Missouri’s lone abortion provider made waves this week with the news doctors plan to “defy” state law regarding pelvic exams — opting to conduct the procedure at the time of the abortion instead of 72 hours before.
“We are choosing to provide the best quality, patient-centered care that we’ve always provided at Planned Parenthood,” Dr. David Eisenberg, the clinic’s medical director, said. “And that includes doing things that are driven by science, by evidence, and by what’s medically appropriate.”
The news comes as the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region — the only abortion facility in Missouri — is entangled in a legal battle with the state over its licensure.
“We believe continuing to force an additional invasive and uncomfortable vaginal exam on patients at least three days before her abortion procedure, when it is not medically indicated, and when she will have the identical exam on the day of the abortion procedure, is not patient-centered; it is disrespectful and dehumanizing,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN at the clinic, said in a statement.
But despite reports to the contrary, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has clarified it does not require — nor does state law demand — two pelvic exams of a patient before an abortion is performed.
Missouri has required abortion providers seek what’s called “informed consent” from a patient since 1972. In 1988, that mandatory health assessment expanded to include a required pelvic exam. The General Assembly changed the informed consent time from 24 hours to 72 hours prior to the abortion in 2014.
According to DHSS, state law mandates:
“If, at the 72-hour mark, the physician — to obtain informed consent under section 188.027 RSMO — must inform the woman of (among other things) the proposed abortion method and the immediate and long-term risks to her, then a pelvic examination — which shall under 19 CSR 30-30.060(2)(D) be used to, among other things, detect factors that could influence the choice of the procedure — must also be done at the 72-hour mark.”
The state has maintained the information gathered from a pelvic exam could determine the method of the procedure or change what is provided during the informed consent process.
Last week, the state filed a report with the 22nd Circuit Court alleging more than two dozen “deficient” practices found by investigators at the St. Louis facility. Among the findings, DHSS alleged multiple instances of failure to conduct proper pelvic exams that led to failed abortions.
The St. Louis Planned Parenthood has been ensnared in a legal dispute with the state regarding its license since the end of May when Missouri’s health officials let the license lapse without renewing it. Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court has said the state must make a concrete decision by June 21 and scheduled a conference hearing at 10 a.m. Friday.
It should be up to the Administrative Hearing Commission to oversee a case if the state denies the facility’s license, the judge said.
Should the St. Louis Planned Parenthood stop providing abortions, Missouri would be the only state in the U.S. without such a facility. However, hospitals across the state are equipped to perform abortions in cases of medical emergencies.
Last month, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed a law — set to go into effect in August — effectively banning abortions after eight weeks. It does not include exceptions for rape or incest, but it did have an emergency clause attached, meaning a portion of the bill went into effect immediately.
That provision requires both parents of a minor to be notified if she seeks an abortion and has been at the center of legal battles over multiple referendum petitions seeking to put the law to a vote of Missourians.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.