Saint Luke’s resumes offering Plan B after raising concerns

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Saint Luke’s Health System — which operates 17 hospitals, pharmacies and urgent care clinics in the Kansas City area — has resumed offering emergency contraceptives, a day after announcing it would stop providing Plan B over concerns its clinicians could be prosecuted under Missouri’s abortion ban.

Following last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and Missouri’s subsequent “trigger ban” taking effect, abortion providers can now face criminal prosecution and prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years.

In a statement early Wednesday, Laurel Gifford, a spokesperson for Saint Luke’s, said the hospital network made its initial 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.

At a news conference in St. Louis Tuesday, Gov. Mike 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.”

Parson then followed up with a statement on Twitter: “Missouri law has not changed the legality of contraceptives. Contraceptives are not abortions and are not affected by the Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act.”

Following those comments, Saint Luke’s said it would resume providing emergency contraceptives, but continues to be cautious of the abortion ban’s consequences.

“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,” Saint Luke’s spokesperson Emily Hohenberg 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.”

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.

Gifford said the original decision was made because 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. “As a system that deeply cares about its team, we simply cannot put our clinicians in a position that might result in criminal prosecution.”

Saint Luke’s also operates five hospitals, pharmacies and urgent care clinics on the Kansas side of the metro. Emergency contraceptives and other reproductive care services remained available at those locations.

University Health, formerly Truman Medical Centers, said Wednesday it would continue to offer emergency contraceptives. University Health spokesperson Leslie Carto said the hospital didn’t believe that conflicted with Missouri’s abortion law.

KCUR has contacted other area health systems for comment on if they will continue to provide plan B, and will update this article with more information.

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