Major health system stops, then resumes Plan B amid Missouri's abortion ban ambiguity
Saint Luke's Health System, which operates 17 hospitals, pharmacies and urgent care clinics in the Kansas City area, announced on Wednesday afternoon that it will resume providing emergency contraceptives following comments from the Missouri Attorney General's Office and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson clarifying that the new abortion ban does not affect Plan B or similar products.
The health system said Tuesday it would no longer provide Plan B at its Missouri locations as a result of the state's law banning nearly all abortions.
Following last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, abortion providers in Missouri could face criminal prosecution and prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.
In a statement, Laurel Gifford, a spokesperson for Saint Luke's, said the hospital network made its decision out of an abundance of caution.
"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," Gifford said.
University Health, formerly Truman Medical Centers, said it would continue to offer emergency contraceptives in both of its Missouri-based facilities. University Health spokesperson Leslie Carto said the hospital didn't believe that conflicted with the state's abortion law.
At a news conference in St. Louis Tuesday, Parson was unclear on whether people should be worried about access to birth control. He said the health department was in the process of clarifying the law.
But on Wednesday, Chris Nuelle, a spokesperson for Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, told the Missouri Independent that Missouri law "does not prohibit the use or provision of Plan B, or contraception."
On Wednesday afternoon, following those comments, Saint Luke's said it would resume providing emergency contraceptives.
"However, the ambiguity of the law, and the uncertainty even among state officials about what this law prohibits, continues to cause grave concern and will require careful monitoring," it said in a statement. "This is especially true because the penalty for violation of the statute includes the criminal prosecution of health care providers whose sole focus is to provide medically necessary care for their patients.
"As a faith-based organization, Saint Luke's stands firmly with the Episcopal Church in supporting the rights of all patients to make medical decisions in consultation with their health care providers. We believe this is when health care is at its best."
Saint Luke's is affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
Missouri's abortion law does not specifically address emergency contraceptives such as Plan B, commonly known as the "morning-after pill," and Planned Parenthood, for one, has said it doesn't believe the law will affect access to birth control.
Still, Gifford said Saint Luke's couldn't risk subjecting its health care providers to the possibility of prosecution.
"The Missouri law is ambiguous, but may be interpreted as criminalizing emergency contraception," she said earlier. "As a system that deeply cares about its team, we simply cannot put our clinicians in a position that might result in criminal prosecution."
Emergency contraceptives and other reproductive care services continued to be available at the hospital network's Kansas locations.
Read Saint Luke's original statement below:
Saint Luke's Health System Statement
Saint Luke's continues to evaluate the implications of the Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade and the subsequent implementation of Missouri's trigger law restricting abortion.
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.
The reasons for this are two-fold:
- First, the Missouri law is ambiguous but may be interpreted as criminalizing emergency contraception. As a System that deeply cares about its team, we simply cannot put our clinicians in a position that might result in criminal prosecution.
- Second, as a large bi-state health system, this care can be provided at our Kansas-based facilities safely, legally, and without putting our clinicians at legal risk. It may not always be the most convenient option for our patients, but for now, it is the best solution available.
Saint Luke's will continue to monitor the situation to ensure the reproductive care we provide, including abortions for maternal medical emergencies, continues to comply fully with all applicable laws.