Earlier this month, the Springfield News-Leader reported the story of a Missouri woman named Mylissa Farmer who was forced to travel to Illinois after being denied a life-saving abortion due to Missouri’s near-total abortion ban and its ambiguous exception for threats to the life of the pregnant person. Farmer had reached out to the office of her state senator for help—and instead, they referred her to an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center and promised to contact the Republican state attorney general, Eric Schmitt, who also happens to be running for U.S. Senate. Farmer says she never heard back.
Shortly after sharing her story, Farmer—who once identified as “pretty pro-life”—appeared in a damning ad for Schmitt’s Democratic opponent, Trudy Busch Valentine, highlighting Schmitt’s extremist stances on abortion. And on Friday, Missouri House Rep. Crystal Quade (D) sent a letter to the attorney general’s office alleging that the state had launched an investigation into Farmer and Freeman Hospital—which had ruled that Farmer’s pregnancy wasn’t viable—and requesting records and transparency.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) confirmed in an email to Jezebel that the department “does have an ongoing EMTALA investigation underway, as authorized by CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] on October 20, regarding the situation you’ve described at Freeman Hospital in Joplin.” In a follow-up email, the spokesperson specified that DHSS is investigating the hospital and not Farmer, specifically.
In Quade’s letter, the Democratic lawmaker alleges that Schmitt sent several cease and desist letters to Missouri television stations that aired the Busch Valentine ad featuring Farmer—and that the state then opened a retaliatory investigation into the hospital that cared for Farmer as the ads continued to air.
“I sent the letter because the people of Missouri deserve to know whether their government is using their taxpayer dollars to subject private citizens to harassment for doing nothing more than exercising free speech, and for something as blatantly unlawful as benefitting the political campaigns of certain elected officials,” Quade told Jezebel on Monday in an email. “They and their providers also deserve to know whether any Missouri woman or girl’s personal health care records can now be subjected to invasive, targeted scrutiny by the AG office or any other agency of state government without sufficient reason.”
Quade says a whistleblower informed her of the investigation.
In a separate email to Jezebel on Monday, the attorney general’s office claimed it wasn’t involved in the investigation into Farmer ‘s story and Freeman Hospital. Schmitt’s campaign and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Jezebel about the investigation.
In Quade’s letter to the attorney general’s office, which she shared with Jezebel, she called the timing of the investigation “suspicious and concerning to say the least” and expressed concern that “the substantial taxpayer-funded investigative power of the state government is being weaponized against citizens for political retaliation.”
“Furthermore, [the investigation] corroborates fears that the harsh abortion restrictions you [Scmitt] so swiftly implemented and have proudly championed will indeed be used to punish women and girls facing unimaginably difficult or tragic circumstances through no fault of their own,” Quade wrote. “We appropriate taxpayer dollars to executive branch offices so that they may undertake lawful activities supporting citizens—not so elected officials and unelected bureaucrats can use those dollars to violate the law and harass citizens.”
The investigation is a stark warning to those who share their abortion stories in red states—or advocate for politicians who champion reproductive rights. At a time when providing even life-saving abortion care can land doctors in prison, and miscarrying or self-managing an abortion can land a pregnant person in jail, use of state resources to investigate Farmer and the hospital that cared for her is especially terrifying.
“Mylissa Farmer showed a great deal of courage in sharing her story so publicly. Now, there are reports she’s being investigated by the state for coming forward,” Busch Valentine said in a statement to Jezebel on Monday. “This should send a chill down the spine of every Missourian, that our government could be weaponized in such an alarming way.”
Renee Bracey Sherman, executive director of We Testify, an organization that supports people in sharing their abortion stories, also expressed concern with the investigation. “This has long been my fear with the overturn. Abortion stories can become confessions,” she wrote in a Friday tweet. “It’s critical that people who share their abortion stories are offered support (legal and emotional) as they do so, and that the abortion access movement refuses to cooperate with police.”
In the ad for Busch Valentine, Farmer recalls her water breaking at 17 weeks, and learning she “was going to lose [her] daughter.” Farmer, whose pregnancy was already high-risk, continues, “Missouri doctors weren’t allowed to give me the care that I needed—all because of the mandate Eric Schmitt put into place. Eric Schmitt doesn’t care about women like me, imposing mandate that doesn’t have exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the mother, and it could even send women and doctors to jail.”
Farmer’s story reflects those of numerous other pregnant patients who have been placed at greater risk or denied life-saving medications and treatments—including chemotherapy—as a result of abortion bans and the legal risks they pose to doctors. It’s deeply concerning that speaking publicly about these experiences can potentially result in investigations by the state.