Missouri denies Planned Parenthood abortion license, but state's last abortion clinic remains open for now

Missouri denies Planned Parenthood abortion license, but state's last abortion clinic remains open for now

Missouri has moved closer to becoming the first state without an abortion clinic when its health department rejected a license renewal for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood location.

According to CNN, A judge had ordered the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to decide by June 21 whether it would renew a license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. Judge Michael Stelzer relayed the health department's decision in court.

The DHSS rejected the license application of the only abortion provider in the state. Judge Stelzer of the Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis then ruled that his preliminary injunction to allow the clinic to continue to provide abortions remains in place until he issues a written order outlining next steps. The judge’s decision prevents Missouri from becoming the first state in America without access to a clinic providing abortion care since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, at least for the moment.

Refusal of the license renewal is only for abortions and does not include other services that Planned Parenthood offers, said Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

The battle has been brewing for weeks as states across the country move to restrict access to the procedure. The St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic sued the state's health department for refusing to renew its license, which was set to expire on May 31. Stelzer had granted a preliminary injunction that let the facility keep performing abortions while state officials decided on the license.

Williams said his department did not renew the abortion license because Planned Parenthood failed to correct 26 of 30 deficiencies found by regulators. Williams said that doctors involved in the investigation of these deficiencies refused to cooperate. In one case, a patient had three abortion-related services in three days, first a surgical that was unsuccessful, then a medical that was unsuccessful, and then a surgical again, Williams said. In another case, a patient had an abortion that failed, according to Williams.

Protesters stand together during a Planned Parenthood rally (Getty Images)

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at the facility, told CNN the department is trying "to distort the safety record" to distract from its true goal of shutting down abortions. McNicholas said she couldn't discuss individual cases because of patient confidentiality laws, but said the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic had a complication rate lower than 1% among the 3,000-5,000 abortions it performs in a year. "The risk of complications is incredibly low," McNicholas said.

A study published in 2015 in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology looking at more than 54,000 abortions in 2009-2010 found the risk of complications was 2.1% overall. Planned Parenthood's M'Evie Mead praised the judge for keeping the clinic open for now. "We will continue to fight for our ability to deliver high-quality, patient-centered health care, and that includes the full range of reproductive health care," she said.

As for the state's complaints, she said, "They restated a number of their other issues that Planned Parenthood has responded to with medically accurate, thorough responses; they continue to restate things that are already resolved as far as we're concerned."

Pro-life activists try to block the sign of a pro-choice activist during the 2018 March for Life January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. Activists gathered in the nation's capital for the annual event to protest the anniversary of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in 1973. (Getty Images)

The National Organization for Women (NOW) president Toni Van Pelt said in a statement that Gov. Mike Parson (R) and the DHSS are using the regulatory process as a weapon to prevent access to abortion care. "Missouri would have its residents return to the days when abortion was outlawed, when women seeking abortions had to risk a loss of fertility or their life when trying to end an unwanted pregnancy. These dangers are especially prevalent for people in vulnerable populations, such as women living in poverty and women of color, who may not have the resources necessary to travel out-of-state to access abortion care. Gov. Parson and the DHSS did not do this to protect women’s health — they did this to take control of women’s bodies and deny them their constitutional rights." 

Van Pelt added that NOW is unequivocal in its assertion that women have the right to safe, legal, affordable and accessible abortion care."

Williams said on June 21 that he would allow Planned Parenthood to determine when that 72-hour window was not necessary.

Abortion remains legal in all 50 states under Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling. States have approved numerous challenges to that decision this year. The most restrictive is Alabama's, which bans virtually all abortions and could send doctors to prison for life if they perform the procedure. That law, slated to go into effect in the fall, is being challenged in court.

Missouri's Republican governor this year signed a bill into law banning abortions at eight weeks, including in cases of rape and incest. It includes exceptions in cases when a mother's life is at risk or she faces a serious permanent injury. It is scheduled to take effect on August 28.

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