This story was updated at 11:39 a.m.
Battling on two legal fronts, the regional affiliate of Planned Parenthood scored a court victory in Missouri and secured an additional delay in a threatened cutoff of its Medicaid funds in Kansas.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled that Missouri’s attempt to revoke the abortion license of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, Missouri, violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
Laughrey found that Missouri health officials had yielded to political pressure and treated the clinic, which is operated by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, differently than other ambulatory surgical centers.
Laughrey’s ruling was expected. In December, she blocked the state from revoking the clinic’s license pending a hearing on the merits. The hearing took place two weeks ago.
In her 28-page order, she noted that Missouri health officials had never previously revoked an ambulatory surgical center license, as they did in Planned Parenthood’s case, without first giving the provider an opportunity to cure cited deficiencies.
Missouri law requires that all abortion facilities be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers and that physicians performing abortions have staff privileges at a hospital within a 15-minute drive of the facility.
The state revoked the Columbia clinic’s license after Missouri State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, chair of the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life, conducted an investigation last summer into its licensure and the hospital admitting privileges of the doctor performing abortions there. The doctor held privileges at the University of Missouri Health System.
Schaefer subsequently sent a letter to then-University of Missouri Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin warning him that Missouri law barred the use of public funds for abortions. Shortly after that, the university said it would terminate the doctor’s admitting privileges.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) then informed Planned Parenthood that absent those privileges, it was out of compliance with state licensure requirements and its license would be terminated on Dec. 1.
In her order, Laughrey said that evidence “indicates that DHSS’s unprecedented hasty actions were likely the result of political pressure being exerted by Missouri legislators and the Department’s perception that if it did not act in accordance with the legislature’s desires, its budget would be cut.”
In a statement late Wednesday afternoon, Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the state had “unfairly targeted Planned Parenthood and its staff for providing safe, legal abortion, which jeopardized countless Mid-Missouri patients who need access to critical health care options.”
McQuade said Schaefer had “abused his power to further his extreme ideology against Planned Parenthood and its patients.”
In a statement, Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia who is running for attorney general, said, "I make no apology for my role in uncovering the fact that tax dollars were being used to enable abortions in Missouri. I disagree with the judgement (sic), I do not believe that the federal government can force Missourians to pay for abortions, and I encourage Attorney General (Chris) Koster to appeal immediately to enforce long-standing state law."
In Kansas, the state has rescheduled for June 7 the date on which it says it will end Planned Parenthood’s participation in the state’s Medicaid program. The state had originally scheduled the termination for May 10 but pushed it back after Planned Parenthood sued to block the move.
A hearing on Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit has now been rescheduled for May 25.
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.