Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri has been in a court battle with the state government over the renewal of its annual license for the past two weeks. Last month, Gov. Mike Parson signed a measure into law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy and criminalising health providers. (The ban goes into effect in late August.) Shortly after, the state moved to shut down the clinic, citing safety concerns.
In mid-May, the state's Health Department notified the clinic that it had to fulfil three requirements that could impact the renewal of its license: an additional pelvic exam for patients seeking an abortion 72 hours before the procedure, defining who in the clinic provides the patients with state-mandated counselling, and making available physicians for interviews as part of an investigation into "deficient practices." While the organisation complied with the first two requirements, the third one put its license renewal on hold. Planned Parenthood 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 the clinic.
Planned Parenthood sued to be able to continue offering abortion care while the license dispute was settled. The clinic has been operational since a restraining order was issued on May 31, the day it was meant to shut down. In his ruling Monday, Circuit Court judge Michael Stelzer said the clinic's license must remain in place for now and told the state to decide by June 21 whether it will renew or revoke it.
"While this is welcome relief for patients and providers at Planned Parenthood, this fight is far from over," Dr. Colleen McNicholas, one of the clinic's physicians, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Abortion access in Missouri is hanging on by a thread and for many, politicians like Gov. Parson have already created an impossible landscape for patients who need access to abortion. Abortion remains one of the most inappropriately regulated healthcare services. Until that changes, access to care in our state will depend on where you live and how much money you earn. We are too close to losing our rights and freedoms and we will not back down today, tomorrow, or ever."
Missouri currently ranks #41 in the US when it comes to healthcare, according to a US News & World Report ranking published last month. Other than only having access to one abortion provider, Missourians face other roadblocks in obtaining care: Abortions are banned after 24 weeks of gestation, and women seeking to terminate their pregnancies are required to undergo a 72-hour waiting period before they can access the procedure.
Just a decade ago, there were five clinics providing abortion care in Missouri. If the clinic closes down, the state would be the first without a legal abortion provider in 46 years.