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Missouri’s lone abortion clinic granted victory in license renewal fight

  

A year after the battle began, the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) granted the St. Louis Planned Parenthood its license renewal. 

In a 96-page decision handed down Friday, AHC Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi said Planned Parenthood demonstrated it met the requirements necessary to obtain license renewal, despite finding “violations of two provisions of law.” Although the state rejected the license in June last year, Dandamudi had issued a stay, allowing it to continue to operate, saying there was “likelihood” the facility would prevail. 

And on Friday, the clinic did. The decision said the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) “failed to raise an affirmative defense sufficient to justify [the] denial” of its license. Therefore, Planned Parenthood’s application to renew its license was granted. 

“For more than a year, Missouri’s health department has targeted Planned Parenthood,” Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of the St. Louis Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. “Today’s ruling is vindication for Planned Parenthood and our patients who rely on us. But the reality is, abortion has essentially become a right in name only in Missouri.” 

The strife began in May 2019 when the department declined to renew the St. Louis Planned Parenthood’s license, letting it expire before outright rejecting it. State health officials accused Planned Parenthood of violating regulations, leading to “botched abortions” and the hospitalizations of multiple patients. 

Health officials also requested to interview several doctors who work or have worked at the clinic as they investigated patient care. However, Planned Parenthood argued not all of the doctors were affiliated with the organization and did not provide some individuals for interviews. 

“Of course, if a facility refuses to cooperate or obstructs the Department’s investigation, it does not escape consequences,” Dandamudi’s decision said. “However, the Department does not need unlimited authority to determine a licensee’s qualifications for licensure, and instances of refusal or obstruction must be viewed in light of all the facts and circumstances before the Department. The simple fact that Planned Parenthood failed to ensure its contracted physicians submitted to interviews does not violate [state statute].”

As the order stated, the Planned Parenthood facility “does not directly employ physicians,” with the exception of its chief medical officer, Dr. Colleen McNicholas. Instead, it contracts with physicians from Washington University and Barnes Jewish Hospital, both in St. Louis.

Planned Parenthood has provided more than 4,251 abortions between Jan. 1, 2018 and its October hearing before the AHC, according to the decision.

“Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care. In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” the decision said. 

Those two instances where the AHC found Planned Parenthood did not comply with state statute were not elevated enough to warrant the denial of the license, the decision said. Those cases were: 

    • Failure to file a complication report for a patient in 2018 who underwent a “failed abortion”  
    • Failure to document the action the clinic took in regards to the treatment another patient received

“We found that those violations, individually, did not constitute a substantial failure to comply with [state statute], as is required to deny Planned Parenthood’s license renewal …,” Friday’s decision said. 

DHSS did not respond to a request for comment. The state can appeal the decision. 

“In a challenging time when we are all concerned about protecting the health and safety of our families, friends, co-workers, and communities, a single commissioner makes a ruling to allow the killing of innocent little lives by an uncaring abortion industry business,” Susan Klein, the executive director of Missouri Right to Life, said in a statement. “Apparently protecting the health and safety of women and unborn children is not a priority for him or them.” 

Klein asked Attorney General Eric Schmitt to “challenge this injustice.” 

The licensing fight over Missouri’s lone abortion clinic came on the heels of Gov. Mike Parson signing one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bills into law last year. The law has not yet been implemented due to pending litigation.