Missouri Officials Rule State’s Only Abortion Clinic Can Stay Open

An anti-abortion advocate attempts to solicit a motorist entering the parking lot of the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, the state’s last abortion clinic, on June 21, 2019. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP File)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – State officials decided Friday that Missouri’s lone abortion provider can keep its license for now, putting the closely watched legal battle on hold until late summer.

The Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission granted Planned Parenthood’s request for a stay of its license expiration until it holds another hearing in August.

“The issue of abortion entails great public interests for opponents and proponents,” Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi wrote in his eight-page order. “However, the only issue before us at this time is a motion to stay the expiration of a statutory license. Consequently, the public interest of our concern is the procedural due process of licensees to appeal the decisions of regulatory bodies. We find that granting this stay sufficiently protects that interest.”

Dr. Colleen McNicholas with Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region lauded the decision.

“We are relieved to have this last-minute reprieve, which means patients can continue accessing safe, legal abortion at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for the time being,” she said in a statement. “This has been a week-to-week fight for our patients and every Missourian who needs access to abortion care. There are two things that remain unchanged in Missouri: the uncertainty our patients face, and our will to continue fighting for their right to access safe, legal abortion.”

Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, its director Randall Williams and Republican 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.

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.

Had the Administrative Hearing Commission, or AHC, denied the stay, Planned Parenthood would have had to try to go back to court, either by filing an emergency writ for a stay in Cole County or by going back to St. Louis Circuit Court to ask for a stay.

“We are currently reviewing the decision by the ACH closely and determining our next steps,” said Chris Nuelle, a spokesperson for the Missouri attorney general’s office.

On Monday, St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer issued an order extending Planned Parenthood’s license through the end of the week to give the clinic time to appeal to the AHC.

Planned Parenthood immediately took its case to the AHC and asked for a stay of the license expiration until the matter is resolved. The next hearing before the AHC is scheduled for Aug. 1.

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.

Also on Friday, a federal judge in Indiana blocked the state’s ban on dilation and evacuation procedures, which is considered the safest and most common method of second-trimester abortions. The law was set to take effect Monday.

U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker granted a preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the measure, saying it would force physicians to “resort to alternatives that are medically riskier, more costly, less reliable, and in some instances simply unavailable, while accomplishing little more than expressing hostility towards the constitutionally fundamental right of women to control their own reproductive lives.”

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