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Missouri’s lone abortion provider receives operating license after yearlong fight

Missouri’s lone abortion provider receives operating license after yearlong fight

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State loses bid to shut down Planned Parenthood

A banner hangs on the side of the Planned Parenthood of St. Louis building after a state judge ruled against an attempt by the Gov. Mike Parson administration to shut down the lone abortion clinic in Missouri. The banner has been in place since an October trial where the Missouri Department of Public Health attempted to close it by denying a license to operate. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson’s administration issued a license Thursday to Planned Parenthood, allowing Missouri’s lone abortion provider to operate through 2021.

After yanking the St. Louis clinic’s license last year, the facility has been able to continue operating only 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 Republican administration’s attempt to shutter the facility on Forest Park Avenue.

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

Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services, confirmed the license was issued after the facility passed a state inspection, but signaled that the state has not made a decision on appealing the ruling.

“(I)t does not make an appeal of the AHC decision moot as there are issues within the decision beyond whether the facility gets a license,” Cox said.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt has until Monday to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said the organization is “pleased to put the licensure issue to rest after more than a year of being targeted by Missouri’s health department.”

She said the clinic applied for a new license following Dandamudi’s decision. She described the inspection process as less confrontational this time around.

“That process was prompt, the inspectors were cordial, and we appreciate the department’s work to issue the license,” Rodriguez said.

The ruling came after months of review of testimony and legal briefings in a showdown between DHSS and the health care provider.

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 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.”

“Obesity can also cause difficulty in identifying multiple pregnancies,” Dandamudi wrote.

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

Dandamudi agreed.

“Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care. In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” he wrote.

Evidence in the case included a deposition from Parson’s campaign manager, Steele Shippy.

A Planned Parenthood attorney asked 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.

Rodriguez issued a stern rebuke to the governor Thursday.

“Governor Parson should use this episode as an opportunity to refocus himself on setting policies to improve the myriad public health crises ravaging Missouri, including the COVID-19 crisis, rising infant and maternal mortality rates and skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted infections like syphilis. He waxes on about personal responsibility, but his personal responsibility as the governor of this state is to act in the best interest of those who live here,” Rodriguez said.

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