Missouri Gov. Parson’s Department of Health & Senior Services misused a regulatory process in an attempt to ban abortion outright in the state
The fate of abortion access in Missouri now hangs in the balance as we wait for the court
Washington, DC - Today, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) weaponized a regulatory process to deny an abortion facility license to the last remaining health center in Missouri that provides abortion. After public outcry and the medical community coming out strongly against the state-mandated, invasive pelvic exams, DHSS admitted that the pelvic exams are medically unnecessary, but denied the license anyway. This does not yet mean that the health center has to stop providing abortion, but rather that the fate of abortion access in Missouri now rests in a court’s hands. The preliminary injunction issued by the Missouri State Circuit Court remains in effect, so the fate of abortion access in Missouri now hangs in the balance until further notice from the court.
DHSS’ decision to deny Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region (RHS) its abortion facility license comes after doctors at the health center stood up to the state and said they would no longer force patients to undergo a state-mandated, medically unnecessary and invasive pelvic exam. It’s bad enough the state tried forcing doctors to perform these invasive vaginal exams on patients when it wasn’t necessary — the state also refused to renew the license until doctors consent to inappropriate interrogation, bordering on harassment. As evidence of the weaponization of the regulatory process in order to ban access to abortion in Missouri, Gov. Parson and his DHSS Director Randall Williams spent weeks changing goalposts, piling on nonsensical excuses, and parading around medically inaccurate reports. If Gov. Parson is successful in either his regulatory or legislative effort to ban abortion in Missouri, 1.1 million women of reproductive age will live in a state without a single health center that provides abortion care.
Statement from Dr. Colleen McNicholas, OB-GYN, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region:
“While Gov. Parson and his political cronies are on the wrong side of history, nothing changes right now for patients who need access to abortion at Planned Parenthood. We will continue providing abortion care for as long as the court protects our ability to do so.
“This decision signals the true motive behind this license renewal mess that has left patients in limbo, uncertain about their health care: to ban abortion without ever overturning Roe v. Wade. Shame on Gov. Parson and DHSS Director Randall Williams.”
Statement from Dr. Leana Wen, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“The state of Missouri has just weaponized public health to push their dangerous agenda and could now be the first state in America without a health center that provides abortion care. As physicians, we take an oath to provide patients with respectful and compassionate care. Instead, Gov. Parson’s invasive and unnecessary mandates have traumatized patients with immoral and unethical medicine. That is his legacy and he should be ashamed.
“This isn’t over. We must continue to sound the alarm because we are in a state of emergency for women’s health in America. And we at Planned Parenthood will continue to fight in the courts and beyond to protect access to abortion care for all Missourians.”
The State Circuit Court judge granted RHS a preliminary injunction last week, allowing the health center to continue providing abortion services, putting more time on the clock for patients in need of safe, legal abortion in Missouri. The preliminary injunction stays in place for now. If the court dissolves the injunction, Missouri will become the first state to lose abortion access at all health centers since Roe v. Wade.
Gov. Parson’s unprecedented use of DHSS to end abortion services in Missouri comes just weeks after he signed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country. Though that ban goes into effect in August, Gov. Parson and anti-abortion leaders didn’t wait, and have been on an aggressive two-prong track to end abortion in Missouri: using medically unnecessary restrictions and politicizing health care oversight to prevent the one health center in the state that provides abortion from continuing to do so.
It is not new for politicians in Missouri or elsewhere to use a combination of state laws and regulatory harassment to target abortion providers — in fact, the state has already used similar targeting to whittle down the number of health centers that provide abortion to just one. Missouri requires doctors to perform invasive, medically unnecessary vaginal exams on patients. It has imposed dozens of medically unnecessary restrictions that make abortion nearly impossible to access, including a 72-hour mandatory delay for patients accessing abortion. This requires patients to make two trips to the health center. There is an additional requirement that abortion providers hold local hospital admitting privileges.
While the state is cutting off access to abortion, maternal and reproductive health in the state are declining. Maternal mortality rates in Missouri are more than 50% higher than the rest of the country, and a syphilis outbreak is sweeping the state.
Already, 1 in 3 women of reproductive age lives in a state where abortion could be outlawed if Roe is overturned. That’s over 25 million people. While abortion bans impact everyone who can become pregnant, they hit people of color and those who are struggling to make ends meet the hardest — the people who already face significant barriers to accessing quality health care. While some wealthy women may be able to find a way around abortion bans, far too many people — especially those who already face racism, homophobia, and transphobia — will be left with no options at all.
This follows an alarming trend of abortion bans passing in states aimed at criminalizing and intimidating doctors with the threat of prison time. With President Trump in the White House and Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, state politicians have been emboldened to try and ban safe, legal abortion. In just the first half of 2019, 12 states have enacted 26 abortion bans, including multiple bans in some states. Missouri and Alabama just passed some of the most extreme abortion bans we’ve seen since Roe v. Wade, with egregious criminal penalties against doctors. Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi have passed six-week bans this year. This is all part of a concerted strategy to ban abortion outright by overturning Roe v. Wade.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region provides options counseling, pregnancy testing, abortion care and other reproductive services for thousands of people in Missouri, Illinois and across the region each year. Our highly-trained physicians and medical staff provide expert care in a supportive setting, no matter what. Patients can make an appointment online at www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center, or by phone at 314-531-7526.