With the threat of being shut down within 48 hours, the last remaining abortion clinic in Missouri on Wednesday accused the state of "intimidation at the highest levels of government" as it prepared for a legal battle over a decision not to renew the clinic's license.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region filed a lawsuit against Republican Gov. Michael Parson and the state Department of Health and Senior Services on Tuesday, arguing that the agency's decision to withhold the license was another in a long line of tactics to "restrict abortion access and deny Missourians their right to choose abortion."
The decision came less than two weeks after Missouri lawmakers voted to ban abortion in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy, one of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country.
"This is harassment and attempted intimidation of doctors at the highest levels of government...None of this has one bit to do with patient health or safety, but rather, banning abortion."
—Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen told "CBS Sunday Morning" on Wednesday that the state's attack on the clinic in St. Louis is part of an attempt to "weaponize" abortion regulations by imposing medically unnecessary requirements on clinics such as mandated pelvic exams and hospital-admitting privileges for doctors.
"What they are doing is to weaponize the inspection process and to politicize it," Wen said. "All of these regulations have only one purpose, which is to shut down the ability of health centers to provide safe, legal abortions, which is not going to stop abortion, but it will stop safe, legal abortions."
The state is "unlawfully conditioning a decision on its routine license renewal application on completion of a supposed 'investigation' of a patient complaint," Planned Parenthood's court filing reads. The clinic maintains that it has already "fully cooperated with every investigative request."
A hearing was set for Wednesday afternoon in the Circuit Court of St. Louis, but was postponed.
Missouri is currently one of six states with only one remaining abortion clinic. On Friday it could become the first state in 45 years to make legal and safe abortions impossible to obtain, if the clinic is forced to stop providing care.
Planned Parenthood said in a statement Tuesday that the state is threatening to shut down the clinic's abortion services "unless doctors consent to inappropriate interrogation, bordering on harassment," from the state.
"This is harassment and attempted intimidation of doctors at the highest levels of government," Dr. Colleen McNicholas, who provides care at the clinic, said in a statement. "Just like the Trump administration and the state politicians they embolden, Missouri Governor Parson's inspections process has become just another vehicle to intimidate doctors like me and to push abortion care out of reach for patients. None of this has one bit to do with patient health or safety, but rather, banning abortion."
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Dr. Erin King, who runs Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, 10 minutes from St. Louis, told Democracy Now! that her clinic has already received concerned phone calls from women across the state border who may need to obtain reproductive healthcare in Illinois.
"In the last two years, with a significant number of restrictions around abortion in Missouri, we've already seen a very, very high number of patients have to come over to Illinois to see us," said King. "I expect that number will increase significantly."
"Just yesterday," King added, "we already had a flood of phone calls of very panicked and frantic patients wondering what was going on, where they can go, where they can seek care. So we're already really concerned that there’s a lot of confusion around this issue. And, unfortunately, not all patients can just pick up and drive across a state line to seek care."
"This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is a real public health crisis," Wen said Tuesday. "This is the world that the Trump administration and Republican public officials across the country have been pushing for—a world where abortion care is illegal and inaccessible in this country."
A number of Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have weighed in on what the New York Times editorial board called the "dark milestone" that is looming in Missouri, should the clinic's license expire.
This is a public health crisis: The last remaining clinic in Missouri that provides safe, legal abortion could be shut down within hours. We must fight the extremists who, in state after state, are waging a war against women. https://t.co/959YySsbHT
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) May 28, 2019
If this health care center closes, Missouri will become the only state in our country where women won’t have access to safe, legal abortion. That’s why I’m urging Congress to pass new federal laws that protect access to reproductive care, including abortion, in every state. https://t.co/9XbZBQ53UJ
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 28, 2019
Leaving an entire state—and 1 million people—without a single abortion provider is the definition of an "undue burden" on access. That makes it unconstitutional.
This is an attack on Missourians' civil rights, and it cannot be allowed to stand. https://t.co/eci0ZTWwe3
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) May 28, 2019