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ST. LOUIS — Planned Parenthood argued in court on Wednesday that Missouri has no right to withhold the license for the Central West End abortion clinic because it has corrected all of the problems cited by the state.

Lawyers for the state disagreed, saying Planned Parenthood has not complied with state demands regarding an ongoing investigation into clinic practices.

“We are looking at deeply troubling issues of patient care,” said Assistant Attorney General D. John Sauer.

The hearing before Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer centered on technical language in state laws and regulations for renewing health care facilities. The dispute is over Planned Parenthood’s refusal to make available five private doctors to be interviewed as part of the state investigation of the facility.

Planned Parenthood’s lawyer Jamie Boyer argued state rules mandate the renewal of its license because the clinic has corrected deficiencies uncovered in a routine inspection. Sauer, the lawyer for the state, disagreed, saying Planned Parenthood has failed to comply by not compelling the five doctors to be interviewed. He also said a state administrative commission — not a state court — is the proper place for Planned Parenthood’s complaint.

Stelzer did not rule on Wednesday whether to issue a preliminary injunction that would allow the clinic to continue performing abortions, and did not indicate when he would rule.

Wednesday’s hearing was the latest step in Planned Parenthood’s legal fight to keep Missouri from becoming the first U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Stelzer last week issued a temporary restraining order preventing Planned Parenthood’s license from expiring at midnight Friday. The ruling was part of the clinic’s lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, alleging the state agency had illegally refused to renew the St. Louis abortion clinic’s yearly license.

Late last month, Gov. Mike Parson signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, banning them after the eighth week of pregnancy. The two events have together turned the nation’s attention on Missouri, one of several states to pass stricter abortion laws.

The new law takes effect on Aug. 28.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services, declined to describe “multiple” deficiencies found by inspectors at the St. Louis clinic, but said they were “critical” matters of life-and-death that will become public record once the state has finished its investigation.

“Many Missourians are pro-choice. Many Missourians are pro-life,” he said. “What all those Missourians expect me to do in a regulatory fashion is to enforce the law, enforce the regulations and keep people safe.”

M’Evie Mead, the director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, said Parson has put Missouri in the headlines for “all the wrong reasons.”

M’Evie Mead

M’Evie Mead, director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, talks to reporters Wednesday, June 5, 2019, on the steps of the Civil Courts building in downtown St. Louis. Photo by Joel Currier, jcurrier@post-dispatch.com

“We just want to ensure that patients are getting the care they need,” Mead said.


Photos of abortion protests since 1973

Joel Currier is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter here: @joelcurrier.