Government & Politics

Missouri judge to Planned Parenthood: appeal license decision to state panel

Planned Parenthood advocates march in St. Louis, last abortion clinic in Missouri could close

Protesters opposed to Missouri's restrictive abortion law gathered at the St. Louis arch Thursday, May 30, 2019. Anti-abortion protesters maintain presence at the clinic.
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Protesters opposed to Missouri's restrictive abortion law gathered at the St. Louis arch Thursday, May 30, 2019. Anti-abortion protesters maintain presence at the clinic.

A St. Louis judge has extended a preliminary injunction that allows a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic to continue offering abortions.

The judge granted the preliminary injunction to Planned Parenthood until the end of the week, in order for the St. Louis clinic to appeal the denial of its license to the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC).

In an order issued Monday, St. Louis City Court Judge Michael Stelzer said that injunction, which allows the St. Louis clinic to continue to offer abortions, will end Friday, June 28 at 5 p.m. He also dismissed almost all the claims brought by Planned Parenthood against the state’s health department, which is in charge of approving or denying the clinic’s license.

The clinic is the last provider of abortions in Missouri and has vowed to continue the fight in the AHC.

“Abortion care is health care and patients in need of this service shouldn’t have to wait day by day wondering if they can access care tomorrow, nor should they have ever had to undergo invasive exams that have nothing to do with their health,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician with the clinic, said in a statement. “We will continue this fight in the Administrative Hearing Commission, and we won’t stop until every person can access the care they need when and where they need it.”

Citing an ongoing investigation into patient care, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services allowed the clinic’s license to lapse May 31. Planned Parenthood preemptively sued, and a temporary restraining order, then preliminary injunction, allowed for the clinic to keep its doors open to patients looking for abortions. Upon Stelzer’s order, DHSS made a final decision on the clinic’s license Friday and formally rejected its application.

Stelzer dismissed Planned Parenthood’s claims for failing to exhaust administrative remedies, mirroring the DHSS’s argument in court.

The AHC, which handles disputes between state agencies and individuals or businesses, often reviews licensing matters. It has the ability to extend Planned Parenthood’s license to offer abortions by granting a stay.

The four commissioners — three of whom were appointed by former Gov. Jay Nixon — hear cases individually and their decisions can be subject to judicial review.

The newest commissioner, Philip Prewitt, was appointed by Gov. Mike Parson earlier in the month. In a bid for the state house, he received support from Missouri Right to Life, and as a Macon County associate circuit judge, he was reprimanded by the Missouri Supreme Court for urging support of a teen pregnancy resource center, according to the Associated Press.

Cases are assigned to commissioners on a rotating basis. Prewitt has said he would consider recusing himself if the Planned Parenthood case were to come before him.

Stelzer dismissed the claims “without prejudice,” meaning they can be brought before the court again. Both sides were ordered to pay their own court costs.

A request for comment to DHSS was not immediately returned.

This story was updated.

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.