Planned Parenthood of St. Louis gets temporary stay, continues as Missouri's sole abortion provider

Columbia, MO — Planned Parenthood in St. Louis will continue to serve as Missouri's sole abortion provider after a judge issued a temporary stay. 

St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled Friday, just hours before the Planned Parenthood clinic's license to perform abortions was set to expire. He issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Missouri from allowing the license to lapse.

State officials refused to renew the facility's license, which was set to expire Friday, demanding interviews with staff doctors for an investigation into “a large number of possible deficiencies."

 Planned Parenthood said only two of its seven staff doctors agreed to be interviewed. 

If the Planned Parenthood stops offering the procedure, Missouri would be the first state without legal abortion care since the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. 

Abortion rights advocates say ending services at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis would force women seeking abortion to travel to neighboring states, such as Kansas or Illinois, to get the procedures.

Lyra Noce, chair of the Boone County Democratic Party in Columbia, said she was pleased with the judge’s decision, but she emphasized that the fight for abortion rights is not over.

“This does not change the fact that Gov. Parson has signed House Bill 126 (the eight week abortion ban),” Noce said. “We will continue to fight for women’s reproductive healthcare access and a woman’s right to choose.”

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For young, college-aged women, this could be a hardship, said Sadie Jess, president of Mizzou Democrats at the University of Missouri. Many don't have transportation or the funds to travel to get an abortion, Jess said. 

"We were already really limited in our options and now there's an effort to take them away all together," Jess said. "Our position is that it’s a systematic effort to take away women's choices for what their life is going to look like.”

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Last week Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill that outlaws abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy without exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

The law, which goes into effect Aug. 28 barring a legal challenge, says doctors who perform abortions after eight weeks could face five to 15 years in prison. The measure includes exceptions for medical emergencies, such as when there is a risk of death or permanent physical injuries to "a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."

Missouri joins several other states that have passed some of the most restrictive abortion bans the nation has seen since Roe.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday signed into law a bill that bans abortion after a "fetal heartbeat" is detected at roughly six weeks of pregnancy. Four other states have enacted six-week bans this year — Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia. 

Alabama enacted a near total-ban on abortions this year, with no exceptions for rape or incest.  

A judge last week struck down Mississippi's law. And a Kentucky judge temporarily blocked the state's bill in March saying the American Civil Liberties Union's claim that it was unconstitutional would likely succeed in court. 

Gov. Parson has cited state claims that Planned Parenthood physicians failed to follow Missouri regulations in performing abortions, botched three surgical abortions at the facility and had another patient taken to a hospital for emergency surgery. 

Contributing: Associated Press