Democrats in the Missouri House are fighting to undo a state requirement for abortion providers to perform pelvic exams prior to abortions.
Legislation filed late last month would prohibit health care providers from requiring such examinations unless they are medically necessary.
Last year, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services mandated that physicians perform a pelvic exam 72 hours before surgical or medication abortions are performed. The decision prompted a national backlash, with some referring to the practice as “state-sanctioned sexual assault.”
In June 2018, the state’s health department issued an emergency rule to relieve Planned Parenthood of the requirement for surgical abortions. Missouri’s lone abortion provider in St. Louis had already been performing pelvic exams the same day a patient would receive a surgical abortion, so the mandate was effectively requiring two vaginal exams per patient.
However, pelvic exams are still required in Missouri for medication abortions. The department said these exams provide necessary information for physicians. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis office now encourages patients to seek these services in neighboring states.
“No government should be allowed to force anyone to undergo any medical procedure against their will, especially one that is physically intrusive and serves no medical purpose,” said state Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, who is sponsoring one of the bills.
“Most of Missouri will agree this is a gross abuse of power,” he said.
However, some Democrats say it will likely be difficult to receive bipartisan support for the proposals in an election year. House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said she has begun conversations with Republicans in the House about ending the practice.
“Behind the scenes they agree with us, but putting their name on a bill like this during an election year has been proven difficult,” Quade said.
Republican leadership has offered no public support of the idea. The two proposals have not been assigned to committee, and it is possible that they will not receive a public hearing.
Yamelsie Rodriguez, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said at a press conference Tuesday that the bills could protect future patients.
“We are asking for the department to understand that that’s a decision that needs to happen in the exam room between the doctor and the patient,” she said. “And allow the doctor to decide at which point in the process the pelvic exam needs to happen — if it needs to happen at all.”