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JEFFERSON CITY — Planned Parenthood, which operates Missouri's only abortion clinic, said Tuesday it may be forced to cease abortions at the St. Louis facility this week amid a legal fight with the state.

Planned Parenthood leaders said the facility's license was in jeopardy after the state sought to "interrogate" doctors as part of an annual license renewal process. They said the move was an "intimidation" tactic by the Department of Health and Senior Services.

DHSS officials did not immediately respond to the accusations. 

However, Dr. Randall Williams, the state department's director, told the Post-Dispatch that the state would make a decision by Friday on whether to renew the facility's license. Before Planned Parenthood officials' comments Tuesday morning, Williams said he could not comment on the pending license renewal application.

Since Planned Parenthood and the state have not come to an agreement on staff interviews, the Central West End clinic may have to end abortion services on Friday when its current license expires, Planned Parenthood officials said.

"Missouri would be the first state in the country to go dark — without a health center that provides safe, legal abortion care," Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in St. Louis Circuit Court, Planned Parenthood attorneys said the state was "unlawfully conditioning" renewal of the facility's license on the completion of an investigation into a patient complaint — the reason for the staff interviews, the lawsuit says.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region runs the clinic.

On Friday, Gov. Mike Parson signed one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Most of the law's provisions — including one prohibiting most abortions eight weeks into a pregnancy — do not take effect until the end of August.

In Metro East, Planned Parenthood operates an abortion clinic in Belleville. Another abortion provider, the Hope Clinic for Women, operates in Granite City.

Dr. Erin King, executive director of the Hope Clinic, said when the Missouri Legislature approved the new law that the clinic would work with patients from conservative states such as Missouri, which could lose access to abortion services.

“We will continue to be one option for Missouri patients, as we always have. While the state of Missouri is waging a war against its abortion services and providers, the Hope Clinic remains committed to the patients of Missouri,” she said in a statement on Tuesday. “We will do everything in our power to make sure that further barriers associated with seeking abortion care out of state are lessened to the best of our ability.”

Illinois, led by Democrats, has reported more out-of-state abortion patients in recent years as its Republican-led neighbors have further restricted abortions.

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Missouri submitted a referendum to the Missouri secretary of state's office on Tuesday in an effort to repeal the abortion law that Parson, a Republican, signed last week.

The ACLU and its allies will have to collect more than 100,000 signatures and turn them into the secretary of state before Aug. 28, when the law is supposed to go into effect.

If the group turns in enough signatures, the state will not be allowed to enact the law. At that point, a simple majority of voters could veto the law once it is placed on the ballot in 2020.

David Humphreys, a GOP mega-donor who has voiced opposition to the new Missouri law, has said he would finance an effort to overturn the law.

"He is not involved with our referendum effort, thus far, at least," said Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri. But, she said, "we are very open to forming a broad right-left coalition on this."

The method is the same one unions used last year in their successful effort to overturn the state's short-lived right-to-work law.


Images of abortion protests since 1973

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.