Missouri Judge Saves State’s Only Abortion Clinic

Abortion-rights supporters march Thursday in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – Missouri’s lone abortion clinic will stay open for now after a St. Louis judge issued a restraining order Friday afternoon requiring the state to renew its license.

“Petitioner has demonstrated that immediate and irreparable injury will result if petitioner’s license is allowed to expire,” St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer wrote in the four-page order.

A hearing is set for June 4 to consider a preliminary injunction.

Had Stelzer ruled against Planned Parenthood, Missouri would have become the first state without an abortion provider 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 Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, its director Randall Williams, and Republican Governor Mike Parson on Tuesday, seeking injunctive relief with its license set to expire at midnight on Friday. It claimed that that state was illegally refusing to renew the St. Louis clinic’s abortion license until it could complete an investigation into an unspecified patient complaint.

An email seeking comment from Parson’s office was not immediately returned.

In making his decision, Stelzer weighed whether the department’s interpretation of state rules for renewing licenses conflicts with Missouri law, and if a failure to renew Planned Parenthood’s license interferes with a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

On Thursday, the judge heard arguments from lawyers for both sides.

“People need to remember that the Missouri Legislature and Governor Parson just passed the most extreme ban on abortion in Missouri and before that ban can even take effect the state is eagerly moving to ban abortion in the state through the weaponized regulatory process,” M’Evie Mead, the director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, told reporters after the hearing. “That is what is going on here.”

Central to the state’s argument for license denial is that five of seven physicians have refused to be interviewed as part of the investigation. Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that those five doctors do not work for the clinic, but instead for local university medical programs, and therefore cannot be compelled to cooperate.

Attorneys for the state countered that such a refusal to cooperate is unprecedented and that the clinic has a burden to force their participation.

In meeting with reporters this week, Parson cited three failed abortions at the St. Louis clinic and one patient requiring emergency transport to a hospital.

“It would be reckless for any judge to grant a temporary restraining order ruling before the state has taken action in a license renewal,” Parson said. “No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance. If you break the law, there are serious consequences. If you don’t provide a standard of care that ensures the safety of women, you shouldn’t be allowed to operate. It’s that simple.”

Parson, a Republican, signed a bill last Friday 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.

Several Republican-controlled states, emboldened by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, have recently passed anti-abortion bills.

Two weeks ago, 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 in addition to the impending eight-week ban.

St. Louis police arrested city alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green and several board members of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region on Thursday afternoon following a protest over Missouri’s new abortion law and the state’s attempt to close the abortion clinic.

The group sat down in the lobby of the Wainwright State Office Building in downtown St. Louis. Police began arresting them one by one after they refused orders to leave.

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