Missouri's only abortion clinic can remain open for now, judge rules

Missouri's only abortion clinic will continue to operate for now, after a new order Monday from a judge in St. Louis.

Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer granted Planned Parenthood's request for a preliminary injunction, which extends his temporary restraining order prohibiting Missouri from allowing the St. Louis clinic's license to lapse.

Stelzer also ordered the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to decide by June 21 whether the clinic's license should be renewed. The agency declined to renew the license to provide abortions, citing concerns about patient safety.

 A St. Louis judge issued an order Monday to keep Missouri’s only abortion clinic operating while a fight over the facility’s license plays out in court. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

 A St. Louis judge issued an order Monday to keep Missouri’s only abortion clinic operating while a fight over the facility’s license plays out in court. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

“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. For patients, that means for now, they can continue to make decisions about their bodies, lives, and future in their home state,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region said in a statement, adding: “While this is welcome relief for patients and providers at Planned Parenthood, this fight is far from over. Abortion access in Missouri is hanging on by a thread and for many, politicians like (Republican Gov. Mike Parson) have already created an impossible landscape for patients who need access to abortion.”

Phone messages from Fox News seeking comment from Parson’s office and the health department were not immediately returned.

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Monday's ruling protects the clinic throughout the ongoing court challenge.

The number of abortions performed in Missouri has declined every year for the past decade, reaching a low of 2,910 last year. Of those, an estimated 1,210 occurred at eight weeks or less of pregnancy, according to preliminary statistics from the state health department.

Missouri women also seek abortions in other states. In Kansas, about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed in 2018 were for Missouri residents, according to the state’s health department. Illinois does not track the home states of women seeking abortions.

An abortion clinic is located just across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois, less than 10 miles from the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis. Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in the Kansas City area is in Overland Park, Kansas, just 2 miles from the state line. State figures show a handful of Missouri hospitals also perform abortions, but those are relatively rare.

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Dr. Leana Wen, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement: “Today’s decision is a clear victory for our patients — and for people across Missouri — but the threat to safe, legal abortion in the state of Missouri and beyond is far from over.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.