SMH: Missouri Health Department Declines License Renewal For State’s Last Abortion Clinic

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Missouri’s Last Abortion Clinic Gets Their License Renewal Declined

The health department in Missouri has officially declined to renew the license of the state’s last and only abortion clinic on Friday.

This move could eventually make Missouri the first state in the U.S. without an abortion clinic in decades–But for now, the clinic will continue providing abortion services while a court injunction remains in effect.

The state’s Department of Health and Senior Services announced that it wouldn’t renew the license for the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region before a court hearing on Friday. The clinic’s license was set to expire on May 31, but a St. Louis Circuit Court issued a preliminary injunction that kept its doors open. That injunction will stay in effect until further ruling from the court, according to a judge in a hearing on Friday morning.

“We will continue providing abortion care for as long as the court protects our ability to do so,” explained Colleen McNicholas, a reproductive health doctor at the St. Louis clinic.

Earlier this month, Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer set a June 21 deadline for the state’s health department to decide whether to renew the clinic’s license. With the department’s decision not to renew on Friday, the judge must now decided next steps. At the hearing, Judge Stelzer said he would issue at least one more order on the case.

“I can’t imagine that injunction can stand for too long,” said Rigel Oliveri, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law. “That’s a tough spot for the court to be in, ordering a medical facility to be open when it’s been ordered to be closed for patient safety reasons.”

Director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, Randall Williams, said Friday that the department chose not to renew the license after the clinic failed to address a number of issues raised by the state.

“Access is always incredible important to us,” Dr. Williams said. “But, just understand, in the regulatory environment, our North Star is always the individual who’s getting patient care. We never let anything interfere with the basic patient care that a patient is receiving.”

Ahead of this decision, the clinic announced it would no longer comply with a state regulation that Planned Parenthood said required doctors to perform two pelvic exams before an abortion. Dr. Williams said he would enact an emergency rule to allow the clinic to defer the additional pelvic exam.

For years, state regulations have required patients receiving abortions to undergo a pelvic exam before the procedure. But recently, the clinic said, the state has required an additional pelvic exam to take place during state-mandated counseling sessions, which occur 72 hours before the procedure. Clinic doctors have described the additional exam as medically unnecessary.

Missouri is one of six states with only one abortion clinic, including Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, North Dakota and South Dakota, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Lawmakers in Missouri passed legislation last month that prohibited abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of medical emergency. More liberal state legislatures, like in neighboring Illinois, have enacted laws enshrining abortion protections in response to the possibility of more limited access to the procedure.

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