Missouri’s last abortion provider could close as early as Friday

Planned Parenthood alleges that the state is refusing to renew its licensing agreement

Hundreds of women and supporters attend a protest rally over recent restrictive abortion laws on May 21, 2019, in St Louis, Missouri. Planned Parenthood announced it would file a lawsuit with the Circuit Court in St. Louis Tuesday to keep its last abortion provider open, in an effort to keep providing abortions. (Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Missouri could become the first state in the country without a single abortion provider as soon as Friday, according to Planned Parenthood.

The group alleges that the state is refusing to renew its licensing agreement, days after the governor signed into law one of the toughest abortion bans in the country.

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Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region announced plans to file a lawsuit with the circuit court in St. Louis on Tuesday in an effort to keep providing abortions.

State law since 2017 requires all abortion facilities to be licensed, and the groups are disputing new requirements that the clinic’s seven medical providers must agree to interviews. The doctors have agreed to be interviewed, but the group is balking at interviews for residents and medical trainees. If the state doesn’t grant a license, the clinics must stop providing abortions on June 1.

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Helene Krasnoff, vice president for public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood, said that no topics for the interview or the scope of the interview were given, and that the group has been at an impasse with the health department since early April.

Krasnoff added that these seven physicians are not Planned Parenthood employees, and that the potential for unspecified criminal penalties as a result of these investigations is “not off the table.”

A hearing is scheduled for tomorrow at 1 p.m. local time.

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Planned Parenthood would still be allowed to remain open and perform other services.

“The state has illegally weaponized the licensing process,” said Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen on a press call Tuesday. “For us, this is about our patients and their access to legal health care.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services did not respond to a request for comment.

“If the court does not grant us a restraining order, Missouri will go dark,” said Wen. “This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is real, and this is a public health crisis.”

The issue hits Wen, who attended medical school in St. Louis and volunteered at this clinic at the time, especially close to home.

“I have treated women who have had to take matters in their own hands because they couldn’t access safe, legal abortion care,” said Wen.

The state is trying to intimidate and harass these doctors in order to stop abortions, said Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

“Just like the Trump administration and the state politicians they embolden, Missouri Gov. Parson’s inspections process has become just another vehicle to intimidate doctors like me and to push abortion care out of reach for patients,” said McNicholas. “None of this has one bit to do with patient health or safety, but rather, banning abortion. State officials continue moving the goal post on abortion providers until we can no longer provide care.”

McNicholas says she is reaching out to their partners across state lines to continue abortion care in case the requirements are not blocked.

In 2018, Missouri had two abortion providers, but the Columbia Planned Parenthood was forced to close in October over hospital admitting privilege requirements for abortion providers.The American Civil Liberties Union separately said it also supports challenging these requirements.

“What is happening in Missouri shows that politicians don’t have to outlaw abortion to push it out of reach entirely,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This has been their end game for years, but it’s contrary to what the overwhelming majority of people in this country want. The ACLU and its 3 million members will be taking to the streets, educating voters, and going to court to protect access to abortion for all.”

Last week, Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation banning abortion after eight weeks, except for in cases when the woman’s life is in danger, without exemptions in cases of rape and incest.

“Thanks to decades of pro-life leadership, Missouri recently hit an all-time low for the number of abortions,” said Parson in a statement Friday. “We’ve gone from a high of more than 20,000 in our state, to now below 3,000. By working together, we can continue to assist more Missourians in choosing life.”

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