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Missouri Democrats fight pelvic exam directive for abortions

Missouri House Democrats are working to rescind a state mandate requiring heath care providers to perform pelvic exams prior to abortions, although some lawmakers say it will be hard to gain bipartisan support during an election year.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services last year began requiring physicians to do the exam 72 hours before a surgical or medication abortion. But legislation filed last month would block those tests unless they are needed for medical purposes, KCUR-FM reported. The proposals have not been assigned to a committee.

“No government should be allowed to force anyone to undergo any medical procedure against their will, especially one that is physically intrusive and serves no medical purpose,” said state Rep. Jon Carpenter, a Democrat who is sponsoring one of the bills.

Republicans have not publicly supported the legislation, but Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said she has been talking with them about the issue.

“Behind the scenes they agree with us, but putting their name on a bill like this during an election year has been proven difficult,” Quade said.

The state’s health department issued an emergency rule in 2018 to give Planned Parenthood, the only abortion provider in St. Louis, the option to perform the exam for surgical abortions. The nonprofit had already been performing pelvic exams the day of the procedure, requiring patients to undergo the exam twice.

The exams are still required for medication abortions because the department said that those tests provide necessary information for physicians. Still, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis encourages patients to go elsewhere for them.

Yamelsie Rodriguez is the CEO and president of Advocates of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri. She said Tuesday at a press conference that the laws could benefit future patients.

“We are asking for the department to understand that that’s a decision that needs to happen in the exam room between the doctor and the patient,” Rodriguez said. “And allow the doctor to decide at which point in the process the pelvic exam needs to happen — if it needs to happen at all.”

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