Mr. Governor, take your fingers out of Missouri’s vagina.
I am a doctor, a board-certified OBGYN, and a public health expert. I provide the full range of reproductive health services for my patients – that includes abortion.
And that’s always been complicated in Missouri, but it’s about to become impossible.
Missouri is poised to become the first state in the nation with no licensed abortion clinic. That’s because before the state’s new abortion ban can even go into effect, Governor Mike Parson, Health Director Randall Williams, and other anti-abortion leaders are injecting politics into an oversight process in order to stop abortion by any means necessary. In just 72 hours, the state may block the license renewal of the last remaining health center providing abortion in the state.
Lack of abortion access will affect everyone and will hit people struggling to make ends meet the hardest. And we know in this country, discrimination is deeply tied to how much money you’re able to make. Black Missourians are more than twice as likely to experience poverty than white people living in Missouri. So many people can’t afford to cross state lines to access safe, legal abortion. The costs of transportation, unpaid time off work, and securing child care can be overwhelming when you’re also struggling to put food on the table.
I am devastated as I think of the patients I have had the privilege to care for. The new mom who thought breast-feeding was her birth control. The couple who spent their life savings on infertility treatment only to experience a catastrophic fetal outcome. The law student so close to graduation. The eighth-grader poised to become the first in their family to finish high school. The person living out of their car.
This politically driven licensing process is forcing doctors to perform medically unnecessary and invasive pelvic exams to even begin the three-day process to consent to a surgical abortion. And the same licensing process was used to try to force doctors to perform medically unnecessary and invasive pelvic exams before patients take the abortion pill, which has forced us to stop offering the safe and early option of abortion pills at all. That’s right – I said pelvic exam required before taking a pill.
There’s a long and painful history in this country of medical mistreatment of black communities – a history that physicians, health care providers, and advocates are taking great pains to rectify. But Missouri politicians are recreating this system of oppression by forcing doctors to insert their fingers into a patient’s vagina at a time that is medically unnecessary.
Empowered by anti-abortion state leaders like Gov. Parson, the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has forced doctors to make a tough decision: comply with unethical requirements while providing care, or not providing care at all.
And the state knew we would not subject patients to that treatment. In fact, Randall Williams, DHSS director and an OBGYN by trade, admitted his department’s enforcement of pelvic exams led to a significant decrease in medication abortion patients.
Now the state is refusing to renew the abortion license over vague and suspicious requests to interrogate doctors without explanation, and is constantly reinterpreting its own regulations to make them impossible to meet. This is nothing short of intimidation and harassment fueled by politics.
Why is this happening?
Gov. Parson says he values life but his actions are killing women. Under Parson’s watch the adverse health outcomes are alarming, with maternal mortality rates in Missouri 50 percent higher than the rest of the country. We have one of the highest black maternal mortality rates in the country. For every 100,000 live births, 65 black women die, compared with 28 white women. This is disgraceful.
Missouri has also seen a more than a 200 percent increase in new diagnoses of syphilis, a devastating illness once thought under control. Nearly 30 Missouri counties have seen a triple-digit percentage increase in syphilis incidence since 2015, including a 600 percent increase in Gov. Parson’s home county of Polk.
This is not what Missourians want – 64 percent say they support Roe v. Wade and do not want politicians interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.
In Missouri, more than 1.1 million women of reproductive age now may face a world where they are blocked from accessing the health care they need.
On behalf of my patients and all Missourians, Planned Parenthood and I will fight the state to save abortion access, but the window is narrowing.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas is a board-certified OBGYN and abortion provider.