Fate of Missouri's last abortion clinic in balance as Planned Parenthood returns to court

A judge will hear more arguments on Wednesday if the clinic can remain open while Planned Parenthood’s suit against the state moves ahead.
Image: Planned Parenthood
A judge's temporary restraining order is keeping a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis open.Lawrence Bryant / Reuters

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By Tim Stelloh and David K. Li

A St. Louis judge scheduled another hearing for Wednesday that could determine whether Missouri’s last abortion clinic remains open — or whether the state becomes the first in the country without one.

Circuit Court Judge Michael F. Seltzer will continue to consider Planned Parenthood's request for a preliminary injunction that could block the state of Missouri from stripping licenses that its doctors need to perform abortions.

While Seltzer did not resolve the dispute over the licenses on Tuesday, he agreed to quash subpoenas for four doctors who worked briefly at the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis during their training.

Seltzerissued an order last week that temporarily kept the clinic’s license from expiring, saying Planned Parenthood — which operates the state’s single clinic in St. Louis — showed that “immediate and irreparable injury” would occur if the facility was shuttered.

Missouri is demanding that doctors must submit to questions from state regulators to keep their licenses to continue performing abortions.

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Despite the stakes, Seltzer said from the bench Tuesday that he views the case in the most narrow of terms, on whether the state of Missouri can mandate interviews.

"I can only draw the conclusion there is confusion about what is and what isn't before the court," Seltzer said, excluding the state's recently signed abortion laws. "Recent Missouri law is not in front of this court."

Planned Parenthood brought the suit last month, alleging that regulators from the state Department of Health and Senior Services had refused to renew the clinic’s license “unless doctors consent to inappropriate interrogation, bordering on harassment.”

The lawsuit described the conduct of the regulators as unconstitutional and asked the judge to block the department.

The health department said Planned Parenthood had not fully cooperated with an investigation into concerns about patient safety.

After last week’s ruling temporarily preventing the license from expiring, Gov. Mike Parson said there would soon be a “prompt legal review” of the concerns against the clinic.

Officials with Planned Parenthood described last week’s order as only a fleeting win.

“While we celebrate this temporary victory, we cannot forget that too many people are already forced to delay or entirely forgo care here in Missouri," said Dr. David Eisenberg, a medical director with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

The case looms large as Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana and other states have passed laws advancing strict limits on access to abortion providers, with some lawmakers saying the express goal of the new legislation is to try and roll back or overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.