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Missouri OBGYN testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee about abortion


Roe is no longer the law of the land after the Supreme Court decision now known as Dobbs. And today the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony about the consequences of that ruling. Here's Denise Harle, senior counsel and director for Alliance Defending Freedom.


DENISE HARLE: This is an opportunity, finally, that states have had the shackles removed from Roe's judicial power grab.

COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: Senators, I come before you tired, frustrated and angry.

CHANG: And that was Dr. Colleen McNicholas. She is an OB-GYN and the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the Saint Louis region and southwest Missouri. Dr. McNicholas joins us now. Welcome.

MCNICHOLAS: Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So you work in a state where abortion is now banned except in cases of medical emergencies. So are you concerned that medical providers like yourself could now face criminal or other legal consequences in the course of just helping people with their health care decisions?

MCNICHOLAS: We've been hearing from OB-GYNs across the state who are seeing folks for pregnancy-related complications, miscarriage management, ectopic pregnancy, who are caught in an impossible situation where they're trying to navigate how sick is sick enough before they can take care of patients, where they're waiting for hospital lawyers to give them permission to provide what they know to be the appropriate medical care. The Dobbs decision will have impacts to public health outcomes that we won't even fully understand for decades.

CHANG: I mean, for you personally, is there a situation that has already happened in the days since this trigger law went into effect where you as a doctor were talking to a patient and you thought to yourself, OK, if I give any more advice at this point, I might be facing criminal liability?

MCNICHOLAS: My professional responsibility to provide ethical and equitable care, which includes making sure that patients know what all of their options are, is still a cornerstone of my medical practice. And so I'm going to continue to stand up for patients and to make sure they have not only the information but also have accessibility to the care that they need.

CHANG: When you were asked today by Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas if you condemn the violence against anti-abortion activists and crisis pregnancy centers, you said yes. But can you tell us a little more about how you answered Senator Cotton's question?

MCNICHOLAS: Certainly, I condemn violence on all levels, but I thought it was incredibly important to lift up that abortion providers, escorts, volunteers have been subject to harassment and violence for years. And so, although I appreciate the senator's outrage at increased violence, I also would appreciate them acknowledging the fact and the reality that abortion providers have been targeted by this type of violence for years.

CHANG: Do you personally feel like your life is in danger?

MCNICHOLAS: You know, today I still feel comfortable and safe providing the care that I provide, but that doesn't mean that it's not a continuous conversation with my family and the people who support us.

CHANG: Well, in terms of state level - I mean, there are people on the other side of this issue, from where you stand, who would say to you, look, abortion is now an issue for states to decide, and the voters of Missouri have made their decision. And if that's the case, Dr. McNicholas, do you think that there is any room at the state level to reopen this conversation about abortion access in Missouri?

MCNICHOLAS: You know, I think the return to what I believe is equitable access for Missourians to abortion care - it's going to require a long-term strategy. And so now is the time for us to pivot and start holding our elected officials accountable to what the values truly are for Missourians. And I believe that Missourians, like folks across the country, do support access to abortion.

CHANG: That is Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB-GYN and chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the Saint Louis region and southwest Missouri. Thank you so much for your time today.

MCNICHOLAS: Thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.

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