Missouri's Last Abortion Clinic Defies The State By Stopping Unnecessary Pelvic Exams

Andrea González-Ramírez

Missouri's last abortion clinic will stop complying with a state requirement forcing it to perform an additional pelvic exam on women seeking abortion care, physicians said Wednesday. The regulation, which health providers argue has no medical basis, has been one of the issues at the center of the legal battle over the renewal of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri's annual license.

"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," David Eisenberg, MD, the clinic's medical director, told CBS News in an interview Wednesday. "Because to do so, in my opinion, is just assault."

In May, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed a measure into law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy and criminalizing health providers. (The measure goes into effect in August.) Shortly after, state officials moved to shut down Planned Parenthood, citing safety concerns.

Physicians already perform pelvic exams on patients seeking abortions the day of the procedure. But the state's Health Department said that in order to receive a license renewal, the clinic needed to perform another pelvic exam on patients at least three days before their abortion. This would be in addition to the state-mandated counseling and 72-hour waiting period patients must undergo before receiving care.

Health providers and reproductive rights advocates have largely condemned the requirement as medically unnecessary. In late May, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) expressed its opposition to the regulation. "Patient safety is of principal importance to ACOG. It is unacceptable that lawmakers and bureaucrats are attempting to dictate how doctors practice medicine without regard to medical science and are treating them like criminals," ACOG and the Missouri Section of ACOG said in a joint statement provided to Refinery29. "While pelvic exams may be appropriate for patients with certain conditions, routine multiple pelvic exams for women seeking abortion care are unwarranted, invasive, and not supported by evidence. Shared decision-making in healthcare should be between a patient and her physician — not government bureaucrats."

It's unclear how defying the regulation will impact the clinic's ability to continue offering abortions. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction earlier this month allowing the clinic to remain open. State officials must decide by Friday whether to renew or revoke Planned Parenthood's license. If the license is revoked or allowed to lapse, Missouri would become the first state without a legal abortion provider since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

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