Judge Blocks Closure of Only Abortion Clinic in Missouri

Abortion-rights supporters march in St. Louis on May 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – Rescuing Missouri’s lone abortion provider, a St. Louis judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday barring state officials from revoking the clinic’s license.

Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, its director Randall Williams and Republican Governor Mike Parson two weeks ago, seeking injunctive relief with its license set to expire. It claims the state has illegally refused to renew the St. Louis clinic’s abortion license until officials complete an investigation into an unspecified patient complaint.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer issued a temporary restraining order in favor of Planned Parenthood on May 31, hours before the license was to expire.

On Monday, Stelzer granted Planned Parenthood’s motion for a preliminary injunction after hearing arguments in the case last Wednesday.

Stelzer’s nine-page order keeps the clinic’s abortion license in effect until further notice from the court and requires the state’s health department to issue a decision on the license no later than July 21. A status conference in the case will be held that same day.

Neither side immediately responded Monday to a request for comment on the decision.

If Planned Parenthood’s license is ultimately denied, Missouri would become the first state without any abortion providers since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion up until 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Last Wednesday, the clinic’s attorney Jamie Boyer of the Stinson law firm urged Stelzer to issue the preliminary injunction.

She argued that the health regulation Missouri is using as reason to deny the license exceeds the authority granted by state law. Planned Parenthood claimed that the court, and not the Administrative Hearing Commission, or AHC, is the proper venue due to the conflict between the regulation and statute. Only the court has the power to invalidate a regulation if it conflicts with a state law, which is what Planned Parenthood asked for.

John Sauer with the Missouri attorney general’s office countered that the court lacked jurisdiction since the clinic’s license expired on May 31 and therefore the matter should be heard by the AHC.

Central to the state’s case are five doctors who Department of Health investigators wanted to interview but they refused to cooperate.

Planned Parenthood argued the doctors are not employed by the clinic, were in training from nearby university medical programs, and were not privy to the clinic’s procedures. Last week, Stelzer quashed a subpoena seeking their testimony, writing in a two-page order that the doctors “have shown that compliance with the subpoenas would present an undue burden and hardship” on them.

Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortions on or after the eighth week of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. In addition to the eight-week cutoff, the bill also imposes a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for doctors who violate the ban. Women who receive abortions would not be prosecuted.

The bill, which is set to become law on Aug. 28, also includes an outright ban on abortions, but only if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.

Missouri has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, with a 72-hour waiting period in addition to the impending eight-week ban.

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