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Abortions 'Virtually Halted' in Missouri as Licensing Fight Continues for Last Clinic Providing Procedure

"No one should be forced out of their home state just to access healthcare. What's happening in Missouri, and in other states down to one abortion provider, is unacceptable."

Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally

Pro-choice supporters and staff of Planned Parenthood hold a rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, May 31, 2019, the last location in the state performing abortions. - A US Court on May 31, 2019 blocked Missouri from closing the clinic. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP)

As Missouri's last remaining abortion provider awaits the outcome of a licensing battle with Republican Gov. Mike Parson's administration that could force the clinic to stop performing the procedure, a new analysis reported on Thursday by NPR suggests that patients are already crossing state lines to end pregnancies.

"When they are weighing their options, the majority of patients are clearly seeing that abortion access is so unmanageable that they're choosing to cross state lines."
—Yamelsie Rodriguez, Planned Parenthood

The licensing dispute between Missouri and Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region has been ongoing since May 2019, when the state allowed the clinic's license to expire. The clinic's fate will now be decided in the coming weeks or months by the state Administrative Hearing Commission.

The new Planned Parenthood analysis shared with NPR reportedly shows that abortions have "virtually halted" in the state. Only three patients aborted pregnancies at the St. Louis area clinic last month, compared with 174 in February 2019. Meanwhile, 323 patients from Missouri traveled to a clinic that Planned Parenthood recently opened in neighboring state Illinois—which has less restrictive abortion laws—for the procedure.

"This is what happens when you impose these very onerous and burdensome restrictions on patients," Planned Parenthood acting president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson told NPR. "What it means is that abortion access is narrowed so dramatically [in Missouri] that it's almost a right in name only."

McGill Johnson tweeted Thursday that "no one should be forced out of their home state just to access healthcare" and called what is happening in Missouri "unacceptable."

That only one Missouri clinic can currently provide abortions is not the only barrier that patients face; the state has also imposed various restrictions related to the procedure.

For example, in Missouri, "a patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided," the pro-choice nonprofit Guttmacher Institute explains in a summary of state polices. "Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two trips to the facility."

Yamelsie Rodriguez, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, told NPR that "when they are weighing their options, the majority of patients are clearly seeing that abortion access is so unmanageable that they're choosing to cross state lines."

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Rodriguez also expressed concerns that the clinic's licensing fight could lead to similar situations nationwide. As she put it: "We know that if access is eliminated at the last abortion clinic in Missouri, we can expect to see other states trying do the same."

Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri responded to NPR's report with a series of tweets claiming that Gov. Parson is trying to "score political points by misleading the public about abortion" and "distract from his dismal record by playing politics with women's health."

While Planned Parenthood has framed the licensing dispute as a politically motivated attack aimed an ending abortion statewide, Parson has expressed "serious health concerns" about the clinic's safety and Missouri officials have accused the healthcare provider of not abiding by state regulations.

Other reproductive rights advocates have echoed Planned Parenthood's criticism of the GOP governor and state officials. In response to the Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri's Twitter thread Thursday, NARAL Missouri declared that "abortion is still legal in all 50 states, but in Missouri it's almost a right in name only."

"[Parson] and anti-abortion extremists are working overtime to dismantle all access to abortion in our communities, and gut Missourians' right to control their body, life, and future," NARAL Missouri added.

NPR's reporting on the new analysis and fresh criticism of Missouri officials came after state health director Dr. Randall Williams faced a firestorm of outrage in October 2019 after disclosing that he kept a spreadsheet tracking Planned Parenthood patients' menstrual periods—a revelation that critics condemned as "deeply disturbing" and further evidence of how Parson and state health officials "have weaponized the licensing process to attack Planned Parenthood and end abortion access in Missouri."

This post has been updated to clarify findings from the Planned Parenthood analysis.

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