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Missouri's only abortion clinic gets another extension, will remain open until August

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region will continue to be allowed to provide abortions after another reprieve, this time from a state administrative commissioner.
Image: Planned Parenthood Clinic Missouri
Anti-abortion demonstrators rally outside the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region clinic on June 4, 2019, in St Louis, Missouri.Michael B. Thomas / Getty Images file

Missouri's lone abortion clinic on Friday was granted a stay from the state's Administrative Hearing Commission, enabling it to continue performing the procedure amid a protracted legal battle threatening to shut it down.

The stay, granted by Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, will allow the clinic to continue abortions until at least August.

“We are relieved to have this last-minute reprieve, which means patients can continue accessing safe, legal abortion at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for the time being. This has been a week-to-week fight for our patients and every Missourian who needs access to abortion care," Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region has been clinging to its right to perform abortions since June 1, when Missouri's health department first decided not to renew its license after an inspection in March found problems, including “at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised.”

State Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer granted a preliminary injunction to the clinic June 10 that allowed it to continue to operate even as the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew its license. He set a deadline of June 21 for the department to make a decision.

The health department again declined to renew the license June 21. Stelzer said during a hearing that his previously issued injunction held. He extended the order until June 28, which he said would allow time for Missouri's Administrative Hearing Commission to review the dispute between the clinic and the state's health department.

The commission on Friday scheduled a hearing for Aug. 1 to review whether the state was right to not renew the license. Dandamudi said there was a "likelihood" that the ruling would be in the clinic's favor, according to The Associated Press.

The embattled Planned Parenthood says it's made changes in response to the state's inspection and has consistently provided high quality care.

It has also argued that the licensing battle is part of a greater anti-abortion effort by the state's administration. Last month, Missouri's Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill banning abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy without exceptions in cases of rape or incest — one of the nation's most restrictive abortion bills.

Missouri is one of six states that has only one abortion clinic. The other five states are Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Missouri had more abortion clinics in the past; in 2008, there were five. But in the past decade, the clinics were unable to keep up with the state's stringent and perpetually evolving requirements, with some closing and then reopening again and then shuttering for good.

The licensing fight comes amid a slew of recent anti-abortion legislation across the country, including a near-total ban on abortions in Alabama. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union are suing to block the bans, which they say are unconstitutional under the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that federally legalized abortion.