Abortion Clinic to Defy Regulation

St. Louis Planned Parenthood will no longer conduct invasive and unnecessary pelvic exams in accordance with new state policy

The Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is the last remaining abortion provider in the entire state of Missouri. On Wednesday, the clinic announced that it will stop complying with a state regulation requiring doctors to perform two pelvic exams on women seeking abortions.

Starting soon, doctors in Missouri will only perform pelvic exams when they find it medically necessary, which is typically when women go in for the abortion procedure itself rather than at an initial consultation. Missouri state law requires women to have a pelvic exam 72 hours before receiving an abortion, but the new policy is now adding another pelvic exam before that one. Dr. Eisenberg, director for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood, has explained the reasoning for the new protocol and has likened the rule to assault:

“It is even more uncomfortable and awkward for women when they understand the reason it is being done is because the state is requiring it. [Patients] are being victimized by a state regulatory process that has gone awry. It is not making them healthier, it is not making them safer, it is only victimizing them. [For someone] who has been the victim of sexual assault, that exam can be miserably painful — physically, emotionally and psychologically. Over the last few weeks, I have new evidence to say that 100% of the patients, who I’ve taken care of, who’ve undergone this inappropriate, medically unnecessary, unethical pelvic exam have been harmed by that. Because to do so, in my opinion, is just assault.”

Other abortion providers in Missouri are also speaking out about the negative and often traumatizing reactions patients are having as a result of this extra pelvic exam requirement. Dr. Amy Addante explained recently in a tweet that she was “forced” to do an invasive exam that was “unnecessary” and also described her struggle with it as a medical provider.

Other medical professionals, including mental health practitioners like Dr. Jessi Gold, are also weighing in on the controversy and how the ramifications of the procedure are “triggering” and increase unnecessary trauma for patients. Given that the pelvic exam policy was just recently put into effect in Missouri, it could be argued that the health department created the regulation to punish women for seeking abortion services.

Rachel Maddow also compared the procedure to “state-sanctioned sexual assault,” asking about the motivation of a state government that would harm women, and wanted to know what benefit the state derives from invasive, unnecessary pelvic exams. (Click on the tweet link below or watch her video take on it here.)

This new pelvic exam policy announced last month by the Missouri Department of Health has been one of the many issues involved in the ongoing lawsuit Planned Parenthood filed concerning the clinic’s license renewal. Litigation is ongoing, but a judge previously issued injunctions that have allowed the clinic to stay open for the time being. That same judge has ordered that the state must decide by the end of the week to make a decision on whether to deny the clinic a license or to just let the license lapse. If the license lapses, Planned Parenthood is not entitled to judicial review, but if the health department denies the license for a specific reason, then the clinic is able to challenge the state legally. This is likely the reason Planned Parenthood has made the decision cease pelvic exams now - to force the issue to the courts, which have so far been favorable.

It’s worth noting that Planned Parenthood is also planning to defy an upcoming state law in Alabama outlawing nearly all abortions within the next six months. It has begun construction on a 10,000 square foot facility for a women’s clinic in Birmingham, and the construction is expected to be completed in November when the ban is supposed to go into effect. The purpose for the continued construction is to make sure the clinic opens on schedule and in opening a clinic that provides abortion, allow for a series of challenges to the Alabama Abortion Ban in state court.

For more on the history of the decades long abortion battle in the state of Missouri and the legal issues up to this point here: Missouri's Role in the Threat To Roe

Call to Action: You can support that last remaining abortion provider in the state of Missouri in their continued fight by donating to the St. Louis Planned Parenthood now.

Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero and a Scholar” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.