ST. LOUIS (CN) – A Missouri judge issued an order Monday extending Planned Parenthood’s license through the end of the week, giving the state’s only abortion clinic time to appeal its licensing denial on the administrative level.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer’s ruling came after a brief hearing Friday morning held about 30 minutes after the state health department gave official notice that it decided not to renew the license for Planned Parenthood of St. Louis.
“Because respondents have now provided petitioner with an official decision, the court finds that any further relief sought by petitioner must be first addressed at the administrative level,” his four-page order states.
The ruling extends the abortion license until Friday at 5 p.m. giving the clinic several days to appeal to the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission for further consideration and possible injunctive relief.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas with Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region said in a statement Monday that the “terrifying reality is that access is hanging on by a thread with a narrowing timeline.”
“The truth is, if the Administrative Hearing Commission does not act by Friday, abortion access in the state of Missouri will be gone,” she said. “This creates uncertainty for the patients we serve. The Department of Health and Senior Services director, Randall Williams, has already proven himself to be harmful to Missourians. His admission that he forced women to undergo medically unnecessary pelvic exams is proof that this state is on a destructive path against Missouri women.”
Chris Nuelle, a spokesperson for the Missouri attorney general’s office, declined to comment, citing the department’s policy on discussing pending litigation. He noted that the department’s attorneys are ready to defend state law.
If the license denial is ultimately allowed, 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.
Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Williams and Governor Mike Parson in May, 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.
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.