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Anti-abortion and abortion rights activists protest in St. Louis

Anti-abortion protesters Anita Toth (left), from Waterloo, and her sister Julie Stern (center), from Red Bud, shake hands and talk calmly with abortion rights protesters Karen Karabell outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Forest Park Avenue in St. Louis on Friday, May 31, 2019 before a judge made his ruling that allows the clinic to remain open for the time being. “We just wanted to come over here and talk” said Toth. The trio had a calm conversation about their views. “We need to move beyond this” said Karabell talking about the protests. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — A St. Louis judge has blocked Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature from cutting off funding to abortion providers and their affiliates.

In a decision that adds another legal front to the courtroom battles already underway between a state government controlled by the GOP and affiliates of Planned Parenthood, Judge David Dowd said the attempted funding prohibition was constitutionally flawed and couldn’t be completely enforced.

The ruling potentially protects health care options for an estimated 7,000 people.

The case stems from a 2018 initiative by lawmakers to block Medicaid funding from going to “any abortion facility” and “any affiliate or associate thereof.”

It has become a common practice for lawmakers to use the budget to legislate policy initiatives. This year, for example, they used the maneuver to block college students with unlawful immigration status from receiving in-state tuition rates at Missouri universities.

In the case of the abortion language, Planned Parenthood sued the state saying some of its chapters provide preventive health care, but not abortion, and should not be penalized.

In his decision, Dowd wrote that “eligible individuals are allowed to choose the provider they wish to see and the state is required to pay for those services on behalf of the eligible individual.”

It remains unclear whether a tweak in this year’s budget might allow the prohibition to stay intact in the new fiscal year beginning at the end of this month.

In a statement, Gov. Mike Parson suggested the ruling would be appealed.

”Our office is still reviewing the court’s decision, however, we will always defend our position that no state taxpayer dollars should be used to fund abortion,” the statement noted.

The ruling comes as the state and abortion rights advocates continue to fight on multiple issues.

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On Thursday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services filed a motion asking St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer to withdraw his preliminary injunction extending the license for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

The state’s court filing also outlined results of a two-month investigation into the clinic and attached a letter highlighting “at least 30 deficient practices” the state says must be addressed before the clinic’s license can be renewed.

Planned Parenthood officials accused Parson’s administration of politicizing state health regulations to restrict access to legal abortions in Missouri.

A separate court fight is underway over attempts to put a question on the 2020 ballot asking if Missouri voters support a restrictive new law that prohibits abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy.

That issue is pending at the appeals court level.

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