ST. LOUIS - Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis granted the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic a preliminary injunction Monday, allowing the state’s only abortion clinic to remain open until June 21, despite the state’s initial refusal to renew its license to perform abortions.
The judge said June 10 the authority to grant or deny the clinic’s license rests with the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, and that the clinic is entitled to a decision on its status one way or another. He did not rule on the merits of the case, but issued a ruling that he said “merely maintains the status quo” until the appropriate authority – i.e. the DHSS – can make a final decision on the abortion facility’s status.
The court’s order mandates that the DHSS issue a decision on the renewal of Planned Parenthood’s license “without undue delay but no later than June 21,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region had sued the state in late May to be able to continue to perform abortions – despite the state’s failure to renew the clinic’s license – arguing that the state had delayed the license in order to investigate “an unspecified patient complaint,” the Post-Dispatch reports.
The license of the Planned Parenthood clinic in question was set to expire May 31, but the clinic was able to secure a restraining order from Stelzer last week.
The state had issued subpoenas in an effort to speak with seven doctors who had worked at the facility. Two staff doctors agreed to interviews with health officials, but the others, who were not employees of the clinic, refused. Judge Stelzer threw out the subpoena of those five doctors as an “undue burden” June 4.
The state has cited numerous medical violations in its refusal to grant the St. Louis facility its license. Planned Parenthood representatives said they had done everything possible to comply with state requirements.
A 2016 state report on an inspection of the clinic, 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.
Although the Planned Parenthood clinic is the last licensed “abortion facility” in the state, the law regulating abortion clinics 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.
In addition, while the clinic is the last abortion facility in Missouri, there is a private surgical abortion clinic near 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. 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.
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.
A recent law passed in Missouri outlawing abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy will restrict hospitals’ ability to perform abortions should it come into effect Aug. 28 as planned.
Judge Stelzer set a date and time of 9 am June 21 for a status conference to announce the state’s licensing decision for the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. He said Planned Parenthood is entitled to a review of the decision by a state licensing commission.