Planned Parenthood can continue performing abortions at its St. Louis clinic for now, a Missouri commission said Friday, while the organization appeals the state health department’s decision to deny a renewal of its abortion facility license.
This is the latest in a series of reprieves that the clinic — the only one currently allowed to provide abortions in Missouri — has received in recent days as it has fought to stay open.
Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commission effectively extended the clinic’s license Friday, granting Planned Parenthood’s request that the commission stay the state health department’s decision to deny the renewal until Planned Parenthood’s appeal can be heard.
The commission, an independent hearing officer for the state, is set to hear Planned Parenthood’s appeal on August 1.
“(Planned Parenthood) has an active license that shall remain in effect for the pendency of (the) case at this commission,” Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi wrote in Friday’s decision.
If the clinic loses its license, Missouri will become the first state without an abortion clinic in almost 50 years.
“We are relieved to have this last-minute reprieve, which means patients can continue accessing safe, legal abortion at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for the time being,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician and gynecologist with reproductive health services at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said Friday.
“This has been a week-to-week fight for our patients and every Missourian who needs access to abortion care. There are two things that remain unchanged in Missouri: the uncertainty our patients face, and our will to continue fighting for their right to access safe, legal abortion,” she said.
The license renewal was rejected this month, but court orders kept the clinic open
Friday’s decision comes after Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced June 21 that it rejected the clinic’s license renewal.
The license rejection applied only to abortions, not the other services offered by Planned Parenthood, according to department Director Randall Williams.
The license expired May 31. A judge had granted an injunction that let the facility keep performing abortions until that June 21 decision, and then kept the injunction in place until 5 p.m. CT Friday — giving Planned Parenthood time to seek, and ultimately receive, the temporary reprieve from the state AHC.
Williams said his department did not re-up the license because Planned Parenthood failed to correct 26 of 30 deficiencies found by regulators, and abortion doctors refused to cooperate in the investigation. In one case, a patient had three abortion-related services in three days, Williams said: An unsuccessful surgical procedure was followed by an unsuccessful medical procedure and then by another surgery. Another patient had an abortion that failed, he said.
McNicholas, the Planned Parenthood physician, previously told CNN that the department is trying “to distort the safety record” of the clinic to distract from its true goal of shutting down abortions.
McNicholas said that patient confidentiality laws prevent her from discussing cases but that the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic had a complication rate lower than 1% among the 3,000 to 5,000 abortions it performs in a year. “The risk of complications is incredibly low,” she said.
In May, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed into law a bill banning abortions at eight weeks, including instances in which a woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy resulting from incest and/or rape. The law, which includes exceptions for when a mother’s life is at risk or when she faces a serious permanent injury, is scheduled to take effect August 28.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri called the bill’s signing a “horrific blow” to health care in the state and promised to explore options, including litigation, to stop the law from going into effect.
Throughout 2019, states have mounted challenges to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal in all 50 states. Alabama’s governor last month signed one the most restrictive of bills, in that it bans virtually all abortions and could send doctors to prison for life if they perform the procedure. That law, slated to go into effect this fall, is being challenged in court.