Planned Parenthood Sues to Keep Clinic Open in Columbia, Missouri (Updated)

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Planned Parenthood Sues to Keep Clinic Open in Columbia, Missouri (Updated)

Jenn Stanley

Planned Parenthood’s Columbia Health Center in Missouri halted its abortion services last week, as the clinic is set to lose hospital admitting privileges on December 1.

UPDATE, December 1, 10:59 a.m.: A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services from revoking the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri filed a federal lawsuit against the acting director of Missouri’s health department on Monday to block a measure that would leave one abortion provider in the state.

Planned Parenthood’s Columbia Health Center in Missouri halted its abortion services last week, as the clinic is set to lose hospital admitting privileges on December 1. The clinic’s physician, Colleen McNicholas, lost her admitting privileges with the University of Missouri Health Care system after university officials voted to discontinue her “refer and follow” privileges. That resulted from a legislative investigation of abortion services launched by Republican lawmakers.

The lawsuit seeks to stop efforts by the agency from revoking its license while it searches for a provider who can obtain privileges at a nearby hospital, as required under Missouri law.

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The order will expire Wednesday unless the court extends it following a hearing on Planned Parenthood’s claims that the agency failed to give McNicholas sufficient time to seek alternative privileges needed to continue work at the Columbia health center, or give Planned Parenthood enough time to locate another physician.

The question of McNicholas’ admitting privileges is just one part of a larger controversy at the University of Missouri about whether the publicly funded university should be associated with an organization that provides abortion services—a fight spearheaded by Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer.

Schaefer has tried to strip the university of all associations with Planned Parenthood after the release of a series of surreptitiously recorded and highly edited videos published by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP has worked closely with GOP legislators this year to attack Planned Parenthood’s funding.

Missouri’s Republican-dominated legislature has passed some of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws in recent years. One state GOP lawmaker has said a University of Missouri doctoral student should not be allowed to do research on the Republican-backed forced 72-hour waiting period for patients seeking abortion care.

Former Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin ended Planned Parenthood’s “refer and follow” privileges under pressure from the state’s anti-choice GOP lawmakers. After Loftin stepped down from his post amid protests over race relations on campus, a group calling itself Mizzou for Planned Parenthood launched a social media campaign to urge the university to reverse the decision.

The group will hold a vigil outside the Columbia Health Center Monday night, followed by a march on an administrative building at the University of Missouri.

Hank Foley, the interim chancellor, issued a statement today before the vigil, saying he would not overturn the decision to revoke admitting privileges.

I personally have given this issue much thought and have been touched by many of the emails and letters our office has received—especially those from women who have relied on Planned Parenthood for health care. I am sympathetic to many of the situations and extenuating circumstances these women have found themselves in—situations and circumstances that lead to decisions most women will never have to make.

However, I will continue to support the Medical Staff Executive Committee at MU Health Care. Thus, after a thorough policy review by MU Health Care, refer and follow privileges will be discontinued Dec. 1, 2015.

Prior to halting services, the Columbia Health Center dispensed medications that induced abortions two days a month, averaging about 20 to 25 abortions on each of those days, said Laura McQuade, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.