The Missouri Department of Health and Human Services has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge from revoking the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic’s license to perform abortions.
The decision, issued Monday, is the result of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri asking the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri to issue a temporary restraining order that would allow its Columbia clinic to keep its license while it searches for a doctor who can obtain privileges with a local hospital.
Under state law, a doctor can only perform abortions if he or she has privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortions are taking place. Planned Parenthood’s doctor, Colleen McNicholas, would have lost her privileges with the University of Missouri on Tuesday, and the state had said it would revoke the clinic’s license at close of business Monday.
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued the temporary restraining order, which is set to expire Wednesday after another hearing.
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The lawsuit argues that there is no requirement under state law that the clinic’s license be immediately revoked due to loss of a physician with hospital privileges. In the past, the lawsuit says, the state has allowed the Columbia clinic to maintain its license to perform abortions while it searched for a new physician.
The lawsuit states that from June 2012 to September 2013 the clinic was without a physician and unable to perform abortions but it kept its license.
“It will take significant time for (Planned Parenthood) to find a new physician to provide abortions at the Columbia center, and even longer if that physician needs to apply for and obtain local hospital privileges,” the lawsuit says. It says the heath department’s license revocation does not give Planned Parenthood enough time to maintain its license and, in doing so, violates Planned Parenthood’s right to due process.
A spokesman said Monday that the state health department would not comment on pending litigation.
University of Missouri Health Care ended its relationship with Planned Parentood’s doctor after facing political pressure from Republican lawmakers who questioned whether the publicly funded public university should associate itself with an abortion provider.
Planned Parenthood supporters had hoped public pressure would force interim Mizzou Chancellor Hank Foley to reverse the school’s decision. But in a statement issued Monday afternoon, Foley said the university’s position remained unchanged.
“The issue of abortion invokes much depth of emotion and passion; I understand this,” Foley said. “However, as a state and federally funded university with a health system, we are required to follow applicable state and federal laws.”
The Columbia clinic in August began performing nonsurgical abortions for the first time since 2012.
McNicholas is an obstetrician and gynecologist who serves on the faculty of Washington University with privileges at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. If abortions stop at the Columbia clinic, the only Missouri facility still performing the procedure would be in St. Louis. Abortions are performed at a Planned Parenthood facility just across the Kansas line in Overland Park.