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St. Louis judge gives state deadline to make decision on Planned Parenthood’s license

A St. Louis judge granted a preliminary injunction Monday afternoon, allowing Missouri’s lone abortion provider to continue operating after the state declined to renew its license at the end of May.

Judge Michael Stelzer of the 22nd Circuit Court issued the preliminary injunction and gave the state’s 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. He said the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) must actually make a concrete decision regarding the licensure of the facility, instead of just letting it lapse. 

The abortion clinic and DHSS have been entangled in a legal dispute over the facility’s license for several weeks. The licensing fight hinges on the request from the state for the facility to make all doctors at the clinic — even those who aren’t affiliated with Planned Parenthood — subject to interviews for an investigation.

The St. Louis facility is the lone abortion provider in the state. If it ceased to operate, Missouri would be the only state in the U.S. with such a facility.

“It is important to note that this Court does not issue advisory opinions and thus issues no opinion as to whether Petitioner’s application to renew its license should be approved or denied,” Stelzer wrote. “The authority to make that decision rests exclusively with the Department of Health and Senior Services.”

Stelzer has set a status conference hearing for the morning of June 21.

“Today’s ruling gives doctors like me the ability to wake up tomorrow and continue providing safe, legal abortion in the last health center in the state that provides abortion care,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN at the clinic, said in a statement. “For patients, that means, for now, they can continue to make decisions about their bodies, lives, and future in their home state.”

McNicholas and Dr. Leana Wen, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, both stressed the “fight is far from over” ahead of a stringent new abortion law set to go into effect in August.

The back-and-forth between the state and the 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.

The ACLU of Missouri and David Humphreys, a Republican megadonor who took issue with the lack of exceptions, have filed multiple referendums seeking to put HB 126 to a vote. So far, the state has struck down two of the three referendums; both parties have filed lawsuits.