Missouri may lose its last abortion clinic come Friday, due to red tape.
Planned Parenthood announced on Tuesday that the state is not renewing the license for its St. Louis health clinic, which could prevent it from providing abortions by the end of the week. But Planned Parenthood is filing a lawsuit, asking the court for a restraining order to block Missouri from effectively shuttering the state’s sole abortion provider. Should the court not intervene, Missouri would be the first state where residents do not have access to an abortion clinic since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court established the constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade.
The news comes less than a week after Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed an abortion ban at eight weeks’ gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Missouri is one of several states that have passed near-total abortion bans, in anticipation that its bill will make its way to the Supreme Court, where the new conservative majority will overturn Roe.
But in Missouri, even without overturning Roe, access to safe, legal abortion can be eliminated if the last clinic shuts down.
“That bill would take effect on August 26, but the governor is not waiting until then,” said Dr. Leana Wen, President & CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a press call on Tuesday.
“By denying us this license renewal, the state of Missouri will have no health center that provides abortion care effective June 1, 2019. This means that more than 1.1 million of reproductive age in Missouri will now live in a state where they cannot receive the health care they need,” she added.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is insisting that seven physicians who perform abortions at the St. Louis clinic submit to questions in order for the clinic to get its license renewed. The state refused to tell Planned Parenthood the scope of the investigation and would not rule out criminal proceedings or review for those physicians. The requirement is out of the Planned Parenthood’s control, as five of the physicians are not employed by the organization and have not agreed to be interviewed, according to CBS News, who first reported the news.
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, who provides abortions in Missouri, said in a press call the requirement amounted to “intimidation.”
The Planned Parenthood affiliate has been trying to meet the various regulations, even if the requirements are excessive and sometimes not even in the best interest of the patients. Last week, the state notified Planned Parenthood that the clinic needs to add additional pelvic exams for patients receiving surgical abortions, which McNicholas described as “medically unnecessary and invasive” and potentially traumatic for patients. Planned Parenthood has already stopped providing medication abortion in Missouri because of this requirement, according to NPR.
The St. Louis Planned Parenthood is resilient, as four other clinics in the state closed over the last decade. In 2018, a Columbia clinic stopped performing abortions because it couldn’t meet a requirement where doctors had to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Now, Missouri is one of six states with just one abortion clinic, thanks to medically-dubious, state-mandated regulations.
According to a Missouri abortion fund, Gateway Women’s Access Fund, more than half the people who call seeking assistance for abortion need to go out of state to have the procedure.
A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, but the St. Louis clinic is preparing nevertheless. McNicholas says clinic staff is working to ensure patients’ needs are met, whether in Missouri or elsewhere. The clinic wouldn’t officially close if the court does not intervene, as it would continue to provide birth control and other health screenings.
“We are reaching out to our partners across state lines,” said McNicholas, “To be clear: we are going to make sure that every single patient in Missouri that needs access to abortion care will still be able to achieve that.”