ST. LOUIS - A Missouri judge has agreed to allow the state’s last abortion facility to continue performing abortions until this Friday, while the clinic appeals the revocation of its license.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services rejected a license renewal request June 21 from Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, citing an “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations.”
Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer of the Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis ruled June 24 that the Planned Parenthood facility must take its appeal to the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission for review. Until then, it can continue to perform abortions.
“The Court has no authority to intercede in this matter until there has been a final decision by the AHC,” Stelzer wrote June 24.
The judge had previously granted the clinic a preliminary injunction allowing the facility to continue performing abortions until June 21, despite the state’s refusal to renew its license.
The facility had sued the state in May to be able to continue to perform abortions. The organization contends there is no valid reason for state rules mandating two pelvic exams before the administration of drugs that induce abortions. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.
A 2016 state report on an inspection of the facility, the most recent available through CheckMyClinic.org, shows that the clinic at that time was in violation of multiple state standards involving the sterilization and storing of equipment, and the proper documentation of medication and procedures.
In the DHSS' June 21 ruling, the department cited four botched abortions, one in which the mother developed sepsis and another in which the patient was hospitalized with life threatening complications.
The court’s preliminary injunction allowing the facility to continue performing abortions is set to expire at 5 pm June 28. Until then the clinic will have to make its case before the independent state commission.
One of the four commission members, former Macon County Associate Circuit Judge Philip Prewitt, has been reprimanded in the past by the Missouri Supreme Court for encouraging people to donate to a local pro-life pregnancy center, the AP reported. Prewitt told the AP that he would consider recusing himself from Planned Parenthood’s appeal.
In a separate case, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge David Dowd ruled June 14 that Missouri’s legislature cannot cut funding from the Planned Parenthood facility, after the facility argued that it not only provided abortions, but other health care services, according to a local Fox News affiliate. Missouri Governor Mike Parson said the decision will be appealed.
Parson signed a bill into law in May that punishes abortion doctors who perform abortions on a woman who is past eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies which seriously threaten the life or quality of life of the mother. The law does not penalize women who obtain abortions; it is set to go into effect Aug. 28.
Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis called the eight-week abortion ban “a giant step forward for the pro-life movement.”
Although the Planned Parenthood opertation is the last licensed “abortion facility” in the state, the law regulating abortion facilities in Missouri does not apply to hospitals. Several of the largest hospitals in St. Louis are operated by SSM Health, a Catholic health system that does not allow direct abortion.
Barnes Jewish Hospital’s Women and Infants Center in St. Louis, however, lists “pregnancy termination” as one of the services offered at the hospital. St. Louis Public Radio reported in 2017 that Barnes Jewish performs about 150 abortions per year, generally in the case of danger to the life of the mother or fetal abnormalities.
The pro-abortion research group Guttmacher Institute reports that around four percent of abortions are performed in hospitals.
Should the Planned Parenthood facility be barred from performing abortions, Missouri will be the only US state without a legal abortion facility. Despite this, there is a private surgical abortion facility close to St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Ill. In addition, a Planned Parenthood clinic 20 miles from St. Louis in Belleville, Ill. offers medication-induced abortion.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed this month a law vastly expanding abortion in Illinois.
Besides ending a ban on dilation and extraction, the law removes regulations for abortion facilities and ends required waiting periods to obtain an abortion; lifts criminal penalties for performing abortions and would prevent any further state regulation of abortion; requires all private health insurance plans to cover elective abortions, and eliminates abortion reporting requirements as well as regulations requiring the investigation of maternal deaths due to abortion. Illinois’ Catholic bishops have denounced the new law.
On the other side of the state, nearly half of all abortions performed in Kansas in 2017 were on Missouri residents, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Kansas has two licenced abortion facilities, one in Overland Park near Kansas City and one in Wichita.