The knitted uterus was a gift, explains Democratic State Representative Stacey Newman. An OB/GYN in Virginia had sent it "several years ago" as appreciation for her legislative work
Newman kept the memento on her desk last Tuesday, during floor debates over the first wave of anti-abortion bills passing through the House. Her proposed bill, which sought to ban pregnancy resource centers from performing medical procedures without licensed medical staff, died in committee.
"Many PRC's offer inaccurate medical information and services with no trained medical staff," Newman says of the religiously-affiliated clinics. "No one else would dare seek medical attention from a lay person. It's wrong to offer that, particularly to a pregnant woman in a crisis situation."
Newman tweeted out a picture of the uterus during the hearing.
For years, pregnancy resource centers and "alternative to abortion" clinics have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in state subsidies and tax-credits on donations. To receive these benefits, the organizations cannot refer women for abortion services; Rather, their primary function is "...to assist women in carrying their unborn children to term instead of having abortions."
Missouri makes no secret of its interest in keeping women from having abortions. The legislative avalanche of bills introduced this year includes a 72-hour waiting period, tighter requirements on mandatory ultrasounds and dual parental consent for minors seeking abortions.
Only one abortion provider still operates in Missouri -- the Planned Parenthood clinic in the Central West End. But there are 56 registered pregnancy resource centers scattered across the state, with eight more facilities that receive direct subsidies through Missouri's Alternatives to Abortion Program.
"We worry about that because it's a fake enterprise," says Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
Gianino is intimately familiar with pregnancy resource centers: On any given day of the week, a "mobile clinic" sits across the street from Planned Parenthood on Forest Park Avenue. The clinic is sponsored by ThriVe, a non-profit organization that offers women free pregnancy tests, STD tests, ultrasounds and, frequently, a direct religious message. It does not offer or refer women for abortions or birth control.
"These pregnancy centers seem quite innocuous," says Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri.
"They act as though they want to help, but they are really peddling the worst kinds of science and the worst kinds of myths. They're just not telling the truth to women," she says, citing a 2012 NARAL survey that found 92 percent of these "fake clinics" have no actual medical staff.
Other studies -- including a federal investigation from Representative Henry Waxman -- have repeatedly found that pregnancy resource clinics distribute misleading information on the effects of abortions, commonly linking the procedure to breast cancer, suicide and mental illness.
It's easy to see how a clinic like ThiVe could confuse women: Its logo touts "Abortion Information and Women's Medical Service," even though the group specifically counsels women against abortion.
Our messages left for ThriVe president Bridgette Van Means were not returned. However, you can watch her giving an interview during a ThriVe-sponsored segment on KMOV in 2011.
During the segment, Van Means claims her organization doesn't push women one way or the other -- though it clearly pushes women from abortion. As for the religious component to ThriVe's mission, she explained that "If we're not praying with them, we're certainly praying for them."