Missouri Panel Wraps Hearing on Fate of Lone Abortion Clinic

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 on June 21, 2019. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP File)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – The closely watched hearing to decide whether Missouri’s sole abortion clinic can keep its license wrapped up Thursday with the emotional testimony of the clinic’s director of surgical services.

Speaking before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission, Kawanna Shannon broke into tears when describing making Planned Parenthood clients go through state-mandated pelvic exams, something the clinic deems medically unnecessary.

“You have women who were abused,” Shannon told reporters after the hearing. “You have children who were abused, and by that I mean children of age that have gotten pregnant, and to make them take off their clothes and to put instruments in them, put fingers in them, it’s unnecessary.

She added, “They already have to wait 72 hours. They already have to come more than once. … It breaks my heart that when I think that we have to lower our standards, our morals, our great care that we give every day just to make the state happy. That’s unacceptable.”

Shannon testified that the tone of the inspections from the Missouri Division of Health and Senior Services, which oversees the clinic’s license, abruptly changed in 2019 after years of largely positive and collaborative inspections.

“Basically it seemed as if they didn’t understand their own regulations, as if they didn’t understand the woman’s anatomy, the vagina area itself,” Shannon said. “Just asking questions that didn’t make sense…. It was really hard to manage my own job when I felt like I had to manage theirs as well.”

Under oath, Shannon said inspectors seemed to be on a mission to close down the St. Louis clinic. In one instance, she said an inspector tried to cite Planned Parenthood for the placement of a shelf that had been approved by the state the year before.

“We want to be inspected,” Shannon told reporters. “We want to be inspected correctly, truthfully and upright and that’s just the simple point that we’re trying to make today that we’re treated fairly. We feel like we haven’t, but we want to make sure that that starts happening and it needs to happen consistently.”

Attorneys for both sides officially ended their cases following Shannon’s testimony without any closing remarks. The dispute centers on Missouri’s attempts to revoke the St. Louis clinic’s license after an investigation into failed abortions.

The hearing was expected to last until late Friday afternoon, before Thursday’s abrupt ending. Final briefings are due by Feb. 7, 2020, and a decision on the clinic’s license is expected shortly thereafter.

Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, its director Dr. 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 patient complaints.

After several rounds of legal wrangling, St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled that the Administrative Hearing Commission was the proper venue for Planned Parenthood’s petition since it involved state licensing. AHC Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, who is overseeing the hearing, kept a preliminary injunction in place in June, keeping abortion services available at the clinic until a decision could be made.

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.

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