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Planned Parenthood allowed to continue abortion services while awaiting state panel hearing

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The St. Louis Planned Parenthood will be allowed to continue to provide abortion services to patients while its license renewal case awaits a hearing with the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC). 

Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, who has been assigned to the case, granted a motion to stay Friday — just hours before a judge’s preliminary injunction allowing Planned Parenthood to continue providing abortions was set to expire. A hearing in the case is scheduled for August 1

The Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region (RHS) has been ensnared in a legal battle with the state for a month as the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) has declined to renew its license. DHSS originally allowed the license to expire at the end of May but officially rejected it last week per a judge’s order. 

“The issue of abortion entails great public interests for opponents and proponents. However, the only issue before us at this time is a motion to stay the expiration of a statutory license,’ Dandamudi said. “Consequently, the public interest of our concern is the procedural due process of licensees to appeal the decisions of regulatory bodies. We find that granting this stay sufficiently protects that interest.” 

The license will remain in effect pending the outcome of the case before the AHC. DHSS declined to comment for this story.

“We are relieved to have this last-minute reprieve, which means patients can continue accessing safe, legal abortion at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for the time being,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN at the clinic, said in a statement. “This has been a week-to-week fight for our patients and every Missourian who needs access to abortion care. There are two things that remain unchanged in Missouri: the uncertainty our patients face, and our will to continue fighting for their right to access safe, legal abortion.”

The licensing fight stems from state health officials’ request to interview several doctors who work or have worked at the St. Louis abortion clinic as they investigate patient care. However, Planned Parenthood argued not all of the doctors are affiliated with the organization and would only provide its doctors for interviews. 

DHSS also filed a more than 60-page report with the court, alleging 30 “deficient” practices found at the facility, including some which investigators said led to failed abortion procedures leaving patients hospitalized. 

Dandamudi said the commission has already found “there is likelihood that RHS will succeed in its claim” because “our review of the applicable statutes and rules finds no provision that affirmatively provides an obligation for DHSS to make, or RHS to procure, such interviews.” 

“[T]he absense of these interviews in itself does not constitute a failure to comply with licensure requirements,” Dandamudi wrote in the motion. 

Without intervention from the AHC Friday, Missouri would have become the only state in the U.S. without an abortion clinic. However, hospitals are able to provide abortion services in cases of medical emergencies. 

The AHC conducts hearings and oversees cases involving state agencies and private citizens. Nixon appointed three of the people who sit on the four-person panel. Gov. Mike Parson recently appointed Philip Prewitt, who has been lauded by anti-abortion groups, to the commission. Since Prewitt was appointed while the General Assembly was not in session, he will be able to serve on the commission prior to receiving consent from the state Senate. 

Dandamudi is a former assistant attorney general for Missouri and has represented multiple professional licensing boards, such as the State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts, where he ultimately served as general counsel. He also served as a faculty member for the Federation of State Medical Boards for its Board Attorneys Workshops. 

The licensing fight over Missouri’s lone abortion clinic comes on the heels of Parson, a Republican, signing one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bills into law in May. While it’s not set to go into effect until August, the measure bans abortions after eight weeks and includes many “nestled” components to include restrictions at 14, 18, and 20 weeks should a court overturn a portion of the law.