ST. LOUIS (AP) — Missouri’s only abortion clinic, already facing the threat of losing its license, says it will defy the state by refusing to perform a required pelvic examination days before an abortion.
Calling the exam requirement “disrespectful and dehumanizing,” a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman confirmed that as of Thursday the St. Louis clinic no longer performs it during a consultation at least 72 hours before an abortion. Doctors do perform a pelvic exam at the time of the procedure.
Plans to drop the preliminary pelvic exam were first reported by CBS News.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore said the exam is not required by state law but is an intrusive health department regulation. The health department didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment but said earlier this month that the pelvic exam at the time of consultation is required by law.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at the clinic, said the decision to drop the preliminary exam was based partly on feedback from patients.
“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,” McNicholas said in a statement.
The health department let the clinic’s license lapse as of May 31, but a judge’s order has kept it open and allowed abortions to continue.
Judge Michael Stelzer said the state can’t simply let the license lapse but must decide whether to deny it or renew it. The state’s decision could be announced Friday at a court hearing in St. Louis.
Health department officials have cited concerns at the clinic, including that three “failed abortions” there required additional surgeries and another led to life-threatening complications for the mother, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing a now-sealed court filing.
Should the St. Louis facility close, Missouri would be the first state without a functioning abortion clinic since 1974, the year after the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, according to Planned Parenthood.
The licensing fight in St. Louis comes as lawmakers in Missouri and other conservative states have passed new restrictions that take aim at Roe. Abortion opponents, emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, hope federal courts will uphold laws that prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, the dividing line the high court set in Roe.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation on May 24 to ban abortions at or beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest. Efforts to put the new law to a public vote are tied up in court.
Missouri’s Only Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open, Judge Rules
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A judge has issued an order allowing Missouri’s only abortion clinic to continue providing the service.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled Friday, just hours before the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire. He issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Missouri from allowing the license to lapse.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had declined to renew the license. It cited concerns with “failed abortions,” compromised patient safety and legal violations at the clinic. Agency officials also wanted to interview additional physicians at the clinic.
Planned Parenthood officials had said that if the license lapsed, Missouri would become the first state without an abortion clinic since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
As Missouri’s Last Abortion Provider Nears Closing, Neighboring Clinics Prepare
With hours to go before the expiration of a state license that allows a Planned Parenthood health center in Missouri to perform abortions, clinics in neighboring states say they’re preparing for an influx of additional patients.
“No one one knows what’s gonna happen in the next day or two, but we have to be ready for this clinic to be closed, and for patients to have nowhere else to go,” said Dr. Erin King, who runs a health center in Illinois across the river from the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
King said her facility, the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill., has been hiring additional doctors and medical support staff for more than a year in preparation for the possibility that abortion could be restricted in Missouri. Illinois is one of several states considering legislation to expand abortion rights as states including Missouri work in the opposite direction, passing laws banning the procedure in the early stages of pregnancy.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson last week signed a law criminalizing most abortions after eight weeks. That law has yet to take effect, but the dispute between Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services over regulatory enforcement is threatening to shut down abortion services at Missouri’s last remaining clinic.
Parson said this week that Missouri health regulators have safety concerns about the clinic. Planned Parenthood officials say they’ve done all they can to comply, and accuse the state of arbitrarily enforcing regulations for political reasons. The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement, and Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit asking for a restraining order to prevent the center from being forced to stop offering the procedure.
Providers like King in neighboring states say they’re watching the situation and expecting to take additional patients from Missouri.
“[This] is happening much more quickly than any of us anticipated, so we’re really scrambling” to communicate with patients and open up additional appointments for abortions in the coming days, King said.
Michele Landeau of Gateway Women’s Access Fund, which helps Missouri women pay for abortions, said her organization is looking at ways to connect patients with clinics outside the state and help arrange for transportation, childcare, and other needs.
“People are confused, and they’re scared, and it’s pretty chaotic-feeling right now,” Landeau said.
