Missouri must pay more than $156,000 in attorneys’ fees after losing a court battle against Planned Parenthood over the revocation of its abortion license in Columbia, Missouri, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey on Monday awarded Planned Parenthood Great Plains (formerly Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri) all but $157.50 of the legal fees and expenses it sought after it prevailed in the case.
In May, Laughrey issued a permanent injunction blocking the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) from revoking Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions in its Columbia clinic.
Laughrey found that the department had submitted to political pressure when it sought to revoke the clinic’s license. She ruled that it violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by treating the clinic differently than other ambulatory surgical centers.
Afterward, Planned Parenthood, as the prevailing party, asked her to award it $156,788 in legal fees and expenses. DHSS argued that the amount should be reduced because Planned Parenthood didn’t actually benefit from her order. It said the clinic didn’t have a physician with admitting privileges to provide abortions, as required by Missouri law, so her ruling made no difference.
Laughrey rejected that argument, saying that by prevailing in the case, Planned Parenthood was able to retain its legal status as an ambulatory surgical center.
She also rejected the department’s claims that the legal fees were excessive – although she did reduce them by $157.50, representing a half-hour’s work by one of Planned Parenthood’s attorneys.
Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, says Laughrey’s ruling is further “confirmation that Planned Parenthood’s equal protection rights were violated by the state of Missouri.”
The ruling, she says, shows “not only that the law will work to protect access to safe and legal abortion in Missouri, but that the law will also provide accountability.”
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office, which defended DHSS in the case, declined to comment.
Despite Laughrey’s permanent injunction against the state, the Columbia clinic has not resumed providing abortion services.
Under pressure from Republican state lawmakers, the University of Missouri last September stripped hospital admitting privileges from the doctor providing abortion services at the Columbia clinic, Dr. Colleen McNicholas. The lawmakers questioned whether the university should have any ties to Planned Parenthood.
McNicholas has appealed the decision to the university, but it’s not clear her privileges will be restored.
McQuade says Planned Parenthood is considering “all legal avenues” to reintroduce abortion services in Columbia, but adds that is only one piece of the puzzle.
“We’re looking not only at immediate relief for the Columbia center but for the potential to roll back, more generally, admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical requirements in the state,” she says.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.