Missouri orders lone abortion clinic to close; judge keeps it open for now

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri health officials on Friday refused to renew the license of the state’s only abortion clinic, but the facility will remain open for now as a judge left in place an injunction blocking its closure.

At a brief state circuit court hearing on Friday, Judge Michael Stelzer said it might be days before the court would come to a decision on whether the state could shut its only abortion clinic, which is operated by women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

“I think you guys are expecting an order soon. I don’t know that order is going to be today,” Stelzer said during the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes.

If the clinic were to close, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion clinic.

The state is one of 12 to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

State health officials said they did not renew the clinic’s license to perform abortions because they were unable to interview several physicians who were involved in what they said were multiple life-threatening abortions at the clinic.

“We should all agree that, regardless of the number of Planned Parenthood facilities in Missouri, every step should be taken to ensure the protection, safety, and well-being of women’s healthcare,” Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri health officials after they warned they would decline to renew the license of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on the grounds that it failed to meet their standards.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral.

The legal battle in Missouri began after Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.

FILE PHOTO: Planned Parenthood’s employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri Director M’Evie Mead told a news conference that the state’s decision was politically motivated.

“I call on Governor Parson to take this issue seriously and to immediately stop weaponizing the regulatory process,” Mead said. “They have weaponized it. And we need the courts to intervene.”

Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight to protect abortion access in Missouri and to push back against regulatory standards that the women’s healthcare organization believes put a burden on abortion rights.

Reporting by Robert Langellier in St. Louis; writing by Gabriella Borter; editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman

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