The state of Missouri is, once again, playing politics with reproductive and sexual health care, trying to restrict access to highly qualified and experienced providers in its Medicaid family planning program.

The Extended Women’s Health Services Program is vital for the thousands of Missourians it serves each year, providing low- to no-cost birth control, sexually transmitted infection testing and cancer screenings to Missourians under 201% of the federal poverty level.

However, in the Department of Social Services’ application to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for the program, language is included that would restrict patients from obtaining health care at the provider of their choice — health care providers who perform or promote abortions, or affiliates with providers who do so, would be prohibited from providing care in the women’s health program.

Family planning programs like the Extended Women’s Health Services Program are typically the gateway to health care, providing an entry point for patients into the broader health care system. Six in 10 women who obtain care at family planning centers describe it as their usual source of health care, although in many cases it may be their only source of care. Any cuts or additional barriers to reproductive health services during the COVID-19 pandemic would be devastating to providers, patients and communities.

The program is essential to reducing health disparities in Missouri, but limiting providers will only decrease access and deepen the racial and economic disparities that already exist in our state, with communities of color paying the price for the state’s ideological objections to the provision of legal and constitutionally-protected abortion services.

Missouri Family Health Council, Inc., stands in staunch opposition to all restrictions that would make reproductive and sexual health care less accessible, weaken the health care safety net, and negatively impact low-income Missourians.

Andrea Waner, MPA, serves on the board of directors for Missouri Family Health Council Inc., which champions access for every individual to culturally sensitive, quality, sexual and reproductive health education and services.

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