Subscribe for $3 for three months
Planned Parenthood in St. Louis

The Missouri and American flags fly from Planned Parenthood in the Central West End facility on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Photo by Robert Cohen,

ST. LOUIS — Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer granted Planned Parenthood of St. Louis a preliminary injunction Monday, allowing Missouri’s only abortion clinic to remain open for now.

Stelzer’s order Monday was the latest decision 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 established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The order mandates that the Department of Health and Senior Services issue a decision on the renewal of Planned Parenthood’s license “without undue delay but no later than June 21.”

Stelzer did not tell the state how to rule. “The authority to make that decision rests exclusively with the Department of Health and Senior Services,” the order said.

Planned Parenthood lauded the decision but said its fight against abortion bans is not over.

“Today’s ruling gives doctors like me the ability to wake up tomorrow and continue providing safe, legal abortion in the last health center in the state that provides abortion care,” Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Planned Parenthood facility, said in a written statement. “For patients, that means for now, they can continue to make decisions about their bodies, lives, and future in their home state.”

Mary Maschmeier, who leads a local anti-abortion group, said she hopes DHSS does not renew Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic license.

“I’m hoping that the health department will stay firm on the original decision not to renew the license,” she said. “They (Planned Parenthood) need to fix the problems they have, not continue on making more problems.”

A representative of the Department of Health and Senior Services did not respond to requests for comment.

Planned Parenthood sued the department last month, alleging the state agency had illegally refused to renew the St. Louis abortion clinic’s yearly license until the state could complete an investigation into an unspecified patient complaint.

The department alleged it found instances of “multiple” failed abortions at the abortion clinic in the Central West End and that Planned Parenthood was not complying with further investigation.

Planned Parenthood argued in court that Missouri had no right to withhold the license for the clinic because it had corrected the problems cited by the state.

The Department of Health and Senior Services argued that Planned Parenthood failed to comply with the investigation because it refused to make available for interview seven physicians who had worked at the clinic .

The department also argued that a state administrative commission — not a state court — is the proper place for Planned Parenthood’s complaint.

Stelzer’s ruling Monday said he relied on three factors in making his decision: Missouri’s abortion clinic licensing rules may conflict with law; “immediate injury will occur” if its license is allowed to expire; and “the balance between such harm and the injury inflicted” by his decision.

The injunction “merely maintains the status quo and is not a ruling on the merits,” Stelzer said.

“Finally, the court must weigh the public interest in granting a preliminary injunction,” Stelzer wrote. “Here, the public interest is heightened by the level of scrutiny this case has received and by the strong opinions expressed on both sides of the abortion debate.”

Stelzer said DHSS must make a decision, but Planned Parenthood is entitled to a review of that decision by a state licensing commission.

“The court does not believe that an ‘official action’ can include non-action,” Stelzer wrote. “The court finds that petitioner is entitled to a decision from DHSS on its application for renewal of its license.”

Stelzer set a status conference for 9 a.m. June 21 in the case.

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

The new law takes effect Aug. 28.

The Missouri chapter of the group NARAL Pro-Choice America said Monday that DHSS was using the licensing process to try to effectively ban abortion.

“Governor Parson and the anti-choice movement have proven to us that they will continue to fight to restrict access to reproductive healthcare whether it be through legislative attacks or this move to weaponize the licensure process,” said Mallory Schwarz, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri executive director.

“Their goal is to send Missouri to the forefront of a political race to criminalize abortion and shame those who have abortions. Today we celebrate, but the fight for reproductive freedom will continue.”

Abortion protests since 1973

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

Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.