The attack on women’s reproductive rights continues as Missouri has quietly introduced a horrifying requirement before a woman can get an abortion. Doctors at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood, the only remaining medical center that provides abortions, are now required by law to perform an invasive vaginal exam on women seeking abortions at least 72 hours before the procedure. There is no medical reason for the exam, and critics of the requirement say it is only aimed at “deterring women from following through with the procedure.” This unnecessary and downright revolting requirement comes only days after Mike Parson, the state’s Republican governor, signed one of the country’s strictest anti-abortion laws, banning abortion after 8 weeks.
The requirement is due to the state’s health department’s reinterpretation of its “informed consent” law, which requires patients to meet with physicians for a counseling session to discuss the risks associated with the procedure and then have to wait a minimum of 72 hours before returning for the procedure. This new requirement now forces women to undergo the invasive pelvic exam during the counseling session. According to The Washington Post, the invasive exam “requires a doctor to insert a speculum into a patient’s vagina to examine her cervix and to insert fingers into that patient’s vagina while pressing her abdomen to feel her reproductive organs.” The exam is unpleasant even when medically necessary, but when the exam is unnecessarily forced to be conducted by state mandate, doctors say the exam can be traumatizing.
Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said, “To put it succinctly, it feels like we are an instrument of the state in sanctioning sexual assault. It has been really quite emotionally traumatizing, both for patients and for providers.” McNicholas has also said that for women with a history of trauma, the exam can “open old wounds.” Dr. David Eisenberg, who is also working at Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, had similar things to say. He told The Los Angeles Times that he “often feels he needs a sign on his forehead that says, ‘I’m sorry.’” Eisenberg has conducted tens of thousands of pelvic exams over his career, but he said being forced to perform them so shortly before an abortion feels like a violation. “What I realized was I effectively have become an instrument of state abuse of power, he said. “As a licensed physician, I am compelled by the state of Missouri to put my fingers in a woman’s vagina when it’s not medically necessary.”
Missouri has imposed several restrictions on abortion of the past decade, like requiring doctors to tell their patients that “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being,” during the “informed consent” meeting, restricting insurance policies from covering abortion procedures, and banning remote prescribing of abortion medication so that patients would have to be subjected to the violating exams the state has mandated. This past decade has also seen four abortion clinics close, leaving Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri as the only provider of abortion procedures in the state, and now they are being threatened, too. Just days after the governor signed the anti-abortion law banning the procedure after 8 weeks, state officials moved to have Planned Parenthood of St. Louis close as well.
These increasing restrictions and mandated invasive exams are putting women’s lives at serious risk. Fewer women are showing up to appointments because of these restrictions, and the ones who do show up have to now be subjected to unnecessary and often traumatizing exams. There is no medical reason for this invasive exam, and the requirement to undergo said exam serves only as another way for lawmakers to attack women’s basic human rights. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow puts it, “State-sanctioned sexual assault is the new price that the state of Missouri is extracting from Missouri women if they try to get an abortion. Now, why would the state government do that? What is the benefit to the state of doing that?”
(Image: Saul Loeb)