JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri officially denied a license to the state’s lone abortion clinic Friday ahead of a scheduled court hearing. The state health director also issued an emergency rule changing regulations regarding required pelvic exams before a surgical abortion.
The state and clinic have been entangled in a legal battle over the licensing for several weeks. Last month, state health officials allowed the license to lapse, declining to renew it as officials said Planned Parenthood refused to make several doctors available for interviews as part of a probe into potential wrongdoing.
After Planned Parenthood sued, Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court gave the state until June 21 to make a concrete decision about the license — renew or reject — and issued a preliminary injunction. It should be up to the Administrative Hearing Commission to oversee a case if the state denies the facility’s license, he said.
On Friday, the Department of Health and Senior Services officially rejected the application. If the court’s injunction is lifted, it will become the only state in the U.S. currently without an abortion provider. (However, the state’s hospitals are equipped to perform abortions in cases of medical emergencies.)
Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Missouri “weaponized public health to push [a] dangerous agenda.”
“As physicians, we take an oath to provide patients with respectful and compassionate care. Instead, Governor Parson’s invasive and unnecessary mandates have traumatized patients with immoral and unethical medicine,” she said. “That is his legacy, and he should be ashamed.”
The state has filed a more than 60-page report with the court, alleging 30 “deficient” practices, including some which investigators said led to failed abortion procedures leaving patients hospitalized.
Dr. Randall Williams, the DHSS director, said Planned Parenthood had only corrected four out of the 26 deficiencies, thus the license was officially denied.
“So it has made it a very difficult job for our regulators — in fact, unprecedented — to investigate the quality of care, if the people who took care of the patients won’t talk to us,” William said. “We feel we have a duty to prevent future harm, to prevent future accidents or bad outcomes from happening again, to make sure there’s not something systematically going on.”
Earlier this week, Planned Parenthood doctors said they would not comply with state regulations requiring a pelvic examination on patients during the informed consent process — to be held 72 hours before an abortion procedure. Instead, doctors said they would only conduct the exam at the time of the procedure.
Williams announced an emergency rule change to be filed Friday regarding required pelvic exams. He said the change would allow Planned Parenthood doctors to use their discretion on whether to do the exam 72 hours before the procedure or on the day of it if there’s a medical reason to wait. With this change, patients won’t potentially be subjected to two exams.
The rule change only affects surgical abortions. Medical abortions still require a pelvic exam 72 hours before the procedure, Williams said.
Despite media reports to the contrary, DHSS has maintained it does not require — nor does state law demand — two pelvic exams of a patient before an abortion procedure.
Health officials had defended the practice of requiring the exam during the informed consent process three days before an abortion to ensure a woman knew all the risks and information available before the procedure.
Last month, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed a law — set to go into effect in August — effectively banning abortions after eight weeks. It does not include exceptions for rape or incest, but it did have an emergency clause attached, meaning a portion of the bill went into effect immediately.
“We should all agree that, regardless of the number of Planned Parenthood facilities in Missouri, every step should be taken to ensure the protection, safety, and well-being of women’s healthcare,” Parson said Friday. “Planned Parenthood is losing its license because it failed to meet basic standards of care, placed multiple patients in life-threatening situations, performed multiple failed abortions where patients remained pregnant, and intentionally impeded the state’s health investigation by not allowing health inspectors to talk to the abortion doctors. If you don’t comply with the law, there will be consequences. If you don’t provide a standard of care that ensures the safety of women, you shouldn’t be allowed to operate. It’s that simple.”
He said if Planned Parenthood could “show it is abiding by the laws and regulations” imposed by the state, then the facility would have “every right, under the law, to have its license renewed.”
That provision requires both parents of a minor to be notified if she seeks an abortion and has been at the center of legal battles over multiple referendum petitions seeking to put the law to a vote of Missourians.
Planned Parenthood has scheduled a rally at the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City Saturday morning. The governor is in Europe on a trade mission trip.
This story will be updated throughout the day.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 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., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.