Showdown over Missouri abortion clinic postponed as governor weighs in

Austin Huguelet

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The legal battle over the fate of Missouri's lone abortion clinic continued Wednesday as Gov. Mike Parson defended a state investigation into the facility and urged a judge not to intervene.

Planned Parenthood sued the state Department of Health and Senior Services Tuesday, accusing it of unlawfully refusing to renew the St. Louis clinic's license, which expires Friday, over demands to interview physicians for the investigation.

If the license is allowed to lapse, Missouri would become the only state in the country without a licensed abortion provider.

But Parson said the state has legitimate questions about issues at the facility that need answers before it grants a renewal and added that it would be "reckless" for any judge to force such action before the state's investigation is complete.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson defended a state investigation into the state's lone abortion clinic and urged a judge not to intervene.

A hearing on whether to block the state from revoking the clinic's license was scheduled to take place in St. Louis City Circuit Court on Wednesday, but it was postponed until Thursday.

Parson said he couldn't get into specifics of the ongoing investigation, but nevertheless laid out state claims that clinic 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.

"Planned Parenthood’s apparent disregard for the law, their failure to complete complication records, and the accuracy of medical records are all serious concerns that need to be addressed prior to any license renewal," Parson said.

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In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood argues that it has worked to correct issues and complied with every request it can.

A Department of Health news release Wednesday afternoon appeared to confirm some of that, saying that Planned Parenthood had agreed to change practices to comply with regulations concerning pelvic exams and informed consent for the procedure.

But the parties are at a stalemate over the department's demand to interview several physicians, including medical residents and trainees, who are not Planned Parenthood employees.

File photo of a Planned Parenthood sign.

In the lawsuit, Planned Parenthood attorneys say the organization has no power to compel non-employees to do anything and that the department has no right to make the interviews a condition of renewing its license.

The lawsuit also heavily implies that the department is engaged in a political attack rather than a proper regulatory review, noting Parson recently signed a bill into law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood responds to Parson

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President and CEO Dr. Leana Wen added Wednesday that Parson’s comments “are simply not based on medicine, facts, or reality.”

“He has made it clear that his goal is to ban abortion care in the state of Missouri, and today’s comments confirmed that this is exactly what this is all about,” Wen said in a statement provided to the (Springfield, Mo.) News-Leader.

But Parson dismissed such statements.

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"This is not about the pro-life issue at all," Parson said. "This is about the standard of care for women in Missouri, whether it's this clinic, any other clinic and any other hospital that should have to meet the same standards."

The department also doubled down on its position.

"(The Department of Health and Senior Services) will continue to act in good faith to do our statutorily required duty to regulate facilities to help keep people safe and assure compliance with the law,” said Dr. Randall Williams, the department's director, in a news release. “The unprecedented refusal by Planned Parenthood to fully cooperate as they have in the past heightens our regulators’ concerns about what their investigation has revealed to date.”

Follow Austin Huguelet on Twitter: @ahuguelet