Abortion providers in other neighboring states said they’re expecting additional patients from Missouri, and planning accordingly.
“We will do our very best to serve any women from Missouri that need to see us,” said Rebecca Terrell of CHOICES health center in Memphis, Tenn. “It may be that we have to add hours; we may have to open on a Saturday; we may have to make some changes, but we will make sure that everybody gets seen.”
In Wichita, Kansas, Julie Burkhart of the Trust Women clinic, said she would expect to see more patients from central, southern, and western Missouri if the St. Louis facility stops providing abortions. She said her facility might look at expanding its hours, but it would take time to hire, train, and license new staff members.
Abortion rights opponents have praised Missouri regulators’ scrutiny of the St. Louis clinic.
In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, said ending abortion services there “would be good news for health and safety.”
If the St. Louis clinic loses its license, some hospitals in the state could still offer the procedure, primarily for medical emergencies, Planned Parenthood officials say.
Missouri Governor Signs Bill Banning Abortions At 8 Weeks
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed a bill that bans abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy without exceptions for cases of rape or incest, making it among the most restrictive abortion policies in the nation.
Under the law that comes into force Aug. 28, doctors who violate the eight-week cutoff could face five to 15 years in prison. Women who terminate their pregnancies cannot be prosecuted. A legal challenge is expected, although it’s unclear when that might occur.
The measure includes exceptions for medical emergencies, such as when there is a risk of death or permanent physical injuries to “a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” But the lack of exceptions women who find themselves pregnant after being raped or subjected to incest has drawn sharp criticism, including from wealthy GOP donor David Humphreys, a Missouri businessman, who had urged the Republican governor to veto the bill and called it “bad public policy.”
Parson defended the lack of exceptions as he spoke to a group of abortion opponents gathered Friday for the bill signing in his Capitol office.
“Is it a terrible thing that happens in those situations? Yes it is. … But the reality of it is bad things do happen sometimes. But you have two months to decide what you’re going to do with that issue, and I believe in two months you can make a decision,” he said.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said it was exploring “all options, including litigation, to block the law from going into effect.” The organization’s state legislative and policy director, Sara Baker, in a statement said the bill is “unconstitutional, and it must be stopped.”
Alabama’s governor signed a bill on May 15 making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases. Supporters have said they hope to provoke a legal challenge that will eventually force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationally.
Unlike Alabama’s near-total abortion ban, lawmakers who helped draft the Missouri billsay it’s meant to withstand court challenges instead of spark them. If the eight-week ban is struck down, the bill includes a ladder of less-restrictive time limits at 14, 18 or 20 weeks.
Missouri’s bill also includes an outright ban on abortions except in cases of medical emergencies, but that would kick in only if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Missouri Right to Life called it “the strongest pro-life bill in Missouri history.”
Missouri state House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a written statement the new law treats women “as little more than fetal incubators with no rights or role in the decision, even in cases of rape and incest.”
Kentucky , Mississippi , Ohio and Georgia also have approved bans on abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. Some of those laws already have been challenged in court, and similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa have been struck down by judges.
Missouri already has some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations, including a requirement that doctors performing abortions have partnerships with nearby hospitals. Missouri is down to one clinic performing abortions, which is in St. Louis.
A total of 3,903 abortions occurred in Missouri in 2017, the last full year for which the state Department of Health and Senior Services has statistics online. Of those, 1,673 occurred at under nine weeks and 119 occurred at 20 weeks or later in a pregnancy.
A total of 2,910 abortions occurred in 2018 in Missouri, according to the agency.
The bill also bans abortions based solely on race, sex or a diagnosis indicating the potential for Down syndrome.
It also requires a parent or guardian giving written consent for a minor to get an abortion to first notify the other parent, except if the other parent has been convicted of a violent or sexual crime, is subject to a protection order, is “habitually in an intoxicated or drugged condition,” or lacks legal or physical custody.
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