ST. LOUIS — Missouri's only abortion clinic, already facing the threat of losing its license, says it will defy the state by refusing to perform a required pelvic examination days before an abortion.
Calling the exam requirement "disrespectful and dehumanizing," a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman confirmed that as of Thursday the St. Louis clinic no longer performs it during a consultation at least 72 hours before an abortion. Doctors do perform a pelvic exam at the time of the procedure.
Plans to drop the preliminary pelvic exam were first reported by CBS News.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore said the exam is not required by state law but is an intrusive health department regulation. The health department didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment but said earlier this month that the pelvic exam at the time of consultation is required by law.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at the clinic, said the decision to drop the preliminary exam was based partly on feedback from patients.
"We believe continuing to force an additional invasive and uncomfortable vaginal exam on patients at least three days before her abortion procedure, when it is not medically indicated, and when she will have the identical exam on the day of the abortion procedure, is not patient-centered; it is disrespectful and dehumanizing," McNicholas said in a statement.
The health department let the clinic's license lapse as of May 31, but a judge's order has kept it open and allowed abortions to continue.
Judge Michael Stelzer said the state can't simply let the license lapse but must decide whether to deny it or renew it. The state's decision could be announced Friday at a court hearing in St. Louis.
Health department officials have cited concerns at the clinic, including that three "failed abortions" there required additional surgeries and another led to life-threatening complications for the mother, The Associated Press reported Tuesday, citing a now-sealed court filing.
Should the St. Louis facility close, Missouri would be the first state without a functioning abortion clinic since 1974, the year after the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, according to Planned Parenthood.
The licensing fight in St. Louis comes as lawmakers in Missouri and other conservative states have passed new restrictions that take aim at Roe. Abortion opponents, emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, hope federal courts will uphold laws that prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, the dividing line the high court set in Roe.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation on May 24 to ban abortions at or beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest. Efforts to put the new law to a public vote are tied up in court.