Within 24 hours, the state of Missouri may be the first state in the union to not have an abortion clinic in any of its cities since 1973 Roe v. Wade era. A federal judge may step in to decide tonight on whether or not it will allow a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis and to renew its license to continue performing abortions.
Missouri Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer handed down a decision Friday morning saying that the court will not allow Planned Parenthood to renew its license after the clinic denied to comply with a law instructing doctors to perform a secondary pelvic exam.
Planned Parenthood Thursday argued that the exam is unethical and medically unnecessary, a spokeswoman said. The clinic said it had resumed its practice of doing tests on the same day of abortions. The clinic performed more than 100 such pelvic exams before stopping the practice, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, said at a news conference held in Gov. Mike Parson’s office that the clinic had not complied with state regulations, including a new mandate that required doctors to perform two pelvic exams on patients.
“This is not an issue about the pro-life issue at all. This is about the standard of care for the women of Missouri,” Gov. Michael Parson said in an interview.
The DHSS in a statement emphasized the importance of performing the two pelvic exams to put into account women’s health before and after undergoing an abortion procedure. Furthermore, the department said that the tests are state laws and not department policy.
The department says pelvic exams must be completed 72 hours before an abortion because of the state’s informed consent law. Also, state doctors must detect any immediate and long-term risks to a patient, something the department says can only be done after a pelvic exam.
Other than clinic doctors citing the procedure unnecessary, they also countered arguing that performing a secondary pelvic exam after the procedure may cause emotional distress and can be potentially triggering for some patients.
As of the moment, Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic remains open for patients who are wishing to undergo abortion procedures due to Stelzer’s June 10 preliminary injunction placing a temporary license.
The preliminary injunction was handed in light after Planned Parenthood sued Missouri’s health department for refusing to renew its license, which was supposed to expire May 31.
“Planned Parenthood’s doors remain open,” M’Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, said after the hearing. “The judge left his injunction in place, which means that Missourians can continue to access the full range of reproductive health care in Missouri for now.”
Meanwhile, Missouri health officials have urged Stelzer to revoke the restraining order that currently keeps the St. Louis clinic afloat. They argued that the clinic is faced with “at least 30 deficiencies”—the pelvic exam included— that needs to be corrected before granting its license renewed.
According to a two-month investigation by health officials, the clinic’s deficiencies include failed surgical and medication abortions, untimely reporting of those failed procedures and poor communication with a contracted laboratory. The state said some problems noted in the investigation caused “serious patient harm.”
Furthermore, the state also argued that Planned Parenthood failed to comply with licensing regulations by not compelling five doctors who have worked at the clinic to be interviewed as part of the state’s investigation.
On the other hand, Planned Parenthood officials accused Gov. Parson’s administration of politicizing state health regulations to restrict access to legal abortions in Missouri.
The two parties have been in heated conversation since May following a strict anti-abortion bill that prohibits women from choosing to have an abortion once 8 weeks pregnant, a similar bill passed in a dozen or so states.
“While Gov. Parson and his political cronies are on the wrong side of history, nothing changes right now for patients who need access to abortion at Planned Parenthood. We will continue providing abortion care for as long as the court protects our ability to do so,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OBGYN who works at the clinic, said in a statement released Friday.
Once Stelzer decides to revoke the current restraining order, it will force women wishing to have an abortion to the nearest clinic situated beyond the Mississippi River over at Ilinois—who are already preparing to receive more patients.