UPDATE: As of late Wednesday afternoon, Saint Lukes Health System will resume offering emergency contraception to victims of rape and incest. The offices of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt gave concurrent statements assuring residents that the state’s ban on abortion does not prohibit contraception.
“An abortion is defined in Missouri law as taking action with the intent to destroy an embryo or fetus,” a spokesperson for Parson said. “Abortion and contraception are different things, one ends life while the other prevents pregnancy. A medical professional’s intent when prescribing medication is always relevant to the lawfulness of their action.”
A spokesperson for Schmitt added: “Missouri law does not prohibit the use or provision of Plan B, or contraception.”
ORIGINAL TEXT: Last night, a spokesperson for Saint Luke’s Health Center, a foremost health system operating 16 facilities in both Kansas and Missouri, confirmed to The Kansas City Star that it will no longer provide pregnant victims of rape and incest with emergency contraception, because it’s afraid that the morning-after pill violates the states’ abortion bans.
As of Friday, just after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion officially became illegal in Missouri, with exceptions only if a parent’s life is severely threatened or there is a “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
Moments after the SCOTUS decision was announced, Missouri became the first of the 13 states with so-called “trigger bans” on abortion to outlaw the procedure. As a direct result, Saint Lukes, which serves swaths of people across the Kansas City region, became the first health system to refuse pregnant victims of rape and incest with emergency contraception, ensuring that not only will rape survivors be forced to carry their pregnancies—they will also be prevented in many cases from preventing said pregnancies in the first place.
“To ensure we adhere to all state and federal laws—and until the law in this area becomes better defined—Saint Luke’s will not provide emergency contraception at our Missouri-based locations,” a spokesperson for the health system, Laurel Gifford, wrote in a statement.
Should a clinician violate the state’s ban, they risk losing their medical license and a class B felony charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Missouri AG, Eric Schmitt, a Republican currently running for U.S. Senate, is now empowered to prosecute abortion violations, as can local prosecutors.
The hospital system’s withholding of emergency contraceptives might just suggest that the state’s law could soon lead to an all-out ban on birth control. Currently, contraceptives, including Plan B, are legal in Missouri. While certain anti-abortion groups and politicians try to frame it as an “abortifacient,” the pill works by preventing implantation, and therefor a pregnancy—making it birth control. And despite reports of pharmacies across the country (namely Rite Aid and CVS) rationing emergency contraceptives, there’s been no news to suggest that any locations in Missouri have followed suit.
Now, in-state sexual violence advocates are suggesting victims of rape in need of abortion care should consult a non-Saint Luke’s hospital or facility in Kansas.
“It’s important for survivors to know that if they are concerned that they need emergency contraception as part of their health care following a rape, that they should not go to Saint Luke’s Missouri,” said Julie Donelon, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, based in Kansas City.
Donelon also noted that the organization wasn’t aware of any other Kansas City hospitals intending to refuse emergency contraception. But as we know, before Roe even fell last week, Republicans had already signaled their openness to banning Plan B. Prepare for a lot more news like this.