JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has been forbidden from revoking the abortion license of the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic.
In a decision Monday, U.S. District Judge Janette Laughery determined that the Planned Parenthood clinic was treated unfairly for the type of services it provides.
“The Equal Protection Clause prohibits the government from irrationally discriminating between similarly situated entities,” Laughery wrote in her ruling. “Having reviewed the evidentiary record, the Court finds that it is likely that DHSS treated PPKM more harshly than other similarly situated institutions and thereby violated the Equal Protection Clause.”
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Laura McQuade lauded the decision.
“Judge Laughrey’s decision affirms the state of Missouri violated the Equal Protection Clause by treating PPKM’s Columbia facility differently than other Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASCs) based on the work our dedicated staff does there,” McQuade said in a statement.
“The court’s decision, and the judicial system, sees this as the political game that it is,” she later added.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, also a candidate for attorney general, led the fight to revoke the license, and Laughery said Schaefer’s vocal involvement in the effort may have undermined it.
“The record also reflects that PPKM was treated disparately as a result of animus toward PPKM,” Laughery wrote. “Mr. [John] Langston… who has responsibility over ASCs at DHSS and whose staff would normally be in charge of generating notices of deficiencies and overseeing plans of correction submitted by ASCs… suggested that DHSS feared retaliation from Senator Schaefer if it did not act in accordance with the senator’s goals, as Senator Schaefer both chaired the Senate Interim Committee on Sanctity of Life and sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.”
“Let this victory show, political games do not pass muster,” McQuade said. “We will continue to do everything we can to place a physician in our Columbia health center and provide abortions there.”
The saga surrounding Planned Parenthood in Missouri began in July when the Center for Medical Progress released video tapes alleging that the organization was trafficking fetal tissue illegally and for large profit. The accusations caused an uproar in anti-abortion circles and set the organization in the sights of conservatives.
The Missouri Senate Sanctity of Life was formed shortly afterwards with Schaefer as its chair and over the course of a few months, Schaefer and others urged the University of Missouri to revoke the refer-and-follow privileges of Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the doctor who performed abortions at the Columbia, granted to her by the University of Missouri Hospital. They did so in September with the privileges set to expire Dec. 1.
While the privileges did expire, the DHSS scheduled to pull the ASC license at the same time. Planned Parenthood filed their lawsuit, Laughrey heard testimony before the holidays, and then Monday’s ruling was released.
A final resolution to the case will come on May 1, 2016, after Planned Parenthood has had what Laughery deemed sufficient time to clear the administrative hurdles of meeting the standards for ASC licensure, which she noted most ASCs had an opportunity to do before the license was revoked.
McQuade relayed that the University of Missouri Hospital had already accepted (but not yet approved) McNicholas’ application for newer, more complete privileges and that she had begun the application for Boone Hospital as well. McQuade added they were also exploring other possible avenues to get a privileged doctor at the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Columbia, the most prevalent of which is finding a doctor already practicing in Columbia willing to join the Planned Parenthood staff.
The Planned Parenthood leader said she was unsure whether or not the state would appeal the court’s decision, but it seems unlikely Attorney General Chris Koster, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor in 2016 and , would pursue such action. McQuade added that earning victory from an impartial source proved that the legislators who tried to stop the abortion practices were not on the right side of the law.
“It was never about health and safety,” she said. “It was about closing down an abortion provider in the state of Missouri.”