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Judge: Missouri’s Last Abortion Clinic Can Keep Operating (Updated)

Dennis Carter

The medically unnecessary regulations stem from laws passed by Missouri's GOP-dominated legislature, which has chipped away at access to abortion care for years.

UPDATE, June 21, 3:11 p.m.: Missouri health department officials have denied license renewal for the state’s last standalone abortion clinic, though a judge on Friday extended a preliminary injunction in the case. This means the clinic can continue providing abortion services for now.

Missouri’s last stand-alone abortion clinic can continue to operate after a judge ruled Monday that the clinic’s license would not expire “until further order of this court.”

Missouri officials are trying to shutter the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis, using onerous regulations that are medically unnecessary and can be harmful to survivors of sexual assault.

Monday’s preliminary injunction from Judge Michael Stelzer comes a week after the judge quashed the state’s demands to interview all doctors, even those not employed by Planned Parenthood, who have treated patients at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. Judge Stelzer on June 4 ruled that the state’s subpoenas of the non-staff doctors constitutes an “undue burden” on them. 

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Stelzer in the Monday ruling wrote that Missouri’s health department would have to issue a decision on Planned Parenthood’s “application for renewal of its license” no later than June 21. The judge also set a status conference for June 21, when the state will have to update the court on the licensing efforts.

“While this is welcome relief for patients and providers at Planned Parenthood, this fight is far from over,” Colleen McNicholas, an abortion care provider at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic, said in a statement. “Abortion access in Missouri is hanging on by a thread and for many, politicians like Gov. Parson have already created an impossible landscape for patients who need access to abortion. Abortion remains one of the most inappropriately regulated health care services. Until that changes, access to care in our state will depend on where you live and how much money you earn.”

State officials, who have repeatedly changed rules and regulations for abortion clinics as part of an effort to end legal abortion in Missouri, would not renew the Planned Parenthood clinic’s license without interviewing every doctor who has treated patients at the facility, including trainees and medical residents who were never employed by Planned Parenthood and who no longer work at the clinic. The medically unnecessary regulations stem from laws passed by Missouri’s GOP-dominated legislature, which has chipped away at access to abortion care for years.

Missouri’s last abortion clinic was slated to shut down after May 31, when the state’s health department was set to revoke its license to provide abortion services. Planned Parenthood’s legal challenge against the state’s effort to shut down the St. Louis clinic has so far been successful; Judge Stelzer granted the clinic a temporary restraining order May 31, allowing it to continue offering abortion care while awaiting the court’s ruling.

Planned Parenthood addressed two of the three regulatory issues in the lead up to May 31, Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, director of state media campaigns for Planned Parenthood, told Rewire.News last week. She said the state’s health department didn’t disclose why officials needed to interview every doctor who has worked in the health-care facility, including those not employed by Planned Parenthood.

The state health department in a June 7 announcement said “failed surgical abortions” had occurred at the clinic. McNicholas called the health department announcement “a diversionary tactic,” according to the St. Louis Star

The state health department’s regulatory battle with Planned Parenthood comes on the heels of Missouri legislators’ passage of a law banning abortion after eight weeks.

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