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Missouri governor won’t appeal ruling favoring abortion provider

Missouri governor won’t appeal ruling favoring abortion provider

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Parson speaks at Midwest March for Life

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks at the 2020 Midwest March for Life on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, as state Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, listens in a crowd of about 500 at St. Peter Catholic Church in Jefferson City. Parson was the first Missouri governor to attend the march or speak at the rally. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson will not contest a high-profile loss in his administration’s bid to shut down the state’s lone abortion provider.

In a statement from the Republican’s top health official, the administration said its decision to issue an operating license last week to Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic makes an appeal of his yearlong effort to close the facility unneeded.

Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office, which handled the case, concurred.

“The Department of Health and Senior Services has made it clear that they are not interested in pursuing this further since a new license has been issued and the issue is moot, therefore no further action will be taken,” said spokesman Chris Nuelle.

Schmitt was appointed to the post by Parson.

The department issued a license Thursday to Planned Parenthood, allowing the facility on Forest Park Avenue in the city’s Central West End to operate through 2021.

After failing state health inspections last year, the facility was able to continue operating through the intervention of a judge’s order.

The new license was issued nearly a month after a state administrative hearing judge ruled against the administration’s effort to shutter the facility.

In his 97-page decision, Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi said Planned Parenthood had demonstrated that it meets the requirements for renewal of its license.

Health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox told the Post-Dispatch that the “health, safety, well being and quality of care is, and will continue to be, our top concern at the facilities we regulate through licensure and was our sole focus throughout the license process last year.”

“While we still strongly disagree with some of the legal determinations in the (Administrative Hearing Commission) decision, we are encouraged by the improvements in the quality of the care practices and procedures that have been made over the past year,” she added.

Following Dandamudi’s decision, Planned Parenthood requested a new inspection from the administration and received a positive score.

Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, described the most recent inspection process as less confrontational than the 2019 inquiry led by employees of state health chief Randall Williams.

A four-day trial in October highlighted the administration’s efforts to close the facility by denying it a license to operate based on allegations that Planned Parenthood had botched abortions.

A March 2019 inspection, for example, found that a woman had undergone an abortion that took five attempts to complete. The health department investigated other instances when women underwent multiple procedures to complete an abortion and found four.

In one of the cases, the patient had to return for a second procedure because, Dandamudi wrote, it was likely she was pregnant with twins and only one had been aborted. Planned Parenthood officials said the other twin might have been missed because the patient was “morbidly obese.”

Planned Parenthood attorneys said the state “cherry-picked” a handful of difficult cases out of thousands of otherwise successful abortions.

Evidence in the case showed there were political calculations in Parson’s decision to pursue the facility’s closure.

In a deposition, a Planned Parenthood attorney asked Parson’s campaign manager, Steele Shippy, who was then Parson’s communications chief, “Was it your main goal to shut down Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services?”

“As a member of the pro-life community, I, yeah. I believe that shutting down Planned Parenthood is, you know, a good thing to protect the health and safety of women,” Shippy said.

While the facility’s license has been in limbo, Planned Parenthood has said Missouri patients have increasingly sought care in Illinois, which has fewer restrictions on abortion procedures.

In October 2019 Planned Parenthood opened a new clinic in Fairview Heights, 15 miles east of St. Louis.

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