JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson staunchly defended state health officials’ stalling on renewing the license for Missouri’s lone abortion provider, contending the conflict was over a “standard of care” issue, not his strong pro-life views.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the 22nd Circuit Court, requesting a temporary restraining order to allow the clinic to continue providing abortion services past Friday when its license is set to expire. Planned Parenthood representatives said it has been in a back-and-forth with Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) over state health officials’ demand to interview doctors at the facility amid an investigation into patient care.
A hearing had been scheduled Wednesday afternoon, but a judge postponed it until Thursday morning because of “circumstances no one could have foreseen,” a spokesman for the 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis told The Missouri Times.
But Parson, a Republican who gave his stamp of approval on one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion laws last week, pushed back on Planned Parenthood’s narrative Wednesday afternoon, telling reporters the clinic has failed to comply with state laws and has had multiple “deficiencies” in the practice.
Without a license renewal, the clinic will no longer be able to provide abortion services after Friday. However, certain hospitals across the state are able to provide abortions when medically necessary.
“It would be reckless for any judge to grant a temporary restraining order ruling before the state has taken action on a license renewal,” Parson said from the state Capitol. “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.”
“No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance. If you break the law, there are serious consequences.”
“If Planned Parenthood can show they’re abiding by laws and regulations here in Missouri, they should have every right under the law to have their license renewed and continue to provide patient services. But they should not receive any exceptions simply because they’re one clinic,” he said.
As Parson addressed reporters — one day after Planned Parenthood officials held their own media conference — he painted the facility as being “reluctant to cooperate with health department officials” and failing to fix “deficiencies” the state found.
Aside from remaining at loggerheads over interviews for the DHSS probe, Parson said the St. Louis clinic has at times failed to adhere to a law requiring the same doctor who signs a patient’s informed consent form also perform the abortion as well as a failure to comply with the required pelvic exam 72 hours before an abortion.
Parson contended “a number of serious health concerns” still exist at the facility, although he declined to go into specific details about the nature of those concerns or patient complaints, citing the ongoing investigation. However, he did allege some women have needed to return to the clinic after an abortion procedure failed and one woman needed to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery.
“If Planned Parenthood is following all Missouri laws governing abortion and operating a safe environment for women’s care, they shouldn’t have any issues cooperating with the standard and ordinary review required by state law,” he said.
Planned Parenthood has said it allowed its two physicians to sit for interviews on Friday. However, the other five are not official Planned Parenthood employees, the organization said.
Parson maintained the state is “entitled” to talk to those other doctors as well.
Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the request for interviews “inappropriate and suspicious interrogation” Tuesday. She also accused the state of having “weaponiz[ed] the licensing process.”
“It has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with politics,” Wen said during a press call.
DHSS has defended its position and released a timeline of events Wednesday afternoon.
“The unprecedented refusal by Planned Parenthood to fully cooperate as they have in the past heightens our regulators’ concerns about what their investigation has revealed to date,” Dr. Randall Williams, director of DHSS, said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the ACLU of Missouri submitted a referendum petition to Missouri’s secretary of state to bring the abortion law to voters. If the referendum successfully makes it through the process, it would require a statewide vote before the abortion law could go into effect.
Parson signed a sweeping abortion bill into law last week, effectively banning abortion after eight weeks and only including exemptions for medical emergencies. Doctors who violate the law, which goes into effect at the end of August, could potentially face up to 15 years in prison; women would not be prosecuted.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.