ST. LOUIS — New restrictions caused a sharp drop in the number of people who had abortions at Missouri’s only provider last year but the clinic has not stopped performing the procedure, Planned Parenthood said.
Officials with Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region were rejecting an assertion by Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion Christian organization, that Missouri has become the first state to no longer provide abortions.
No surgical abortions were performed at the clinic in December, with only seven in November, Planned Parenthood said, compared with nine and five during those months in 2019, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services said 39 surgical abortions occurred in Missouri from Jan. 1 through Nov. 15, 2020. In 2019, the total number was 1,362.
Colleen McNicholas, a Planned Parenthood chief medical officer, said the number of abortions performed at the St. Louis clinic has dropped since a clinic opened 18 miles (28 kilometers) away in Fairview Heights, Illinois, in October 2019. Patients at that clinic can avoid Missouri’s 72-hour mandatory waiting period, which requires two appointments three days apart to receive an abortion.
“For some people, the additional 18 miles from our St. Louis facility to the Illinois facility is a manageable distance, especially when you reflect on the number of barriers that we can eliminate in accessing care in Illinois versus in Missouri,” McNicholas said. “However, it’s not an option for everybody.”
Patients also are limiting the number of appointments and travel because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
More patients are also seeking medication abortions, which the St. Louis facility has not provided in more than two years because of Missouri’s requirement that patients wanting that procedure must undergo a pelvic exam. The mandatory pelvic exam is at odds with guidelines set by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The clinic’s website tells people wanting to schedule an abortion they can visit the Illinois clinic to receive an abortion in one visit but that the procedure is still offered in St. Louis.
It is not the first time that Operation Rescue has claimed the St. Louis facility is no longer providing abortions. In March, the organization said on its website that someone pretending to be a patient called the clinic and was not allowed to book an appointment there.
At the time, few surgical abortions were being provided in St. Louis because the clinic was fighting the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ refusal to renew its license. A state administrative commission later ruled the health department wrongfully denied the renewal.
Currently, Planned Parenthood is fighting a law passed in May 2019 to ban abortion after eight weeks gestation. A district court ruling that prevents the law from being enforced is currently before the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals.