A major Kansas City health provider is no longer providing emergency contraception and pharmaceutical companies like Amazon, Walmart and CVS have limited purchases amid soaring demand in the days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, fueling fears that the broad wording of some states’ abortion bans will stretch far beyond the procedure also limit access to birth control, vital medications, reproductive healthcare and fertility treatments like IVF.
Plan B purchases have been limited due to soaring demand.
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Saint Luke’s Health System, which operates 16 hospitals and campuses across the Kansas City region, is no longer providing emergency contraception in Missouri due to the state’s strict anti-abortion law, according to the Kansas City Star.
The law prohibits nearly all abortions in the state except for medical emergencies, including pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, and clinicians violating the ban face being charged with a class B felony (which carry prison sentences between five and 15 years) and having their medical license revoked.
While aimed at abortion, the Missouri law’s wording “is ambiguous” and could be interpreted as “criminalizing emergency contraception,” Saint Luke’s spokesperson Laurel Gifford told the Kansas City Star.
Gifford, who confirmed the policy change after news began circulating among advocates for sexual assault victims, explained that the system would not put its clinicians at risk of criminal prosecution due to the unclear law and said Saint Luke’s will not provide emergency contraception in Missouri until it has been clarified.
Saint Luke’s’ facilities in Kansas—where the right to abortion is protected under the state’s constitution—will continue to provide emergency contraception, Gifford added, though she acknowledged that this might not be an ideal or convenient option for patients.
The restrictions in Missouri come as major pharmaceutical companies like Walmart, RiteAid, CVS and Amazon restrict purchases of emergency contraception like Plan B across the country amid skyrocketing demand in the wake of the ruling.
The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, deciding that there is no constitutional right to abortion and allowing states to ban the procedure. The decision, which was leaked in draft form in February by Politico, sparked concerns over access to contraception. The court specified in its ruling that the decision only applied to abortion and did not call other precedents, including the one establishing a right to birth control, into question. Nevertheless, experts predict that precedent could be at risk and, in a concurrence to the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the court “should consider” and overturn it—along with other court rulings on LGBTQ rights—through future cases.
What To Watch For
More states implementing abortion bans. Thirteen states had so-called “trigger laws” in place ready to outlaw abortion if and when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Some of these, such as Kentucky and Louisiana, were set to go into effect immediately upon the Court’s ruling. Others, including North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri, had time delays baked in or required certain procedural steps from state officials. The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports the right to abortion, estimates 26 states will outlaw or harshly curtail access to the procedure. While 16 states recognize some degree of legal protection for abortion, this is being challenged in some states. This includes Kansas, where abortion rights are set to be put to voters in August.
What We Don’t Know
How far anti-abortion laws extend and what they cover. The broad wording of some state abortion bans—many of which prohibit the procedure at any point after fertilization and use medically imprecise language like “unborn child” or “unborn human being”— raise a host of legal questions for other areas of medicine, notably birth control, reproductive healthcare and fertility treatments like IVF. Some states’ bills do not acknowledge these issues at all, creating ambiguities like what is now being seen in Missouri, and those that do take care to exempt things like birth control or IVF do not necessarily do so in a legally comprehensive way. These issues are set to intensify in states that are seeking to push beyond banning abortion and enshrine fetuses with legal rights on par with children. These so-called fetal “personhood” bills could theoretically lead to novel situations if not worded carefully, such as a freezer full of embryos in an IVF clinic having the same legal status and protection as a school full of kids.
Some drugs used for abortions have other uses, particularly treating miscarriages. State abortion bans means these may be harder to access. There are already reports of this in Texas, where the state’s ban on abortion after six weeks and on medication abortion are already resulting in reports of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for drugs prescribed for miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, there have been increasing anecdotes shared online—which Forbes has not been able to verify—of patients struggling to access drugs used to treat autoimmune conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis as they are also used for abortions.