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St. Louis judge denies state’s request to reconsider Planned Parenthood decision

A St. Louis judge has denied the state’s request for him to reconsider an earlier order requiring the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) make a formal decision on whether to renew St. Louis Planned Parenthood’s license.

Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court denied the request Monday to reconsider and granted Planned Parenthood’s request to seal a “statement of deficiencies” filed by DHSS. The more than 60-page document, obtained by The Missouri Times last week, details 30 alleged “deficient practices” — including multiple failed abortions which resulted in medical emergencies — found by state investigators. 

A DHSS spokeswoman declined to comment on the judge’s latest order.

Stelzer last week issued a preliminary injunction and gave Missouri health officials until June 21 to issue a decision on the license for the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region (RHS). He said DHSS must actually make a concrete decision regarding the licensure of the facility, instead of just letting it lapse as it did at the end of May.

But DHSS had argued it did not need to take further action in order for the license renewal issue to be taken up by the Administrative Hearing Commission, the tribunal that would oversee such a case. The failed motion argued, “Additional action by the Department is not necessary to ripen the dispute for administrative review.”  

The legal back-and-forth between the state and the Planned Parenthood facility — the lone abortion clinic in Missouri — has stemmed from a battle over its license. DHSS declined to renew its license, allowing it to expire on May 31. State health officials said they wanted to interview seven doctors who have worked or are working at the clinic, as they investigate patient care.

Planned Parenthood said not all of the doctors are associated with the organization and would only make its doctors available to the state. Stelzer initially approved a temporary restraining order and gave state until June 21 to make a decision on the clinic’s license. He set a status conference hearing for that morning and confirmed Monday that it still remains scheduled.

In legal filings, state health officials maintained three of the five doctors who have not submitted to interviews are still affiliated with and perform abortions at the St. Louis clinic.

“This ongoing lack of cooperation has obstructed the Department’s ability to complete its factual investigation,” the state has said. “Moreover, the progress of this litigation and the statements of RHS’s counsel in open court have made clear that (1) there is no reasonable prospect that any of the five physicians will cooperate in the foreseeable future; and (2) RHS has taken, and will take, no affirmative steps to encourage, induce, or pressure its physicians to cooperate.”

Should the clinic no longer provide abortions, Missouri would become the only state in the U.S. without such a provider. However, Missouri hospitals are equipped to provide abortions in cases of medical emergencies.

The seesaw between the state and clinic came on the heels of the governor signing one of the most restrictive abortion bills in the nation into law last month, banning abortions after eight weeks. It does not include exemptions for victims of rape and incest.

In a separate case, another 22nd Circuit Court judge ruled last week that the state legislature could not block funding from Planned Parenthood facilities in Missouri. There are 11 Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri, but only the one in St. Louis provides abortion services, according to the organization.

The state is expected to appeal last week’s ruling.