Lawyers from Planned Parenthood and the state of Missouri will face off Monday in a hearing that could decide the fate of the state’s last clinic providing abortions.
A member of the Administrative Hearing Commission, a nonpartisan state tribunal that resolves regulatory disputes, will decide if the state broke the law when it denied the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic its license earlier this year.
If Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi rules against the clinic, Missouri could become the first state without an abortion provider since the landmark Roe. v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortions in the U.S.
In May, Planned Parenthood lawyers sued the state in circuit court over the license refusal, which they say was an effort by the administration of Republican Gov. Mike Parson to restrict access to abortion. But in June, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer said he couldn’t hear the case until the dispute was taken to the state commission.
Dandamudi, who will hear the dispute, extended the clinic’s license in June, which allowed it to stay open until the commission finished its deliberations.
Officials from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency that oversees the clinic, said they were concerned over “failed abortions” in which patients needed to be transferred to nearby hospitals for treatment. Officials were enforcing safety protocols, not politics, said health department Director Randall Williams, an OB-GYN.
The commission has set aside an entire week for the hearing, which will take place at state offices in the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis. Witnesses called by both sides will testify before Dandamudi. It’s unknown when he will make his decision.
The commission’s staff members are preparing for high-profile proceedings that may include demonstrations and national media attention.
Planned Parenthood opened a clinic that offers both surgical and medication abortions in Fairview Heights, Illinois, partially because the organization anticipated further restrictions taking hold across state lines in Missouri.
Even with the new clinic, the stakes are high, said Yamelsi Rodriguez, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
“If the state denies Planned Parenthood its abortion license, 1.1 million women of reproductive age in Missouri will experience firsthand a post-Roe reality,” she said. “Some of these witnesses are the same people who weaponized Missouri’s health-center inspections process to try to end access to abortion.”
Planned Parenthood also has asked a federal judge to overturn Missouri's law banning most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.
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