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Lawmaker, advocate react to Missouri's new law that bans nonconsensual pelvic exams on unconscious patients

KSHB 41 I-Team helped shine light on little-known practice
Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-10 19:21:39-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ashley Weitz reacted with joy Monday to Missouri's new law, which bans pelvic exams on unconscious patients without consent.

"I'm thrilled, thrilled for Missouri," Weitz said in an interview with the KSHB 41 I-Team. "I'm hopeful for patients and practitioners that this conversation becomes one that we continue having, that it becomes a more routine part of seeking and receiving health care."

We first met Weitz nearly a year ago, when she opened up to us about her traumatic experience, waking up in the middle of a pelvic exam to which she didn't consent.

She's become a fierce national advocate to stop the practice, which often happens solely for a medical student's education and does not provide any medical benefit to the patient.

"Telling that story can be very difficult," Weitz said. "It can be very vulnerable and hard and, when changes like these happen, it's a very rewarding and a very healing experience for me as well."

The I-Team discovered last year that this practice was legal in more than 25 states, including Missouri and Kansas.

After our investigation, lawmakers in both states introduced legislation to ban unauthorized pelvic exams.

Kansas' bill died in committee, but Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democratic state senator from the Kansas City area, found bipartisan support for her bill in Missouri.

"We really wouldn't have known about it, we wouldn't have understood the issue, if it weren't for your reporting," Arthur said. "So, we're really grateful."

We also talked to Arthur on Monday about her bill becoming law after Gov. Mike Parson's signature last week.

"I hope it gives patients a sense of mind," Arthur said. "I hope it strengthens trust between providers and patients that they get to make the decision about what happens to their bodies."

Under the new law, medical professionals who perform these exams without consent face disciplinary action from their licensing board.

The law includes several exceptions for which a pelvic, prostate, or anal exam could be performed:

  1. The patient or person authorized to make health-care decisions for the patient gives specific informed consent for non-medical purposes;
  2. The patient examination is necessary for diagnostic or treatment purposes;
  3. The collection of evidence through a forensic examination for a suspected sexual assault is necessary because the evidence will be lost or the patient is unable to give informed consent due to a medical condition;
  4. Emergency implied consent, as described in the act, is present — after which a health-care provider shall notify a patient of any such examination performed.

Arthur didn't rule out trying to make the law even stronger, such as adding protections for those who report violations of the law. Right now, whistleblower protections aren't included in the law.
Weitz said she supports any measures that will prevent others from experiencing her trauma and is thrilled she could be a voice for change.

"Successes like we've had in Missouri are why it's worth it for me to put myself out there," Weitz said.

The new law goes into effect Aug. 28.

The Missouri Hospital Association told us they tracked the bill and hospitals in the state will be made aware of the new law.

The association also said they are not aware of any of its teaching hospitals using intimate exams without consent as part of its teaching practices.

Kansas state Rep. Rui Xu, a Democrat from Johnson County, said he'll reintroduce his measure next legislative session.

Major medical associations and medical students the I-Team spoke with all oppose performing intimate exams — such as pelvic, prostate, and anal exams under anesthesia without prior, informed consent.