Editorials

Missouri’s spreadsheet on women’s menstrual cycles is totally normal. In dystopia

Hey Missouri, Margaret Atwood can’t keep up with you.

In the totalitarian Gilead of her novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the Commanders would appreciate the ingenuity of creating a whole spreadsheet of women’s menstrual cycles. So as to better protect them, of course.

As you’ve probably heard, the Missouri state health director, Dr. Randall Williams, testified this week at a hearing on revoking the license of the state’s last Planned Parenthood clinic that his department kept a spreadsheet on the menstrual periods of women who were patients there. This was to help the health department identify those who’d had complicated abortions. Put another way, it was to help them find something, anything, to justify closing the St. Louis facility.

So in the only state in the country that does not have a statewide opioid prescription database — no way, because that might invade the privacy of patients we’d literally rather allow to die — the health department is tracking who is bleeding again and who is not.

And in a state where the idea of a gun database is such a threat to the privacy of gun owners that it’s on a Hyperloop to nowhere, bureaucrats are rifling through medical records — and really, is there anything more private? — looking for ammunition against Planned Parenthood. Who says government bureaucracy is impersonal?

Williams, the same official who ordered Planned Parenthood to perform unnecessary pelvic exams, testified that the spreadsheet was used to suss out the fact that four patients who had come in for abortions had left still pregnant and had to come in for a second procedure.

Late Wednesday, the department said in a statement that Williams did not ask for, see or know anything about the spreadsheet, which was put together by regulators. It was referred to in an email as “Director’s request.” Wednesday’s statement said this was “an erroneous email subject line that both staff and sworn testimony has acknowledged is not accurate.”

Those “failed” abortions were cited as the reason the state has refused to renew the clinic’s license, at the same time the state has passed a controversial ban on all abortions performed after eight weeks, even in cases of rape and incest.

The spreadsheet was based on medical records a state investigator had access to during an annual inspection. It included medical identification numbers but not patients’ names.

Sometimes, we forget that abortion law is rooted in the right to privacy, but this spreadsheet has reminded us of that.

In his previous job in a similar position in North Carolina, before he was recruited by former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, Williams was accused by a state toxicologist of trying to “play down the risk” of coal ash contamination in drinking wells by rescinding a “do not drink” order.

In a deposition, Williams said he canceled those warnings because they were stirring up needless fears. Whereas in Missouri, his handiwork has exceeded our worst fears.

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