And apparently, the state of Missouri briefly joined that crowded market, at least if you terminated a pregnancy at the state’s one remaining abortion clinic, a Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis. In that case, the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services entered the date of your period on a spreadsheet. It’s just the latest example that, when it comes to trying to stop abortion and control women’s bodies, one should never underestimate conservatives’ ingenuity.
Missouri’s menstruation-tracking program was revealed at a hearing held this week to determine whether the St. Louis Planned Parenthood location could continue to offer abortions, and was first reported by the Kansas City Star. According to the Star, the spreadsheet “was based on medical records the investigator had access to during the state’s annual inspection, also included medical identification numbers, dates of medical procedures and the gestational ages of fetuses.” It was created in an attempt to find so-called failed abortions, the reason state health officials are giving for refusing to renew the clinic’s license. State officials denied that the director of its health department requested the data, despite the spreadsheet being attached to an email entitled “Director’s request.”
No doubt, it’s just a coincidence that Missouri passed a law earlier this year forbidding abortions after the eight week of pregnancy, not even making an exception for rape or incest. That law is blocked by courts, at least for now.
All of this brings to mind similar actions by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for the health and safety of unaccompanied minors who enter the United States. That department was tracking pregnancies among the cohort, putting such details as the length of their pregnancy and whether they requested an abortion on a spreadsheet. The office’s former head Scott Lloyd — who is writing a book about his antiabortion beliefs — read the spreadsheet on a weekly basis. Even after courts ordered the department to stop putting roadblocks in the way of minors who requested an abortion, factotums continued making entries on the list.
As the Star wrote in a scathing editorial, the state of Missouri has refused to track such things as opioid prescriptions and gun ownership precisely because of invasion of privacy concerns (or so they say). But when the subject involves women and their bodies, such privacy issues appear to fall by the wayside. Missouri is not alone in this. GOP-backed laws either banning or making it increasingly difficult to obtain abortions are not about protecting women from dodgy practitioners or making life better for children. Over and over again, the states involved in these efforts are revealed to have higher-than-average rates of maternal or infant mortality and to not mandate that employers offer paid maternity leave. Missouri is no exception. Its maternal mortality rate is nothing to brag about, and the number of Missouri children without health insurance is growing.
These concerns rarely attract the same interest from antiabortion legislators or activists. That’s because their interest isn’t in improving the quality of life for American women, but in controlling it, which is a different thing entirely.