New Missouri Law on Hold

Lynda Waddington

A new Missouri law classifying Planned Parenthood clinics as "ambulatory surgical centers" isn't about safety - it's about circumventing a women's legal right to an abortion.

In July the Missouri Legislature passed a bill that reclassified Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics as "ambulatory surgical centers." Whether or not the change was done for safety or to circumvent a woman's legal right to abortion is now the subject of a federal lawsuit.

The changes in Missouri require all clinics that perform five or more abortions a month to be registered under existing guidelines that mandate standards ranging from hallway widths to parking lot sizes to facilities for personnel. The bill also effectively bans Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from offering sex education and counseling services in Missouri's public schools.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri joined with Dr. Allen Palmer, a St. Louis County physician, on Aug. 20 to challenge the new rules in court. The plaintiffs contend the new restrictions would force closure of clinics in Columbia and Kansas City. Palmer, who performs early-term abortions, states in documents filed with the court that the same restrictions don't apply to other private physicians who perform minor surgery in their offices.

"This onerous legislation has nothing to do with protecting women's health and safety," said Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. "This is a blatant attempt to close down clinics and deny women their right to health care. Planned Parenthood remains committed to providing needed reproductive health services in Missouri. We are going to court to make sure that women throughout Missouri can get the health services they want and need. We will not stand by and allow politicians to intimidate women and create more barriers to their ability to get health care."

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In late August, the Missouri State Health Department told Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon he would be not be representing their interests in the case. According to State Health Director Jane Drummond, Nixon is "pro-choice and has taken donations from Planned Parenthood." The department has hired to private lawyers affiliated with a conservative religious group that opposes abortion to represent the state's interest.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Ortie Smith extended a temporary restraining order that is blocking the new law. The extension was given to allow more evidence and testimony to be submitted. Smith has promised a ruling in the case by Sept. 24.

The case does not mark the first time abortion providers and the State of Missouri have been at odds. An abortion law passed during a special legislative session in 2005 was challenged by Planned Parenthood. The statute, aimed primarily at those who would transport a minor across state lines for the purpose of abortion without parental consent, was upheld in May by the Missouri Supreme Court.

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