Judge quells subpoenas of abortion clinic doctors, sets hearing for whether lone facility can remain operational

  

A circuit court judge said the state cannot compel a group of doctors who worked at Missouri’s lone abortion clinic to testify as he set a hearing regarding whether the facility can remain operational.  

Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court quashed the subpoenas issued to four “non-party resident physicians” who have worked at the clinic and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday morning. The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis has been embroiled in a lawsuit with the state in the past week over a fight regarding its license renewal.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Mike Parson said witnesses’ testimonies were rendered “unnecessary” as the judge narrowed the scope of the hearing.

“Should the case proceed on the merits at a later date, we fully expect these subpoenas to be reissued so that the witnesses may be called to testify,” Kelli Jones, the deputy communications director, told The Missouri Times.

The Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region sued the state as it has been in a back-and-forth with Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) over health officials’ demand to interview doctors at the facility amid an investigation into patient care. Wednesday’s hearing will center on its license renewal. 

The clinic’s license expired at midnight Friday, but Stelzer issued a temporary restraining order last week — allowing the clinic to continue to provide abortion services.

If the clinic is forced to shutter its abortion services, Missouri would be the lone state in the U.S. without an abortion facility. Hospitals are, however, able to perform abortions when medically necessary.

DHSS held up renewing the abortion clinic’s license, and state health officials demanded to interview seven doctors who work or worked at the facility. However, Planned Parenthood said only two were actual employees; the other doctors either worked on contract or were completing training fellowships, officials said. 

“Planned Parenthood is also relieved that doctors in training will not have to come to court and face the unwarranted harassment we’ve long said is inappropriate. We look forward to another day in this fight — for our patients and for the doctors who provide safe, legal abortion,” Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN at the clinic, said in a statement Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, DHSS has said it was investigating a patient complaint. But Parson, a Republican, said officials had a “number of serious health concerns” about the facility.

He 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, among other things. In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said it submitted a plan for correction with the state.

He also alleged 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.

Missourians on both sides of the abortion debate have descended on St. Louis in recent days, demonstrating either in support of Planned Parenthood or protesting abortion in general.

The fight over the state’s lone abortion clinic comes a week after Parson signed a sweeping abortion bill into law, effectively banning the procedure 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.