A Federal Judge's Ruling Leaves Missouri With Just One Abortion Provider
This story was updated at 9 a.m. Oct. 4 to add the comments of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams.
A federal judge has declined – at least for now — to block a Missouri abortion law, leaving the state with just one abortion provider.
The law requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or else face criminal prosecution.
U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes ruled on Wednesday that even if he blocked the law, Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic would not be able to offer treatment because the state has refused to renew its license, which expired on Oct. 2.
Health officials conducted an inspection of the clinic on Sept. 28 and said they found instances of moldy and rusty equipment.
Wimes, however, said Planned Parenthood was free to refile its motion for a temporary restraining order once health officials find the Columbia clinic has complied with state sanitation requirements.
The clinic has been unable to secure physician admitting privileges and canceled abortions scheduled for Wednesday. It continues to provide other health and reproductive services.
Brandon J. Hill, president of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates the Columbia clinic, said Wimes' ruling was "a disappointing setback in our effort to protect access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri."
"Our patients already face tremendous barriers to accessing care, and now they will have to travel farther, take more time, and spend more resources to seek the health care they need," Hill said in a statement. "For women across the state experiencing confusion and frustration as they seek much-needed health care, we are here as a resource for you to determine your next steps, and we will continue fighting to uphold access to safe, legal abortion.”
Wimes’ ruling came a month after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to strike down the law, even though it's similar to a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court found to be unconstitutional in 2016.
The 8th Circuit reversed an order entered by U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs, who ruled that he was bound by the Supreme Court’s decision. The 8th Circuit said Sachs had failed to weigh the law’s benefits against its burdens and sent the case back for reconsideration.
Planned Parenthood’s clinic in St. Louis is now the only facility in the state offering abortions. Its Kansas City clinic, which provides medication abortions, is awaiting renewal of its license.
In a statement Thursday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson lauded Wimes' ruling as "a victory for protecting the sanctity of life."
“Every day that goes by when we can save innocent and unborn lives and protect the health and safety of women is a win," Parson said. "We take our obligation to ensure that abortion facilities must meet basic safety standards very seriously and will continue to do so.”
The director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, Dr. Randall Williams, said his agency was "committed to ensuring the safety of all patients throughout their care at the facilities we regulate and license, including making sure that basic sanitation requirements are met."
"This was not the case during our most recent unannounced inspection of the Columbia facility,” he said.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies