This is a developing story and will be updated.
The only abortion provider in Missouri has lost its license but the clinic’s future remains unclear as a court hearing is underway in St. Louis Friday morning.
Citing patient safety concerns, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services on Friday declined to renew a Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions in St. Louis. Officials said some abortions were not performed properly and failed.
“While Gov. Parson and his political cronies are on the wrong side of history, nothing changes right now for patients who need access to abortion at Planned Parenthood,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at the clinic. “We will continue providing abortion care for as long as the court protects our ability to do so.”
McNicholas also said: “This decision signals the true motive behind this license renewal mess that has left patients in limbo, uncertain about their health care — to ban abortion without ever overturning Roe v. Wade. Shame on Gov. Parson and DHSS Director Randall Williams.”
Williams has scheduled a noon news conference in Jefferson City to discuss the case.
The state agency made the decision after Planned Parenthood took the state to court over the license renewal. Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer earlier this month ordered DHSS to either reject or renew the clinic’s license by Friday.
If it closes, Missouri will become the only state that doesn’t have an abortion clinic.
The disagreement over the clinic’s license has resulted in a high-profile court case that’s received national attention, just weeks after Missouri made headlines as one of several states to pass restrictive abortion legislation this year. The court case is not related to the new law which bans most abortions after eight weeks.
Planned Parenthood sued the state after it refused to renew its annual license. Department officials said they needed to interview physicians who worked at the clinic about instances of care they said compromised patient safety. Those physicians refused to be interviewed citing confidentiality and other concerns, and the state then said it couldn’t sign off on the renewed license.
Planned Parenthood representatives accused the state of conducting a vague investigation that was a misuse of the state’s regulatory power. In the lawsuit, the organization asked the judge to bar the state from using the interviews as part of the license renewal process and to declare DHSS’s investigation unlawful.
A preliminary injunction is keeping the St. Louis clinic’s license in place until the judge makes a more permanent decision. As part of that injunction ruling, Stelzer said the state needed to make a decision to renew or reject the license before Friday. A status hearing was ongoing Friday morning.
Once the state makes a decision, the fate of the clinic is back in the hands of the court, Planned Parenthood’s lawyers have said.
The judge could tell the two parties to hash out the dispute before the Administrative Hearing Commission, a government board that resolves disputes between regulators and private citizens and companies.
He could also choose to hear the case on several other issues in the lawsuit, including an accusation that the state’s actions violate equal protection and due process laws, attorneys said.
The lawsuit is about more than simply getting the clinic’s license back, said Me’vie Mead, Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri.
“What this case is about is not just Missouri, it’s about our sister affiliates in other states across the country who might also be experiencing politically motivated regulatory restrictions,” she said. “We need to open our eyes that the politicians have gone well beyond their role in the state legislature with laws – while those are very extreme and they’re pursuing them in my state in a very extreme fashion — they won’t even stop at that. They’re politicizing the regulatory process.”
Gov. Parson has said issuing an injunction that kept the clinic open would be “reckless.”
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