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With St. Louis Abortion Clinic's License Set To Expire, Planned Parenthood Seeks Extension

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last provider of abortion services in Missouri. It could lose its license this week.
File photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last provider of abortion services in Missouri. It could lose its license this week.

Planned Parenthood will lose its license to perform abortions on Friday afternoon unless a state commission grants the clinic’s request to keep the clinic open. 

The St. Louis clinic, the last in the state to provide abortions, earlier this week formally requested that the Administrative Hearing Commission keep its license valid until an Aug. 1 hearing. 

The clinic's license is the subject of a dispute between Planned Parenthood and the state Department of Health and Senior Services. Last week, the department denied the clinic's applicationfor a renewed license.

In a lawsuit, Planned Parenthood claimed that the department was using the regulatory process to end access to abortion. But St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer ruled last week that Planned Parenthood must take its claims against state regulators to the commission, which resolves disputes between the state and private parties.

Planned Parenthood accuses the state of being “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, unlawful” and overstepping its authority in its decision to deny the license. It wants the Administrative Hearing Commission to overturn the state’s decision and renew the license. 

Stelzer’s order for a temporary injunction has kept the clinic operating while the two sides have battled in court. In his ruling, Stelzer wrote that the clinic's license will remain in effect until 5 p.m. Friday. If the commission does not extend it, the clinic will lose its license, four weeks before the scheduled hearing.

If the clinic’s request isn’t granted, “its staff, its patients and its contracted physicians will all be irreparably harmed, as will the 1.1 million Missouri women of reproductive age who, despite their constitutional right to obtain a pre-viability abortion, will no longer have access to abortion care anywhere in the state,” Planned Parenthood’s lawyers wrote in their request to the commission.

They asked the commission to make a decision before Friday afternoon.

If the commission denies the request, Planned Parenthood could ask a judge to keep the license in place, a lawyer from the organization said Thursday. 

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood accused state regulators of abusing their power in denying to renew the clinic’s annual license.

State regulators said they couldn’t renew the license, citing safety problems. 

To keep the clinic open would be a reckless decision, state officials told the commission in a formal response to Planned Parenthood's request.

“Affording RHS a license in the face of its non-cooperation would send a message to all facilities that — notwithstanding decades of consistent practice to the contrary across hundreds of facilities — a license is an entitlement and cooperation in Department investigations is not required to obtain a renewal,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt wrote in court filings. 

“Such a precedent would threaten to undermine the very authority of the Department to regulate facilities to promote patient health and safety,” he wrote. 

Planned Parenthood officials say they’re making arrangements with abortion clinics in Illinois and extending hours in clinics across the river to accommodate patients if the license isn’t renewed. 

Follow Sarah on Twitter @petit_smudge

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.