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Last abortion clinic in Missouri gets Aug. 1 reprieve

ST. LOUIS (BP) — The battle to shutter a final abortion clinic in Missouri will continue at least until Aug. 1, according to a state commission’s ruling June 28, acting on a federal judge’s ruling a week earlier.

Missouri could become the first state in the nation without an abortion clinic since 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision — if state health requirements prevail in closing an abortion clinic operated by Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri (RHS).

State law requires abortion facilities to meet the same requirements as ambulatory surgical centers and that doctors who perform abortions have hospital admitting privileges for emergencies.

Federal Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer intervened to keep the RHS clinic open June 21 — the date set by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) for nonrenewal of the clinic’s license due to alleged medical complications from abortions.

Stelzer said the issue of closing the clinic should be handled by the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC), which fields disputes against state agencies. The AHC on Friday (June 28) set an Aug. 1 hearing on the issue.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the DHSS cited failed surgical and medication abortions among several reasons for denying the clinic’s license renewal. The state attorney general’s office, in a court filing, noted that Planned Parenthood had refused to make five physicians available to answer questions about patients who had suffered complications.

The attorney general’s office stated that “it is not arbitrary or capricious for [the DHSS] to infer from the noncooperation of RHS and its physicians that they lack satisfactory explanations for their conduct.”

The AHC, however, stated, “Our review of the applicable statutes and rules finds no provision that affirmatively provides an obligation for DHSS to make, or RHS to procure, such interviews.”

Missouri also is among a number of states that have enacted a wave of abortion restrictions in recent months, with Republican Gov. Mike Parson signing a bill in May to ban abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies, effective Aug. 28.

The 2007 Missouri law governing abortion facilities was among the first in the nation. It has been targeted in court by Planned Parenthood but was upheld by a federal judge in February of this year.

Among Missouri’s other abortion restrictions: A woman must receive counseling and information to dissuade her from having an abortion, followed by a 72-hour waiting period before the abortion; the use of telemedicine for abortion medication is prohibited; and minors must receive a parent’s consent before an abortion is provided.