Missouri's only abortion clinic allowed to remain open - for now
Just hours before Missouri was poised to become the only state in America without an abortion clinic, a judge ruled that the facility can temporarily stay open.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stezler issued a temporary restraining order on Friday afternoon, which blocks the state from revoking Planned Parenthood's operating license until another hearing, scheduled for June 4.
Had the clinic's license expired at midnight, more than one million women in Missouri would have been left with no option for abortion care, a constitutional right since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.
"Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over," said Planned Parenthood President and CEO, Dr. Leana Wen. "We have seen just how vulnerable access to abortion care is here ― and in the rest of the country."
She continued: "We are glad that the governor has been prevented from putting women’s health and lives in danger ― for now ― and call on him to stop this egregious politicalization of public health in an attempt to ban all safe, legal abortion care in the state."
Missouri's health department has refused to renew Planned Parenthood's license unless they comply with all of their demands. The reproductive rights organization reportedly agreed to add a pelvic exam and address who at the clinic provided state-mandated counseling. However, they did not fulfill the state's request to interview seven doctors who work at the clinic.
Planned Parenthood said they could provide interviews with two doctors, but not the other five, because those physicians are employed by a teaching hospital or medical school. As such, they are under contract to Planned Parenthood, but cannot be compelled to speak with the state, according to attorneys. If they discuss performing abortions, the physicians could get into professional or legal trouble, according to The Kansas City Star:
"Jamie Boyer, Planned Parenthood’s lead attorney...said Planned Parenthood could not 'in good faith' ask the physicians to comply with the investigation because of the department’s changing interpretations of regulations, which could open the physicians up to criminal penalties. Doctors who provide abortions in Missouri are different from any other medical provider, Boyer argued, because they can be charged with crimes.
"Boyer said the clinic has 'bent over backward' to comply with all of the department’s other requests, issuing revised plans in response to shifting state demands. She likened the situation to Lucy, from the comic strip “Peanuts,” holding a football for Charlie Brown to kick. 'Every time, Lucy pulls that ball from under him and puts him flat on his back,' Boyer said."
Reproductive rights advocates consider these regulations to be cumbersome, onerous, and disingenuous. In fact, Planned Parenthood describes them as TRAP laws: "targeted regulations on abortion providers designed to close them down rather than to make them safer for women. (i.e. down-to-the-inch dimensions for exam rooms, hallways and janitor's closets, and medically unnecessary requirements for doctors.)"
Last week, Missouri's Republican governor Mike Parson signed a controversial law banning abortions past the eight week mark. At that point, the embryo is about the size of a raspberry, and some women don't even know they are pregnant yet. Republican politicians - mostly men - passed similar extremist laws in other states, sparking outrage.
Despite the clamor from concerned citizens, and the Supreme Court's 46-year-old ruling that women have a constitutional right to legal, safe abortions, Gov. Parson has not sided with Planned Parenthood.
"It would be reckless for any judge to grant a temporary restraining order ruling before the state has taken action on a license renewal," he told reporters on Wednesday, per HuffPost. "No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance."