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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, rcohen@post-dispatch.com.

ST. LOUIS — State health officials asked a St. Louis judge on Thursday to reconsider his order allowing Missouri’s only abortion clinic to remain open for now.

The Department of Health and Senior Services filed a motion Thursday asking 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 to the clinic, highlighting “at least 30 deficient practices” the state says must be addressed before the clinic’s license can be renewed.

The deficiencies cited include inadequately supervised pelvic exams, failed surgical and medication abortions, untimely reporting of those failed procedures and poor communication with a contracted laboratory. The state said some problems noted in the investigation caused “serious patient harm.”

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

“We’re reviewing the state’s latest political attempt to shut down the last legal abortion provider in Missouri,” Jesse Lawder, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said in a statement Thursday. “From the start, Gov. Parson and DHSS Director Randall Williams have attempted to advance a political agenda, weaponizing the inspection process, and we have no reason to believe this is any different.”

DHSS’ court filing Thursday is the latest response in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit aimed at keeping 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 state’s deficiencies list included a pelvic exam that failed to detect a problem with a woman’s uterus and led to two failed abortion attempts on her. The list also included a lack of an “informed consent” consultation with a woman who later went to the emergency room over complications from an abortion.

In addition to its list of deficiencies, the state reiterated in its court brief that a state administrative commission — not a state court — is the proper place for Planned Parenthood’s license complaints. State officials asked Planned Parenthood to produce a correction plan by the end of Tuesday.

Planned Parenthood sued the department last month claiming the state agency had illegally refused to renew the St. Louis abortion clinic’s yearly license until the state could complete an investigation. The state has argued that Planned Parenthood failed to comply with licensing regulations by not compelling five doctors who have worked at the clinic to be interviewed as part of the state’s investigation.

Stelzer ruled Monday that DHSS must decide whether to renew Planned Parenthood’s license by June 21, the date of the next court hearing over the licensing lawsuit. Stelzer did not instruct the state how to rule, but said it had the exclusive authority to decide.

Planned Parenthood’s legal fight coincides with Parson last month signing one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws, banning the procedures after the eighth week of pregnancy.

Other lawsuits

On Thursday, a Cole County judge tossed out one of a trio of lawsuits seeking to allow voters to decide the fate of the state’s new abortion restrictions.

In dismissing the legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, Circuit Judge Daniel Green gave the organization a chance to pursue the case to a state appeals court, where the case was likely to end up anyway.

The decision to dismiss the case came two days after Green set a hearing for Monday to discuss the challenge, as well as one funded by wealthy Republican campaign donor David Humphreys, who opposes the new law because it lacks protections for women who are raped or victims of incest.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who signs off on proposed referendums, contends the ballot initiatives cannot go forward because part of the abortion law is already in effect.

Abortion protests since 1973

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