Stand with Planned Parenthood not only in St. Louis, but in Missouri

There are 13 Planned Parenthood clinics scattered throughout the state of Missouri. Of these 13, only two offer the full suite of reproductive care services—that is, they are licensed and equipped to terminate pregnancies. One of these clinics is in Columbia, a town that sits squarely in the middle of the state, about two hours west via Highway 70. In two months, it will no longer be able to offer abortion services, leaving Missourians seeking these procedures with only one choice: Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region on Forest Park Parkway, mere minutes from our campus.

Following pressure from anti-abortion voices in the Missouri state capital, the University of Missouri cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Students at the MU School of Medicine no longer have the option to complete OB-GYN and family planning training at Missouri Planned Parenthood locations, potentially leaving huge holes in their medical training.

We at Student Life view abortion care as a fundamental right for those in rural areas as much as those in urban centers. Patients from rural areas especially rely on Planned Parenthood for not only abortion care but also basic health care.

Additionally, we view abortion care and procedures as fundamental tools that students studying to be OB-GYN specialists should be able to learn.

MU Health Care also discontinued “refer and follow” privileges for doctors from other hospital systems. These privileges allow physicians to monitor their patients after admitting them to the hospital.

Since the Planned Parenthood in Columbia does not have a resident doctor who performs abortions, it relies on doctors from St. Louis to perform procedures several times a month, who in turn need privileges from MU Health Care in order to meet state guidelines. Without these privileges, starting Dec. 1, these doctors won’t be able to perform abortions in Columbia, making the St. Louis clinic the only location in the state offering this vital health care option.

For those paying attention to the state of reproductive health rights in Missouri, this isn’t a surprise. Planned Parenthood has been under attack by anti-abortion advocacy groups—and sympathetic government representatives—for years. The recent viral spread of a series of videos that claimed to expose the illegal sale of fetal tissue—claims which recent investigations have proved to be false—have only added fuel to the fire. In Missouri, the hurdles for Planned Parenthood are even higher than the national norm. Last fall, the Missouri legislature increased the mandatory waiting period for those seeking abortions to 72 hours, the longest in the country (tied with North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah). There are no exceptions for rape or incest. Patients must also undergo mandatory counseling explicitly designed to dissuade them from the procedure.

The latest hurdle hits Missouri where it hurts: The rural areas that swallow up the middle of the state, home to millions of men and women in small towns with little health care access (and virtually no reproductive health services). Columbia, home to the University of Missouri, has the largest hospital and health care system in the area. Thousands of people drive hours to visit the flagship hospital and local clinics, including Planned Parenthood.

We at Washington University are inextricably entangled in the complicated political web that is the state of Missouri. What affects Missouri affects us. We are college students in Missouri, just as Mizzou students are—so when students in Columbia march to protest what their University has done to slash reproductive rights, it is not only their struggle. It’s ours, too. We owe it to our city, our state and ourselves to stand with those who demand the best for their state.

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