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DHSS asks judge to reconsider in St. Louis Planned Parenthood case, cites ‘deficiencies’ with clinic

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri health officials are asking a judge to reconsider his order for the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to make a formal decision on whether to renew a St. Louis Planned Parenthood’s license, citing alleged “deficiencies.”

Earlier this week, Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court issued a preliminary injunction and gave Missouri health officials until June 21 to issue a decision on the license for the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region (RHS). He said DHSS must actually make a concrete decision regarding the licensure of the facility, instead of just letting it lapse as it did at the end of May.

DHSS pushed back against the ruling Thursday, saying it has filed a motion to reconsider and submitted “Planned Parenthood’s Statement of Deficiencies,” citing “30 deficient practices arising from our complaint investigation,” in the filing obtained by The Missouri Times. It asked for a plan of correction from RHS that directly addresses each issue. 

The deficiencies DHSS alleged include several failed abortion attempts. Specifically, DHSS cited:

  • A failed pelvic exam of a patient which led to two failed abortion attempts
  • No complication report submitted to DHSS after the failed abortions as required by law
  • Another failed abortion attempt resulted in a patient being hospitalized after she became septic
  • Deviation from standard care that resulted in a patient becoming hospitalized and listed as in “critically ill” as she lost more than two liters of blood and needed a uterine artery embolization
  • Failure to conduct proper pelvic exams or give informed consent to multiple patients

The entire statement of deficiencies is more than 60 pages.

DHSS previously publicly revealed a lab contracted by the facility lost its accreditation earlier this year. A College of American Pathologists (CAP) said the lab is in the process of applying for accreditation again and has been forthcoming about issues with compliance with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Jesse Lawder, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson, said the organization is “reviewing the state’s latest political attempt to shut down the last legal abortion provider in Missouri.”

“When the health care regulatory process is hijacked, politicians like Gov. Parson erode our trust in the health care system. The American College of Physicians calls it ‘an abuse of regulatory authority’ and that’s exactly what it is,” Lawder told The Missouri Times. “From the start, Gov. Parson and DHSS Director Randall Williams have attempted to advance a political agenda, weaponizing the inspection process, and we have no reason to believe this is any different.”

In its motion to reconsider, DHSS argued it does not need to take further action in order for the license renewal issue to be taken up by the Administrative Hearing Commission, the tribunal that would oversee such a case. The motion argued “additional action by the Department is not necessary to ripen the dispute for administrative review.”  

The legal back-and-forth between the state and the Planned Parenthood facility — the lone abortion clinic in Missouri — has stemmed from a battle over its license. DHSS declined to renew its license, allowing it to expire on May 31. State health officials said they wanted to interview seven doctors who have worked or are working at the clinic, most of who are not affiliated with Planned Parenthood, as they investigate patient care.

Planned Parenthood said it would only make its doctors available to the state and sued. Stelzer initially approved a temporary restraining order before giving the state until June 21 to make a decision on the clinic’s license. He set a status conference hearing for that morning.

However, should Stelzer not grant the motion to reconsider, DHSS said it is “taking steps in good faith to ensure its ability to comply with the Court’s Order on an accelerated basis.”

In legal filings, state health officials maintain three of the five doctors who have not submitted to interviews are still affiliated with and perform abortions at the St. Louis clinic.

“This ongoing lack of cooperation has obstructed the Department’s ability to complete its factual investigation,” the state has said. “Moreover, the progress of this litigation and the statements of RHS’s counsel in open court have made clear that (1) there is no reasonable prospect that any of the five physicians will cooperate in the foreseeable future; and (2) RHS has taken, and will take, no affirmative steps to encourage, induce, or pressure its physicians to cooperate.”

Dr. Leana Wen president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the request for interviews “inappropriate and suspicious interrogation” with no protections for the physicians.

“As a former health commissioner and public health official, I have no other words to describe what is happening then the weaponization of the licensing process,” she told reporters. “It has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with politics.”

Should the clinic no longer provide abortions, Missouri would become the only state in the U.S. without such a provider. However, hospitals across the state are equipped to provide abortions in cases of medical emergencies.

The seesaw between the state and clinic came on the heels of the governor signing one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the nation into law last month, banning abortions after eight weeks. It does not include exemptions for victims of rape and incest.

The ACLU of Missouri and David Humphreys, a Republican megadonor who took issue with the lack of exceptions, have filed multiple referendums seeking to put HB 126 to a vote. So far, the state has struck down two of the three referendums; both parties have filed lawsuits.