Editorials

Missouri’s last abortion clinic right to defy order on ‘dehumanizing’ pelvic exams

Planned Parenthood advocates march in St. Louis, last abortion clinic in Missouri could close

Protesters opposed to Missouri's restrictive abortion law gathered at the St. Louis arch Thursday, May 30, 2019. Anti-abortion protesters maintain presence at the clinic.
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Protesters opposed to Missouri's restrictive abortion law gathered at the St. Louis arch Thursday, May 30, 2019. Anti-abortion protesters maintain presence at the clinic.

Recently, Missouri’s last abortion clinic caved to pressure from the state and began doing additional, and completely unnecessary, pelvic exams on women several days before an abortion.

Planned Parenthood is fighting for its life in this state, and gave in in an attempt to keep the lights on.

But the message the state was sending women with this extra — and in case you haven’t had one, painful — procedure was clear: Take that, sister. You deserve what the doctor just called that “little pinch.”

As a result, they seem to have caused the doctors administering these pointless probes real anguish.

And doctors at the St. Louis clinic are right to have announced that they’ll no longer be doing what one physician called “disrespectful and dehumanizing” exams at least 72 hours before an abortion, as required by a state health department regulation. They’re still doing the exams right before abortions.

Inflicting these exams for no medical reason surely violates the principle of “First, do no harm.” (And yes, we’re aware that the original version of the Hippocratic Oath did not use those exact words, but did include the promise, “I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion.”)

While under existential threat is no time to abandon principle just when we need it most.

At a court hearing in St. Louis on Friday, the state may announce whether it will or will not renew the clinic’s license, which it allowed to lapse at the end of May, just days after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a near-total abortion ban into law.

Judge Michael Stelzer issued a preliminary injunction that’s keeping the clinic open for now.

State health department officials have cited safety concerns that include four “failed abortions.” Inspection records show that two of those women had to be hospitalized with complications, and one of them, who was terminating her pregnancy at 21 weeks, suffered “massive uncontrolled bleeding” — and lost two liters of blood.

As The Star has reported, Missouri also remains one of the most dangerous places in the industrialized world to give birth. And since the number of total abortions performed in the time frame under scrutiny is unknown, it’s hard to put that in context.

It’s the state’s job to assure safety, but years of harassment have made us skeptical that that’s what this is about. It’s the clinic’s job to protect its patients, and that’s what its doctors are doing by defying the state regulation imposing needless exams.

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