At a town hall meeting in St. Louis on Sunday, Gillibrand laid out her reproductive health care plan to Missouri politicians, voters, medical providers and patients. Her plan focuses on increasing federal protections for all forms of reproductive health care.
“We need to make sure that we pass access to health care on a federal level, because without it you are left to the whims of your legislature,” Gillibrand told an audience of more than 300.
She promised to repeal the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, which bars federal spending on abortion, except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. She also wants to extend Medicaid coverage to include all forms of reproductive health.
As part of the plan, Gillibrand pledged to only appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who support the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
“As president, I would codify Roe v. Wade, and I’d make it federal law, so that it is precedent. Under that federal law, it would pre-empt this horrible law in Missouri,” the New York senator said.
The Missouri law is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 28. Any provider who then performs an abortion at the eight-week mark or later could be charged with a felony and face up to 15 years in prison. The law makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
Proponents of the ban call it the “strongest pro-life bill in the country.” Opponents say the law functionally bans all abortions because many women don’t learn they’re pregnant until after the eight-week mark.
In July, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri sued the state and asked a federal judge to overturn the law, saying the ban is unconstitutional.
Missouri’s law is one of several restrictive abortion laws recently passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. Gillibrand spoke against a similar ban in Georgia earlier this year.
A small group of pro- and anti-abortion rights demonstrators stood outside the town hall before it began.
Kristen Weber, a member of pro-abortion rights organization NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, attended the event to support the senator.
“We really appreciate her coming here and talking about what’s going on in our state right now. No one is paying much attention to it,” she said.
Weber said she hoped more voters will seriously consider supporting Gillibrand and her policies.
John Ryan, with local anti-abortion rights group Defenders of the Unborn, came to oppose Gillibrand’s candidacy.
“Basically, she wants to impose her view of human life on the rest of the United States,” he said. “So that’s an excellent reason to not vote for her. I would never vote for anyone who would do something like that.”
State Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, who sponsored the bill that Gov. Mike Parson signed in May, said it was inspired in part by his constituents’ response to a pro-abortion rights act passed in New York, Gillibrand’s home state.
Schroer said that Gillibrand seemed more interested in earning political points in the presidential primary than “standing up for the rights of all Americans.”
“If she was more concerned about human rights, I think she would be applauding Missouri for what we have done,” he said.
Schroer also defended the legislation, saying that it “protects the unborn while also allowing for the mother’s full discretion, the full discussion” until the eight-week mark.
Opponents of the new law previously attempted to trigger a statewide referendum. But legal fights slowed the process, and it’s now unlikely that the ACLU of Missouri and other abortion rights groups can collect the required 100,000 signatures by the Aug. 28 deadline to get it on the ballot in 2020.
Gillibrand is one of several Democratic presidential candidates who have released policy plans focused on reproductive rights.
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