A circuit court judge in St. Louis ruled that Missouri’s last abortion clinic, which was to lose its license on Friday, can stay open—for now.
The decision prevented Missouri from reaching a notable first in the country: At midnight Friday, it was to become the first state since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to have no legal abortion access. But earlier in the week, Planned Parenthood had filed a lawsuit alleging that Missouri was “unlawfully conditioning” the renewal of the clinic’s license, and St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer granted the organization a temporary restraining order blocking the clinic’s license from expiring, citing the “immediate and irreparable injury” that would result.
The license will remain good until at least Tuesday, the next scheduled court date, as the clinic seeks an injunction to protect the license.
According to Planned Parenthood, the state refused to renew the clinic’s license because of an investigation into an unspecified patient complaint—an illegal measure meant to target the clinic for political reasons, the group contended.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the conflict between the state and the clinic began when the state’s Department of Health and Human Services requested to interview seven doctors who had worked at the clinic as part of that investigation. Planned Parenthood said it could compel the two doctors employed by the organization to participate in the investigation, but the other five, who work for local university medical programs but still treat patients at the clinic, refused to be interviewed. Planned Parenthood has said it provided a plan to correct what it described as two minor issues cited by the inspection but says it has no power over those doctors.
The state DHSS disagreed, saying the clinic was obligated to force the doctors to cooperate and that the request “reflects decades of settled practice under the statute and regulations.” Gov. Mike Parson also said that the clinic was under pressure to provide the doctors for interviews because of “a number of serious health concerns” the audit uncovered.
The news of the restraining order came a week after Parson signed one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion bills into law. Five other states have passed near-complete bans on the service, and Missouri’s new law, which is scheduled to go into effect on Aug. 28, bans abortions after eight weeks, with exceptions only for medical emergencies—and notably, not for rape or incest. Doctors who provide abortions could face five to 15 years in prison.
Like the other abortion bans, Missouri’s will be challenged, and the ACLU of Missouri has already filed a notice that it will seek a referendum to repeal the law. The group has three months to collect 100,000 signatures, at which point the law would be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.
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