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Planned Parenthood allowed to continue abortion services in Missouri, judge rules

The lone abortion clinic in Missouri can continue to operate as a St. Louis judge granted it a temporary restraining order, just hours before its license was set to expire.

The St. Louis clinic has been in a back-and-forth with Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) over state health officials’ demand to interview doctors at the facility amid an investigation into patient care. The Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region’s license was set to expire at midnight Friday.

Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court ruled in favor of the temporary restraining order Friday afternoon. He set a preliminary injunction hearing for Tuesday, June 4.

Without the court’s interference, Missouri would have become the only state in the U.S. without an abortion facility since the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. However, certain hospitals across the state are able to provide abortions when medically necessary.

“Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over,” said Planned Parenthood Federation of America Leana Wen. “We have seen just how vulnerable access to abortion care is here — and in the rest of the country. We are glad that the governor has been prevented from putting women’s health and lives in danger — for now — and call on him to stop this egregious politicalization of public health in an attempt to ban all safe, legal abortion care in the state.”

“Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over.”

“This is a huge sigh of relief for the many patients who need access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri. The fight goes on. While temporary, we celebrate today, and tomorrow we go back to work to ensure access to abortion does not go dark at the last health center that provides abortion in Missouri,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN at the clinic, said in a statement. “Our doors are open today, our doors will be open tomorrow, and we will fight to make sure all patients continue to receive the care they need and deserve.”

DHSS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

“Following today’s ruling, the State will soon have the opportunity for a prompt legal review of our state health regulators’ serious health and safety concerns regarding Planned Parenthood’s abortion facility in St. Louis,” Gov. Mike Parson said in a statement to The Missouri Times. “We are committed to and take seriously our duty to ensure that all health facilities in Missouri follow the law, abide by regulations, and protect the safety of patients.”

Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit in the 22nd Circuit Court earlier this week as it rejected state health officials’ demands to interview some of the doctors who work at the clinic as they are not official Planned Parenthood employees. Those doctors either work on contract with the facility or are completing training fellowships, according to the lawsuit.

Parson pushed back during a Thursday press conference, telling reporters the clinic has failed to comply with state laws and has had multiple “deficiencies” in the practice.

He warned it would be “reckless” for a judge to grant the restraining order.

“No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance. If you break the law, there are serious consequences,” Parson said. “If you don’t provide a standard of care that ensures the safety of women, you shouldn’t be allowed to operate.”

According to Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit, DHSS said it was investigating a patient complaint. Parson said health officials had “a number of serious health concerns” about the facility.

He said the St. Louis clinic has at times failed to adhere to a law requiring the same doctor who signs a patient’s informed consent form also perform the abortion as well as a failure to comply with the required pelvic exam 72 hours before an abortion. In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said it submitted a plan for correction with the state.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, who represents the area, said she was pleased with the court’s decision Friday but noted the “fight is not over.”

“The closing of the St. Louis facility would not only jeopardize Missouri women’s constitutional rights to access an abortion, but it would also put their lives at risk,” Nasheed said. “I believe we must stop limiting women’s access to choose and receive a safe, medical procedure.”

“We want our patients to know that we will never abandon the women of Missouri. We will keep fighting these attempts to end access to health care, to ensure all people can get the care that they need — no matter what,” Wen said.

But abortion opponents admonished the court’s action Friday.

“The disconnect between Planned Parenthood’s belief that providing abortions at all costs, even if that means ignoring health and safety measures, and the health of the patient is enormous,” Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood director who has since become an anti-abortion activist, said in a statement. “Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is in danger of losing their license because of their own reluctance to address common sense regulations. Blaming their problem on access to abortion is intentionally turning away from the real issue.”

Ahead of the ruling, pro-choice activists descended upon St. Louis to demonstrate in favor of reproductive rights and allowing the clinic to continue to provide abortion services and several confronted Parson while he was in town. About a dozen people were arrested throughout the day Thursday.

The fight over the state’s lone abortion clinic comes a week after Parson signed a sweeping abortion bill into law, effectively banning abortion after eight weeks and only including exemptions for medical emergencies. Doctors who violate the law, which goes into effect at the end of August, could potentially face up to 15 years in prison; women would not be prosecuted.