Jun 29, 2022
A Kansas City hospital system on Wednesday reversed its decision to stop providing emergency contraceptives like Plan B following assurances from Missouri's top elected officials that the morning-after pill does not violate the state's restrictive abortion ban.
"First it's abortion. Next it's contraception."
Despite the reversal, critics still pointed to the initial policy change as an example of the broader impacts of the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization last week that ended the constitutional right to abortion nationwide.
"To all those insisting that Dobbs won't have any implications for contraceptives, Plan B is a contraceptive, not an abortifacient," tweeted University of Texas law professor and CNN analyst Steve Vladeck in response to The Kansas City Star's reporting.
The newspaper had revealed that Saint Luke's Health System--which operates over a dozen hospitals across Kansas and Missouri--confirmed its short-lived policy late Tuesday "after word of the change began circulating among advocates for sexual assault victims."
\u201cAs pro-choice advocates have explained for years, abortion bans are often extremely ambiguous but carry severe criminal penalties, so health care providers are terrified to take any action that *might* violate them for fear of prosecution. It is, tragically, a reasonable concern.\u201d— Mark Joseph Stern (@Mark Joseph Stern) 1656515397
"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," Laurel Gifford, a spokesperson for the health system, said in a statement.
Gifford explained that while "this care can be provided at our Kansas-based facilities safely, legally, and without putting our clinicians at legal risk," Missouri's abortion law "is ambiguous but may be interpreted as criminalizing emergency contraception," and "we simply cannot put our clinicians in a position that might result in criminal prosecution."
Julie Donelon, president and CEO of the Kansas City-based Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, had told the newspaper that "it's important for survivors to know that if they are concerned that they need emergency contraception as part of their healthcare following a rape, that they should not go to Saint Luke's Missouri."
\u201cThe ramifications of last week's #scotus ruling will be far reaching. Kansas City area health system stops providing Plan B in Missouri because of abortion ban https://t.co/MtHe0jdNgY\u201d— NCJWSTL (@NCJWSTL) 1656518197
GOP Attorney General Eric Schmitt issued an opinion on Friday that made Missouri the first of the 13 states with "trigger bans" to outlaw abortion after Roe's reversal. That same day Republican Gov. Mike Parson also signed a proclamation to activate the ban. Doctors who violate the law--which does not include exceptions for rape or incest--can lose their license and face five to 15 years in prison.
Following outrage over what critics called the "shameful" decision by Saint Luke's to stop offering emergency contraception, representatives for the AG and governor weighed in.
According to the Missouri Independent, Schmitt spokesperson Chris Nuelle confirmed Wednesday that "Missouri law does not prohibit the use or provision of Plan B, or contraception."
\u201cOn Tuesday, @GovParsonMO told reporters the state health department was evaluating whether the newly-enacted abortion ban applies to contraceptives.\n\nOn Wednesday, @AGEricSchmitt clarified that contraception is not prohibited under state law. #moleg #mogov\nhttps://t.co/hEnqFKEu0p\u201d— Jason Hancock (@Jason Hancock) 1656527924
Parson spokesperson Kelli Jones similarly said Wednesday that "an abortion is defined in Missouri law as taking action with the intent to destroy an embryo or fetus."
"Abortion and contraception are different things, one ends life while the other prevents pregnancy," Jones added. "A medical professional's intent when prescribing medication is always relevant to the lawfulness of their action."
In response, Gifford announced that "following further internal review, Saint Luke's will now resume providing emergency contraceptives, under new protocols, at all Missouri-based Saint Luke's hospitals and clinics."
However, Missouri's ambiguous law "continues to cause grave concern and will require careful monitoring," she added. "This is especially true because the penalty for violation of the statute includes the criminal prosecution of healthcare providers whose sole focus is to provide medically necessary care for their patients."
Since the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority overturned Roe--and Justice Clarence Thomas issued a concurring opinion making clear that other rights are now at risk--reproductive freedom advocates have ramped up warnings about threats to contraception.
Advocates for reproductive rights and survivors of sexual assault echoed those warnings after Saint Luke's stopped providing emergency contraceptives, which Iman Alsaden, medical director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, had described as "dangerous."
Emily Wales, Planned Parenthood Great Plains president and CEO, said before the reversal that "we are very concerned that Saint Luke's decision will have a triggering effect for other institutions and I also think it is a slippery slope."
Planned Parenthood Great Plains--which provides care in not only Kansas and Missouri but also Arkansas and Oklahoma--will continue to offer emergency contraceptives, spokesperson Anamarie Rebori Simmons told the Independent.
Star reporter Natalie Wallington--who did not write the articles on Saint Luke's--similarly noted that "this could be the beginning of a larger trend."
Others took aim at Republicans. The Missouri Democrat Party tweeted that when GOP state lawmakers "wrote their trigger law, they put the 'grey area' in on purpose. The grey area is their quiet killer."
Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) said that "the extremist [GOP] will not stop at abortion--Plan B is officially on the chopping block too. We must make all reproductive care affordable, accessible, and available to every single person who needs or wants it."
Though Democrats control not only the White House but also both chambers of Congress--at least until the midterms this year--Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) have stood in the way of reforming or ending the filibuster, which gives GOP senators an effective veto of all legislation.
Before the Dobbs ruling, Manchin even joined with Senate Republicans twice to block a vote on the Women's Health Protection Act, legislation approved by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives that would codify Roe.
We're optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.
We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter counts.
Your contribution supports this new media model—free, independent, and dedicated to uncovering the truth. Stand with us in the fight for social justice, human rights, and equality. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!
Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.