ST. LOUIS (CN) – Missouri’s lone abortion provider could lose its license at the end of the week, according to a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court of St. Louis on Tuesday.
If the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services denies Planned Parenthood’s license, Missouri would become the first state without any abortion providers since Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973.
In the suit filed Tuesday against the department, its director Randall Williams and Governor Mike Parson, Planned Parenthood seeks injunctive relief to stop the state from closing its clinic.
“This is not a drill,” Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told reporters during a call Tuesday. “This is not a warning. This is real and it’s a public health crisis.”
Williams told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the state would make a decision by Friday on whether to renew the facility’s license.
Planned Parenthood claims in its lawsuit that the state is “unlawfully conditioning a decision on its routine license renewal application on completion of a supposed ‘investigation’ of a patient complaint (the contents of which the Department has refused to disclose) and yet refusing to proceed with its investigation in a reasonable manner – despite that Planned Parenthood has fully cooperated with every investigative request within its power.”
The suit states that department employees showed up at Planned Parenthood unannounced on April 2 and 3, stated that they were investigating the patient complaint, and asked for records from six patients and other documentation.
“Although [the department] refused to provide any information about the subject matter of the complaint or any other information that might allow Planned Parenthood to better aid the investigation, Planned Parenthood cooperated, providing copies of all requested documents and answering [the department’s] questions,” the suit states.
The state wanted to interview seven physicians, but only the two staff physicians agreed to be interviewed. The state then refused to meet with the two doctors, according to the suit.
Planned Parenthood claims the license investigation is the latest in a string of anti-abortion measures taken by the Missouri’s Republican-dominated government.
Parson, a Republican, signed a bill Friday banning abortions on or beyond 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 becomes law on August 28, also includes an outright ban on abortions, but only if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned.
If Planned Parenthood’s license is denied, the nearest clinics performing abortions are in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City and in Granite City, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.
A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Wednesday.
The ACLU of Missouri on Tuesday said that it is also seeking a statewide vote on the new abortion law. The group has submitted a referendum petition to the secretary of state’s office as a first step toward blocking and potentially repealing the law.
If the petition is approved for circulation, the ACLU would need to gather more than 100,000 signatures to block the law from taking effect and force a referendum in 2020.
It is a tactic similar to one used by unions in repealing right to work in 2017. After the state legislature passed the anti-union law, Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected the law in 2018.
Several Republican-controlled states, emboldened by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, have recently passed anti-abortion bills.
On May 15, Alabama’s governor signed a bill making the performance of an abortion a felony in nearly all cases.
Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have approved bans on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy. Similar restrictions in North Dakota and Iowa have been struck down in court.
Missouri has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, with a 72-hour waiting period.