ST. LOUIS • Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday morning challenging state laws that require abortion clinics to meet standards for surgical centers and for their doctors to have hospital privileges.
The move comes after similar restrictions in Texas were struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in July, a landmark decision that determined the laws were medically unnecessary and unconstitutional.
The ruling didn’t invalidate similar restrictions elsewhere, however, leaving states such as Missouri to pursue their own fights in court. Planned Parenthood affiliates in Alaska and North Carolina filed similar challenges Wednesday.
Missouri was the first state in the nation to adopt both laws, which abortion rights advocates have long argued do little to protect women’s health. Instead, they say, the laws block women’s rights to have abortions by making requirements so stringent that few providers can meet them.
Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said lifting these restrictions would allow Planned Parenthood health centers in Joplin, Springfield, Columbia and Kansas City to offer abortion services.
Kogut said the restrictions “have created a situation where for 1.2 million women in Missouri who could be impacted with a pregnancy, where they might make a decision about an abortion, there is only one facility for them to go to,” Kogut said.
The Planned Parenthood affiliate serving the Kansas City area and Kansas and Oklahoma is listed as another plaintiff in the suit, filed in federal court in Jefferson City, along with Dr. Ronald N. Yeomans, who provides abortions in Kansas for Planned Parenthood and wants to provide the services in Missouri. Defendants named in the lawsuit include the director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services Peter Lyskowski; Attorney General Chris Koster; and the prosecuting attorneys in Boone, Jackson, Jasper and Greene counties.
Susan Klein, legislative liaison for Missouri Right to Life, said it was “absurd” for Planned Parenthood to challenge requirements to ensure that physicians who perform abortions have hospital privileges and that clinics are clean and medically up to date.
“Women have not been harmed, they’ve been helped. They’re getting better care than they would without the restrictions,” Klein said.
But abortion rights advocates insist the laws were intended to limit access. Right now, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is the only facility that meets the legal requirements to provide abortions, down from 29 clinics statewide in 1982.
In a press call with reporters Wednesday, Kogut and Laura McQuade, CEO of the Planned Parenthood affiliate for mid-Missouri and Kansas, said that the organization had providers lined up in Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield and Joplin to begin performing abortions if they win in court.
Columbia’s Planned Parenthood Clinic was the most recent location to stop providing abortions, after the University of Missouri revoked the hospital privileges of Dr. Colleen McNicholas in December 2015.
A federal judge later blocked the state health department from pulling the clinic’s abortion license, ruling that the staff had been intimidated by state legislators who had formed a panel to investigate Planned Parenthood’s practices.
But when the clinic’s abortion license expired in June, it couldn’t be immediately renewed because a doctor with hospital privileges was unavailable. Planned Parenthood has since vowed to renew performing medication-induced abortions at its Columbia location if the federal lawsuit proves successful.
And that’s what supporters are hoping for.
“It’s always scary to have your constitutionally protected rights decided in a court of law,” said Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri. “But I’m excited and optimistic.”
Calling the requirements “an undue burden,” Dreith said it was unreasonable for a state to have only one abortion provider for millions of Missouri women scattered across the state.
Coupled with a law in Missouri that requires women to wait 72 hours before an abortion, it forces them to take on added travel costs, Dreith said.
“They have to take time off work, find child care, lose out on that pay and often have to travel miles and miles to get there,” she said.
Beyond the courtroom, several St. Louis area lawmakers have said they plan to file bills challenging the same restrictions, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Texas laws as momentum to push the legislation, despite GOP supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.
Some Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, are considering more restrictions.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, told the Associated Press that he was drafting legislation requiring abortion providers to track fetal tissue from surgery to its disposal. He’s also looking into potential protections for abortion clinic employees to act as whistleblowers.
Bill filing begins Dec. 1.
Celeste Bott • 573-556-6186 @celestebott on Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org