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Protests at new Planned Parenthood facility in Fairview Heights

Stacy Washington of Town & Country holds a sign aloft at the rally. Students for Life of America and pro-life, anti-abortion advocates in Missouri and Illinois joined together to rally against Planned Parenthood at their new facility, 317 Salem Place in Fairview Heights, IL on October 9, 2019. Last week, Planned Parenthood announced it had been secretly constructing an updated facility in Illinois, 13 miles from the last existing facility in Missouri. Photo by Tim Vizer

JEFFERSON CITY — Concerned that a hearing over a controversial abortion lawsuit could be disrupted, state officials have asked police to provide security for the daylong session later this month.

On Oct. 28, Planned Parenthood of St. Louis will square off against Gov. Mike Parson’s administration in a hearing in the state-owned Wainwright State Office Building in downtown St. Louis.

As the date inches closer, a staff attorney for the Administrative Hearing Commission said preparations for the session are underway.

“We have been in contact with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department because it is kind of a high-profile case,” Ranada Vinyard told the Post-Dispatch. “They will be completely in charge of whatever security is necessary.”

At issue is the administration’s decision to allow Planned Parenthood’s license to perform abortions to expire over concerns that include “failed abortions” that required additional surgeries.

The clinic continues to offer abortion services while the case is pending before the commission.

In keeping with many abortion-related issues, both sides have held vigils and protests in response to the licensing issue, as well as a law signed by Parson in May that would ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies.

The law was temporarily blocked from going into effect by a federal judge in August.

Calling for law enforcement assistance is a rarity, Vinyard said.

In the past, there have been instances where commission officials asked for a police presence at a hearing in case one of the litigants became angry. But, in her 25 years with the commission, Vinyard said she cannot remember having a case where the agency requested more than an extra officer to be on hand.

The commission, which typically hears largely mundane cases between state regulators and private entities, also is working on a plan for seating. Already, the hearing has been moved to a larger space in the state office building.

Vinyard said Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, the commissioner hearing the case, will set aside space for the media and the two sides arguing the case. But officials also want to have a plan for ensuring the public can attend.

For abortion rights supporters, the stakes are high.

If Planned Parenthood does not succeed in convincing the commission that the clinic should retain its license, Missouri could become the only state without a clinic that performs abortions.

Planned Parenthood has said the Department of Health and Senior Services is attempting to use the regulatory process to end access to abortion.

In anticipation of a crackdown on abortion services in Missouri, Planned Parenthood is opening a new facility just across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

The 18,000-square-foot location in Fairview Heights is about 17 miles from the clinic targeted in the licensing dispute and will begin seeing patients this month for family planning services, cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and both surgical and medical abortions.

The new clinic has been in construction for more than a year but was built in secret to avoid protesters and delay, officials said.

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