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Judge Sends Abortion Dispute Between Missouri, Planned Parenthood To State Commission

Updated at 1:55 p.m., June 24 with comments from an attending physician at the Planned Parenthood clinic  — A circuit court judge has allowed Planned Parenthood in St. Louis to continue providing abortions until late Friday afternoon.

A ruling Judge Michael Stelzer made Monday would allow Planned Parenthood to make its case for keeping its license to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, which resolves disputes between state regulators and private entities.

Citing patient safety concerns, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services late last week declined to renew the St. Louis clinic’s license to perform abortions. Officials said some abortions were not performed properly.

MORE: Missouri Denies Planned Parenthood Abortion License, But Clinic Remains Open For Now

In his ruling, Stelzer cited case law on license-renewal procedures that requires an applicant to exhaust all administrative remedies before seeking judicial review. That means Planned Parenthood must take its case against state health officials to the Administrative Hearing Commission, he wrote.

“The court has not authority to intercede in this matter until there has been a final decision by the AHC,” the judge wrote.Loading...

If Planned Parenthood does not succeed in convincing the commission’s members that the clinic should retain its license, Missouri would lose its sole abortion provider. It would become the only state without a clinic that performs abortions.

Planned Parenthood officials say patients with appointments at the clinic this week will have access to abortion. But that access is “hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an attending physician at the clinic.

“Abortion care is health care and patients in need of this service shouldn’t have to wait day by day wondering if they can access care tomorrow,” wrote McNicholas, an OB-GYN.

“We will continue this fight in the Administrative Hearing Commission, and we won’t stop until every person can access the care they need when and where they need it,” McNicholas wrote.

State health officials declined to comment.

Planned Parenthood sued the state Department of Health and Senior Services after it refused to renew the annual license. Department officials said they have sought to interview physicians who worked at the clinic about patient safety. But Planned Parenthood said it could not make those physicians available and they refused to be interviewed.

Planned Parenthood officials have said state health officials are trying to use the regulatory process to end access to abortion.

The dispute comes just weeks after Missouri passed a law that bans most abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy.

Read Judge Stelzer's order:Loading...

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Eli Chen is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She comes to St. Louis after covering the eroding Delaware coast, bat-friendly wind turbine technology, mouse love songs and various science stories for Delaware Public Media/WDDE-FM. Before that, she corralled robots and citizen scientists for the World Science Festival in New York City and spent a brief stint booking guests for Science Friday’s live events in 2013. Eli grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where a mixture of teen angst, a love for Ray Bradbury novels and the growing awareness about climate change propelled her to become the science storyteller she is today. When not working, Eli enjoys a solid bike ride, collects classic disco, watches standup comedy and is often found cuddling other people’s dogs. She has a bachelor’s in environmental sustainability and creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and has a master’s degree in journalism, with a focus on science reporting, from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
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