Updated at 6 p.m., May 31 with comments from clinic officials and supporters — Missouri's only abortion provider will remain open.
A St. Louis Circuit Court judge on Friday issued a temporary restraining order that keeps the license of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic valid beyond midnight, when it expires.
Judge Michael Stelzer’s ruling keeps the clinic’s license in effect until he rules on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction that would bar the state Department of Health and Senior Services from denying a renewed license to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. A hearing is set for 9 a.m. Tuesday.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Planned Parenthood claims that the state is attempting to shut down the clinic by “unlawfully” tying the routine renewal of its license to the completion of the department’s investigation into a patient complaint. The Department of Health and Senior Services has not disclosed that complaint to Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood officials quickly hailed the judge’s ruling as a validation, however temporary, of abortion rights.
“Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over,” Dr. Leana Wen, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.
“We have seen just how vulnerable access to abortion care is here — and in the rest of the country,” Wen said. “We are glad that the governor has been prevented from putting women’s health and lives in danger — for now — and call on him to stop this egregious politicalization of public health in an attempt to ban all safe, legal abortion care in the state.”
The clinic’s medical director, David Eisenberg, said that while the decision is temporary, it sent a clear message to Gov. Mike Parson that abortion is legal and access necessary.
"Your Department of Health and Senior Services is supposed to promote and protect the health of Missourians," Eisenberg said. "Forcing them to leave the state for routine care is the exact opposite of that mission."
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN and attending physician at the clinic, said the order comes as a huge relief for patients who need access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri.
“While temporary, we celebrate today, and tomorrow we go back to work to ensure access to abortion does not go dark at the last health center that provides abortion in Missouri,” McNicholas said. “Planned Parenthood has served Missouri for more than 87 years, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
In his ruling, the judge said the temporary restraining order was necessary because, unless the Department of Health and Senior Services issued Planned Parenthood a renewed permit, the organization would not be permitted to operate an abortion clinic. He noted that in court, the department’s lawyers said “there was no prospect that the department would act” on Planned Parenthood’s application before the deadline.
Stelzer said Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it would suffer “immediate and irreparable injury” if its license to operate the clinic expires. The judge said the temporary restraining order is necessary to preserve the status quo while he weighs the case.
After the judge's ruling was announced, abortion rights proponents gathered outside the Midtown clinic in solidarity with the court's decision.
“I think the thing that gets to me is women’s bodies are treated as a vessel rather than valuable in and of themselves," said Karisa Gilman-Hernandez of St. Louis.
"We’re told what to do with it, how to dress, what to wear, everything. And it all starts with our uteruses. So as long as they are trying to regulate my uterus, I will be here."
Read the court's temporary restraining order:
Follow Sarah on Twitter: Petit_Smudge
Reporter Jeremy D. Goodwin contributed to this story.
Send questions and comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org