Planned Parenthood’s midtown Kansas City clinic can no longer perform medication abortions after its license officially expired on Aug. 10.
Clinic officials say they sought timely renewal of its license, but state health officials delayed it after saying they were unable to conduct a complete inspection of the facility in June.
The clinic had no abortion provider on the premises at the time, having stopped performing medication abortions on March 29 when its previous provider left.
The clinic, at 1001 Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd., has since secured another abortion physician, but the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services now insists it needs to start the inspection process from scratch – even though the clinic has addressed DHSS’s deficiency findings.
“It’s hard for me to imagine how this isn’t for purposes of delay,” says Emily Wales, Planned Parenthood’s general counsel and chief compliance lawyer.
“We met our deadlines and submitted things to them as requested and, without any other information from the department, we hear that our license has expired, with no response to our application until after the date of expiration,” Wales says.
DHSS officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Emily Miller, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates the midtown facility, says that Planned Parenthood had addressed all the deficiencies cited by DHSS at its initial inspection but has yet to get a response.
One of those deficiencies, Miller says, concerned the clinic’s giving patients the option of meeting with trained staff to answer their questions.
That isn’t part of the state-mandated checklist of items abortion physicians are required to tell patients about at least 72 hours before they undergo the procedure. Those include the risks of abortion as well as alternatives to abortion.
“I think their position is that we should stick to the state-mandated information,” Miller says. “And our interpretation is that we should be able to go above and beyond that. That's the best way to serve our patients."
The skirmish over the clinic’s license is the latest development in Planned Parenthood’s ongoing struggle to provide abortion services in the face of state restrictions limiting the circumstances under which it can offer them.
Among other restrictions, Missouri requires that medication abortion providers contract with back-up ob-gyns with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital – even though it imposes no such requirement for most other medical procedures. Medication abortions, which involve the administration of two pills, are considered extremely safe.
Planned Parenthood has sued to block the requirement, but a federal judge denied that request in June after ruling that Planned Parenthood had not shown it imposed “a substantial burden” for “a large fraction” of women seeking medication abortions. The case is set to go to trial next year.
A different federal judge found another Missouri requirement – that abortion providers themselves have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals – to be unconstitutional. But Missouri has appealed that decision and the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to issue its decision in that case any day now.
Because the midtown clinic’s new abortion provider does not have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, it’s unclear, even if its license is renewed, whether it would be able to offer abortion services.
As a result, Miller says the clinic, which continues to provide reproductive and other health services to patients, has been directing patients to its Overland Park facility.
“When abortion patients are contacting us to schedule appointments, we’re just talking with them about their alternatives,” Miller says. “We can’t keep people waiting around, so we’re trying to meet the need with services at our Overland Park location if that’s possible for people.”
For patients who depend on public transportation, that may be inconvenient at best and, in some circumstances, not possible at all.
“For a lot of patients, this is a much more accessible location,” Miller says. “So this is why we really feel like we need to restore care here.”
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies