Missouri's Only Abortion Clinic Awaits Court Decision After State Denies License

Planned Parenthood will continue providing abortions at least until a St. Louis judge issues a ruling in the clinic's legal battle with the state Department of Health and Senior Services, which on Friday declined to renew the facility's license.
by | June 24, 2019 AT 12:33 PM
The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. (AP/Jim Salter)

By Joel Currier

Planned Parenthood will continue providing abortions at least until a St. Louis judge issues a ruling in the clinic's legal battle with the state Department of Health and Senior Services, which on Friday declined to renew the facility's license.

"Planned Parenthood's doors remain open," M'Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, said after the hearing. "The judge left his injunction in place, which means that Missourians can continue to access the full range of reproductive health care in Missouri for now."

If the state's denial stands, Missouri would become the first U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 established a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy. The denial means Planned Parenthood can appeal to a state licensing commission.

The state license only affects abortion services. The clinic also provides routine medical care to men and women, cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease tests, permanent birth control procedures and counseling.

Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said at a news conference Friday in Gov. Mike Parson's office that politics played no role in the state's decision to deny the license and that the clinic had not corrected more than two dozen deficiencies state inspectors had identified earlier this year.

A key point of contention has been the state's requirement of pelvic exams prior to an abortion.

The department, however, said pelvic exams must be completed 72 hours prior to an abortion because of the state's informed consent law, which says doctors must identify risks to a patient three days before an abortion.

On Friday, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said the St. Louis clinic a day earlier had stopped performing pelvic exams three days before an abortion, instead resuming its practice of doing exams on the same day of abortions.

Williams said his agency had issued a regulation that would allow Planned Parenthood to conduct pelvic exams when it sees fit.

"I am issuing an emergency rule today that Planned Parenthood can defer the pelvic exam until the day of the surgery if in their estimation -- using their clinical judgment -- that they think there's a medical reason that they should do that," Williams said. "We do not want patients having two pelvic exams."

"We've never required two," she said.

Missouri health officials had asked Stelzer to reconsider his order allowing Missouri's only abortion clinic to remain open through Friday. Health officials also filed records of its two-month investigation into the clinic noting "at least 30 deficiencies" that the state says must be corrected before the clinic's license can be renewed.

DHSS notice of deficiencies in Planned Parenthood lawsuit

Deficiencies the state cited last week included inadequately supervised pelvic exams, failed surgical and medication abortions, untimely reporting of those failed procedures and poor communication with a contracted laboratory.

The state investigation found four instances of incomplete surgical abortions, which may have been hindered by patients' obesity or uterine malformations. One of the patients also experienced a failed medication abortion, according to the state's report.

Incomplete abortions are a rare complication occurring in fewer than 1% of all procedures.

Planned Parenthood officials accused Parson's administration of politicizing health regulations to restrict access to legal abortions in Missouri.

In a statement issued Friday, Parson said "Planned Parenthood is losing its license because it failed to meet basic standards of care."

Planned Parenthood sued the department last month claiming the state agency had illegally refused to renew the St. Louis abortion clinic's yearly license until the state could complete an investigation. The state says Planned Parenthood has failed to comply with licensing regulations by not compelling five doctors who have worked at the clinic to be interviewed.

Jack Suntrup and Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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