Missouri's lone abortion clinic denied license, will stay open for now-judge

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri health officials on Friday refused to renew the license of the state’s only abortion clinic, but the facility will remain open for now as a judge left in place an injunction blocking its closure.

At a brief state circuit court hearing on Friday, Judge Michael Stelzer said it might be days before the court would come to a decision on whether the state could shut its only abortion clinic, which is operated by women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

“I think you guys are expecting an order soon. I don’t know that order is going to be today,” Stelzer said during the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes.

If the clinic were to close, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion clinic.

The state is one of 12 to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Court documents showed that Missouri health officials declined to renew the clinic’s license to perform abortions because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices.”

“We know how much, when people don’t cooperate with us, it thwarts our ability to help people be safe,” Randall Williams, director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, said at a news conference on Friday.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri health officials after they warned they would decline to renew the license of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on the grounds that it failed to meet their standards.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral.

The legal battle in Missouri began after Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.

FILE PHOTO: Planned Parenthood’s employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri Director M’Evie Mead told a news conference that the state’s decision was politically motivated.

“I call on Governor Parson to take this issue seriously and to immediately stop weaponizing the regulatory process,” Mead said. “They have weaponized it. And we need the courts to intervene.”

Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight to protect abortion access in Missouri and to push back against regulatory standards that the women’s healthcare organization believes put a burden on abortion rights.

Reporting by Robert Langellier in St. Louis; writing by Gabriella Borter; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Cynthia Osterman

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source: reuters.com