A decade ago, there were five clinics providing abortion care in Missouri. Today, only one remains — and it's in danger. Officials say Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, the last abortion provider in the state, will be forced to stop offering the procedure at the end of the week unless the courts intervene.
The clinic's annual license is set to expire on Friday, and the organisation has been unable to come to an agreement with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to ensure its renewal. If the clinic stops offering abortion care, the state will be the first in the nation without an abortion provider since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.
"This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is a real public health crisis," Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "This week, Missouri would be the first state in the country to go dark — without a health centre that provides safe, legal abortion care." Wen estimates that about 1 million women of reproductive age will be impacted if the state forces the clinic to stop offering abortion care. The clinic is expected to keep providing other reproductive-care services, such as birth control, STI testing, and cancer screenings.
Planned Parenthood officials said the state's Health Department notified the clinic last week that it was facing three issues that could impact the renewal of its license. The organisation responded that it could address two of the issues: including an additional pelvic exam for patients seeking to terminate their pregnancies, and updating who in the clinic is able to provide the patient with state-mandated counselling.
But the third request has put the licensing process on hold, officials said. According to Planned Parenthood, the Health Department has requested to interview seven physicians at the clinic as part of an investigation into "deficient practices." The organisation said it could only arrange interviews with two of the physicians, as they are part of the staff, but the rest are residents in training not employed by Planned Parenthood. All five have declined to be interviewed as part of the inquiry, which state officials argue must be completed in order to renew the clinic's license.
On Tuesday, the organisation filed a lawsuit in state court asking for a restraining order against the government, with the hopes of restoring its license and avoiding a lapse in the care offered to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. The news comes just days after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a measure into law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. House Bill 126 makes it a felony to perform abortions after the eight-week mark and doctors who offer this type of care could face five to 15 years in prison.
"Planned Parenthood has served Missouri for more than 87 years and we will fight to provide care for another century. We are currently open for all services, and our top priority is to ensure access to abortion continues so that every patient can access high-quality care in Missouri," Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Ob/Gyn at the St. Louis Region clinic, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Just like the Trump administration and the state politicians they embolden, Missouri Gov. Parson’s inspections process has become just another vehicle to intimidate doctors like me and to push abortion care out of reach for patients. None of this has one bit to do with patient health or safety, but rather, banning abortion. State officials continue moving the goalpost on abortion providers until we can no longer provide care."
Missouri currently ranks #41 nationwide when it comes to healthcare, according to U.S. News & World Report. And, Missourians already face other roadblocks in obtaining access to abortion: Pregnancies can't be terminated after 24 weeks of gestation, and women seeking an abortion must undergo a 72-hour waiting period before they can access the procedure.
Organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists expressed their opposition to the state potentially losing its last abortion provider. "ACOG strongly opposes the latest efforts to restrict women’s access to healthcare in Missouri; to force physicians to practice outside the bounds of evidence-based medicine; and to create unnecessary obstacles for women trying to access constitutionally protected, medically appropriate care," ACOG and the Missouri Section of ACOG said in a joint statement provided to Refinery29. "Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure. Policymakers should not place undue burdens on the clinicians who provide abortion care or the patients who need it."
They added: "A right without access is no right at all."