Last Abortion Provider in Missouri Faces Closure

The threatened shuttering of a St. Louis facility comes amid the passage of restrictive abortion laws in states across the country.

By Susan Milligan, Senior Writer?May 28, 2019
By Susan Milligan, Senior Writer?May 28, 2019, at 1:55 p.m.

Last Missouri Abortion Provider Faces Closure

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 21: A demonstrator displays a sign during a protest rally over recent restrictive abortion laws on May 21, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri. Rallies were planned across the nation in response of new abortion laws introduced and passed in various states. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Protesters rally over recent restrictive abortion laws in St Louis, Missouri, on on May 21. The city's Planned Parenthood clinic has been threatened with the loss of its license, which expires Friday.Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

Missouri is set to become the first state in the nation without a clinic where women can get abortions unless a court intervenes before the weekend, clinic officials say. The development escalates the national battle over abortion access as laws severely restricting or nearly banning all abortions make their way through the courts.

"This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is a real public health crisis," Leana Wen, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told reporters in a conference call about the group's St. Louis facility. "For the first time since 1974 … safe, legal abortion care will be inaccessible to people in an entire state," Wen added, referring to the year after the Supreme Court Roe v Wade ruling legalizing abortion.

The clinic, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, has been threatened with the loss of its license, which expires Friday, unless state officials complete to their satisfaction what clinic operators call an "interrogation" of medical personnel about alleged "deficient practices" at the facility, says Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN at the clinic.

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Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open. Without the facility, more than 1.1 million women of childbearing age would have to travel to another state – hundreds of miles, in some cases – to obtain an abortion, McNicholas said.

Two staff doctors have already been interviewed by state authorities, but officials are insisting the license will not be renewed until they interview five other non-staff workers – including those still in medical training, Wen said. She added that Planned Parenthood has been told that the medical personnel could lose their own licenses or be subject to criminal prosecution, depending on the results of the investigation.

It's "harassment" of medical personnel and "the weaponization of the licensing process," Wen told reporters. "This has nothing to do with medicine and everything to do with politics," Wen said.

Several states have passed laws severely restricting abortion: Alabama adopted a near-ban – allowing exceptions only for when the life of the pregnant women is at stake – this month, and Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have approved laws banning the procedure after six weeks, a time when many women do not know they are pregnant. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson last week signed a bill banning abortion at eight weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

The bans are not yet in effect, but anti-abortion forces are hoping a newly more conservative Supreme Court will hear the cases and use them to overturn Roe v Wade.

Overturning Roe – a longtime goal of the anti-abortion movement – would not make abortion illegal across the country but would leave it to the states. Some states – most recently New York and Nevada – have moved to enshrine the right to abortion in state law in anticipation of a rollback of the landmark high court ruling.

But while foes of abortion have been unable to accomplish an all-out ban of the procedure, they have made strong strides in making it harder for women to get abortions. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, a bitterly divided court upheld Roe but said states could put up barriers to abortion long as they did not present an "undue burden."

That has allowed states to impose regulations on both patients, such as requiring waiting periods or parental notification, and on clinics, which might, for example, be required to have hallways of a minimum width. Those rules, critics say, make it harder for a clinic to stay in business.

In Texas, which has imposed various restrictions on clinics, more than 900,000 women in the state would have to travel 150 miles or more to get to an abortion-providing facility, according to the ACLU of Texas.

Susan Milligan, Senior Writer

Susan Milligan is a political and foreign affairs writer and contributed to a biography of the ...? Read more

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