Judge considering Missouri abortion clinic license case
By JIM SALTER and SUMMER BALLENTINE
ST. LOUIS (AP) - A St. Louis judge is deciding whether to grant an order that would allow Missouri's only abortion clinic to keep its license to perform abortions past Friday.
Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer heard an hour of arguments Thursday on Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary restraining order that would prohibit the state from allowing the St. Louis clinic's license to lapse. It isn't clear when Stelzer will rule.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has said it may not renew the license, which expires at midnight Friday. The agency cited concerns that include compromised patient safety and violations of state laws and regulations.
Planned Parenthood officials say Missouri is "weaponizing" the licensing process. If its license is not renewed, Planned Parenthood officials said Missouri would become the first state without a functioning abortion clinic since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
The health department said inspections in March uncovered deficiencies. The agency cited "at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised." It also cited what it called "failed surgical abortions in which women remained pregnant," and an alleged failure to obtain "informed consent." The department did not elaborate on the allegations.
Planned Parenthood attorney Jamie Boyer told Stelzer that the state's concerns have been resolved, but the health department won't renew the license unless it can interview five contract physicians about seven instances of patient care that were flagged by the inspection. Boyer said that while both staff physicians at the clinic have been interviewed, the contract doctors refuse to do so, partly out of concern they'll say something that could lead to criminal charges due to Missouri's restrictive abortion laws.
"Planned Parenthood, with the exception of the interviews, has bent over backward" to work with the state, Boyer said.
Assistant Attorney General John Sauer said the request to interview the doctors is reasonable.
"The facility has the ability to say, 'You guys have to cooperate,'" Sauer said.
The hearing happened as abortion rights supporters rallied elsewhere in downtown St. Louis Thursday.
The nearest clinics performing abortions are in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City and in Granite City, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The Kansas clinic is about 260 miles (420 kilometers) from St. Louis.
Missouri is among half a dozen states that have passed sweeping anti-abortion measures in recent months. Republican Gov. Mike Parson this month signed the bill banning abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Missouri already had some of the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation, including a requirement that doctors performing abortions have partnerships with nearby hospitals.
A total of 2,910 abortions occurred in 2018 in Missouri, according to provisional data provided by the state health department. That includes 433 abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy and 267 at six weeks or earlier.
Ballentine reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.
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