Court to decide whether abortion services in Missouri will end in 48 hours

Posted at 1:08 PM, May 29, 2019

The fate of abortion in Missouri was to be argued in court Wednesday as Planned Parenthood fights the state for refusing to renew the license it needs to continue offering the service in its St. Louis clinic.

That annual license expires on Friday, and without it, abortion services in Missouri will be no more -- making it the first state in more than 45 years to no longer offer the procedure.

This does not mean that the health center will close. It will still provide care including birth control, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings and more, explained Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore. But the reality of what this would mean for abortion access is stark.

"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 .

"Missouri would be the first state in the country to go dark -- without a health center that provides safe, legal abortion care," denying access to "more than a million women of reproductive age" living in the state, she said.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, which has provided abortions for more than two decades, filed suit Tuesday against Missouri Gov. Michael Parson and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which administers the license the clinic needs. A hearing on this case was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in the Circuit Court of St. Louis, but it has since been postponed.

CNN has reached out repeatedly to the governor's office and the department of health for comment but hasn't received a response. The governor's office announced it will hold a press conference to address the clinic's license application before Wednesday's hearing.

The withholding of the license is another tactic in a years-long effort to "restrict abortion access and deny Missourians their right to choose abortion," the filing says.

On May 24, the governor "signed into law a bill banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions in the cases of rape or incest," the court document says.

"DHSS now is attempting to shut down [the abortion provider], by unlawfully conditioning a decision on its routine license renewal application on completion of a supposed 'investigation' of a patient complaint."

The details of the patient complaint have not been disclosed to Planned Parenthood, the filing says, and DHSS is "refusing to proceed with its investigation in a reasonable manner," while "Planned Parenthood has fully cooperated with every investigative request within its power."

When the governor signed House Bill 126 last week, he declared, "By signing this bill today, we are sending a strong signal to the nation that, in Missouri, we stand for life, protect women's health, and advocate for the unborn."

Missouri is the latest in a series of states to enact strict anti-abortion bills. Georgia , Alabama and Mississippi have also joined that chorus, though the Mississippi law was struck down by a federal judge.

A legal battle over Missouri's eight-week ban is anticipated. But first there's this fight to still allow abortion services as of May 31.

"Just like the Trump administration and the state politicians they embolden, Missouri Governor Parson's inspections process has become just another vehicle to intimidate doctors like me and to push abortion out of reach for patients," Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an ob-gyn at the St. Louis clinic, said in a written statement.

"None of this has one bit to do with patient health or safety, but rather, banning abortion," McNicholas continued. "State officials continue moving the goal post on abortion providers until we can no longer provide care."