By Gloria Lloyd
Missouri still has an abortion clinic, at least for now, but whether it will stay open is being argued in a St. Louis court this morning.
A St. Louis judge on Friday granted Planned Parenthood a temporary restraining order against the state to keep its clinic on Forest Park Avenue, the only abortion clinic in Missouri, open pending a hearing on the state’s move to pull the clinic’s license for alleged safety violations.
If the judge rules for the state, Planned Parenthood’s license to operate the clinic would lapse and Missouri would become the first state with no functioning abortion clinics.
On the heels of signing an abortion ban after eight weeks May 25, Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican who opposes abortion, said last week that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services could shut down Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic due to a list of unspecified but “numerous violations of state laws and regulations” found in the state’s annual inspection in March.
“It would be reckless for any judge to grant a temporary restraining order before the state has taken action on a license renewal,” Parson said in a press conference in his office. “No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance.”
But an obstetrician-gynecologist at the clinic, Colleen McNicholas, said abortion will not stop in Missouri.
“This is a huge sigh of relief for the many patients who need access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri,” McNicholas said after the Friday ruling. “The fight goes on. While temporary, we celebrate today, and tomorrow we go back to work to ensure access to abortion does not go dark at the last health center that provides abortion in Missouri. Planned Parenthood has served Missouri for more than 87 years and we aren’t going anywhere. While Gov. Parson abandoned our patients, we will not. Our doors are open today, our doors will be open tomorrow, and we will fight to make sure all patients continue to receive the care they need and deserve.”
Among the allegations against Planned Parenthood, Parson said there had been failed abortions and problems getting the same doctor who signs an informed consent 72 hours before an abortion to also perform the abortion. Planned Parenthood has to perform a pelvic exam 72 hours before an abortion. The governor says they did not comply with those state laws in every case, and that the clinic should get “no special treatment” due to its position as the only abortion clinic.
“This should be concerning to all Missourians who support the safety and care of women’s health,” Parson said.
The state agency said it needs to talk to all seven doctors at the clinic before it will renew the clinic’s license to operate, which is set to expire Friday. So far, it has spoken to two of the abortion doctors. Planned Parenthood argues that since the doctors are not employees, it cannot force them to talk to the state.
Protesters rallied under the Arch and walked to Parson’s downtown St. Louis office to protest.
Planned Parenthood said the governor’s “fearmongering” and “dangerous” move was targeted to intimidate abortion providers, rather than being driven by patient safety.
“Just days after signing into law an extreme and dangerous bill that bans abortion after eight weeks, Gov. Parson has weaponized the health department to block the last remaining licensed abortion center from providing care in the state,” the organization said in a news release. “More than 1.1 million Missouri women — and trans and nonbinary Missourians — of reproductive age now face a world where they are blocked from accessing the health care they need. A world we haven’t seen since before 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided. This is effectively a ban on abortion, period.”
Although the state would be without an abortion clinic if the license falls through, Missourians would have nearby options. The St. Louis area would still have an abortion clinic on the Illinois side of the river, the Hope Clinic in Granite City. And there is another abortion clinic across the Kansas state line in the Kansas City suburbs.
The state had two abortion clinics until last year, when the Columbia Planned Parenthood abortion clinic closed after a state law went into effect that required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.