Despite concerns about Missouri abortion clinic, judge keeps it open for now

St. Louis, Mo., Jun 1, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- A judge’s temporary restraining order has prevented the closure of the last abortion clinic in Missouri for now, but the state’s governor said officials’ serious concerns about the clinic will be addressed.

Gov. Mike Parson said the restraining order means Missouri “will soon have the opportunity for a prompt legal review of our state health regulators’ serious health and safety concerns regarding Planned Parenthood’s abortion facility in St. Louis.”

“We are committed to and take seriously our duty to ensure that all health facilities in Missouri follow the law, abide by regulations, and protect the safety of patients,” he said May 31.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region had objected that the state health department was refusing to renew its annual license to provide abortions. Planned Parenthood officials have said they have complied as much as possible, accusing the state of enforcing regulations arbitrarily for political reasons, National Public Radio reports.

Lawyers representing the Planned Parenthood affiliate secured a restraining order Friday from Judge Michael F. Stelzer of Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis. The order allows the clinic to continue operating past midnight when its license was set to expire.

Stelzer ruled that the clinic faces “immediate and irreparable injury” if its license lapsed. He will hold a hearing about the case on Tuesday, the New York Times reports.

Planned Parenthood contends there is no valid reason for state rules mandating two pelvic exams before the administration of drugs that induce abortions. It has also rejected state demands that officials interview its medical trainees on staff.

The Planned Parenthood clinic’s renewal application was received by state authorities May 16, the day of the deadline.

Some pro-life advocates strongly criticized the judicial decision delaying any clinic closure.

“This particular facility’s track record shows an appalling pattern of botched abortions and other violations that prove they are incapable of policing themselves,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said May 31. “Planned Parenthood does not deserve special treatment and the health and safety of women should never come second to the abortion industry’s bottom line.”

“The Missouri health department has been tasked with safeguarding the health and safety of Missouri women and children. The only people who face ‘immediate and irreparable injury,’ so long as the St. Louis Planned Parenthood remains open, are unborn children and their mothers,” she added.

While the clinic is the last abortion provider in Missouri, there is a private surgical abortion clinic near St. Louis, across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Ill. A Planned Parenthood clinic 20 miles away in Belleville, Ill. offers medication-induced abortion, the New York Times reports.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a senior doctor at the Planned Parenthood clinic, welcomed the injunction. “This is a huge sigh of relief for the many patients who need access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri. The fight goes on,” she told the New York Times.

Parson had said the clinic needs to address the concerns as part of a state audit that must be finished before the clinic’s license is renewed.

Dannenfelser praised Parson and the state health department for making efforts “to hold abortion businesses accountable for harming women.”

The year 2019 has witnessed significant controversy at the state level over abortion regulations. Changes in the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court have prompted speculation that the court could dramatically alter or overturn Roe v. Wade and other major precedents mandating legal abortion nationwide.

A proposed Virginia law drew intense criticism after one of its sponsors told a legislative committee the legislation would allow abortion up through birth. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam then made comments about making a post-birth decision about the fate of a severely disabled newborn. Many perceived the comments to be an endorsement of infanticide.

New York and some other states are passing expansive pro-abortion rights laws that would preserve legal abortion at the state level regardless of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. While late-term abortion has traditionally drawn wide opposition, some of the new laws appear to strengthen legal protections for late-term abortion.

While some major media outlets provided little critical coverage of expansive pro-abortion rights laws, news coverage has focused on early-term abortion bans, especially that of Alabama.

Missouri has also passed an early-term abortion ban.

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