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Missouri’s last abortion clinic will stay open, for now

The clinic’s battle with state regulators continues.

Protesters march through downtown St. Louis to oppose the closure of the last abortion clinic in Missouri on May 30, 2019 in St Louis, Missouri.
Protesters march through downtown St. Louis to oppose the closure of the last abortion clinic in Missouri on May 30, 2019.
Jacob Moscovitch/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Missouri’s last remaining abortion clinic will stay open, at least temporarily.

A judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction keeping the clinic open. The clinic’s ability to provide abortions has been in jeopardy for weeks due to a dispute with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

The department had accused the clinic of unspecified “deficient practices” and refused to renew its license unless all physicians submitted to interviews. But Planned Parenthood, which operates the clinic, was concerned the interviews could lead to criminal prosecution.

The organization filed suit and, on Monday, a judge in the Missouri Circuit Court in St. Louis allowed the clinic to keep offering abortion services for now. The judge ordered the state health department to make a decision on the clinic’s license by June 21. Another hearing is scheduled for that day.

“While this is welcome relief for patients and providers at Planned Parenthood, this fight is far from over,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN at the clinic, in a statement. “Abortion access in Missouri is hanging on by a thread.”

Abortion opponents have scored big victories in Missouri, with a ban on abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy recently signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson. The governor also warned last month that it would be “reckless” to allow the clinic to stay open. Though the clinic will keep providing abortions for now, its battle will continue.

The state of Missouri is refusing to renew the clinic’s license

The current dispute began in March, when state officials started an audit of the clinic, Sabrina Tavernise reports at the New York Times. In the process, officials said they had found “deficient practices” and that all physicians at the clinic would have to submit to an interview. The state said consequences of the interview could include “criminal proceedings,” a clinic spokesperson told CBS.

Planned Parenthood said it was not clear what “deficient practices” the state objected to. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has not yet responded to Vox’s request for comment.

Planned Parenthood said state officials could interview two physicians at the clinic who are full-time employees of Planned Parenthood, but five medical residents who are not Planned Parenthood employees declined to be interviewed.

In late May, the clinic had reached “an impasse” with the state, according to Planned Parenthood’s head of litigation. Its license to provide abortions was set to expire after within a week. So Planned Parenthood filed suit to keep the clinic open.

At a press conference that week, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who signed the state’s eight-week ban, warned that it would be “reckless” for a judge to allow the clinic to keep offering abortions. “No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance,” he said.

He also said the state had identified “deficiencies” at the clinic but did not say what they were.

Parson “has made it clear that his goal is to ban abortion care in the state of Missouri, and today’s comments confirmed that this is exactly what this is all about,” said Dr. Leana Wen, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement after the press conference. “Our health center meets the highest standard of care.”

Abortion-rights supporters have been showing support for the clinic, attending a rally in downtown St. Louis as well as holding a sit-in at a building in the city where Gov. Parson has an office. Several activists, including M’Evie Mead, director of policy and organizing at Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, were arrested at the sit-in, according to the Riverfront Times.

Regardless of what happens with the lawsuit, the clinic will stay open and provide non-abortion services like STI screenings and contraceptive care, a Planned Parenthood representative told CNN.

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