Missouri agency cites concerns at St. Louis abortion clinic

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's health department said Wednesday that the license for the state's only abortion clinic is in jeopardy because of a litany of problems, including "failed surgical abortions in which patients remained pregnant" and concerns about patient safety.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services responded to the lawsuit filed a day earlier by Planned Parenthood that seeks to keep open the clinic in St. Louis. A judge on Thursday will hold a hearing on the request for a restraining order that would stop the state from its threat to not renew the license.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson said it would be "reckless" for a judge to weigh in until the state takes action. Planned Parenthood's license for its St. Louis clinic is set to expire Friday unless the state renews it. But Parson said the state health department found "a series of deficiencies" at the clinic.

He did not elaborate, citing an ongoing investigation, but the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services later put out a news release saying concerns were initially raised after inspections in March. The agency cited "at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised." It also cited what it called "failed surgical abortions" in which women remained pregnant, and an alleged failure to obtain "informed consent." The department did not elaborate on the allegations.

"Planned Parenthood's apparent disregard for the law, their failure to complete complication records, and the accuracy of medical records are all serious concerns that need to be addressed prior to any license renewal," Parson said. "They still have two days to comply."

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President and CEO Dr. Leana Wen said Parson's comments "are simply not based on medicine, facts, or reality." A court hearing on the group's lawsuit is set for Thursday morning.

"Governor Parson and his health department continue to move the goal post on compliance issues and then threaten Planned Parenthood's license. Planned Parenthood has been responsive to every demand, including those that interfere with high quality medical care, yet the Governor continues to insist that our license is in jeopardy," said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

According to Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, the state health department visited the clinic in April to investigate a patient complaint. Planned Parenthood says the agency's subsequent "investigation has identified a large number of potential deficient practices requiring explanation by the physicians directly involved in patient care, as well as the attending physicians."

The lawsuit says the state wanted to interview seven physicians, including medical fellows who no longer provide care at the clinic. It says two staff doctors agreed but the others did not, and Planned Parenthood can't compel them because they're not staff.

The health department said the refusal of physicians to be interviewed "obstructs the State's ability to verify that this facility is in compliance."

According to the lawsuit, the health department won't decide on renewing Planned Parenthood's license until the investigation is complete.

If the license is not renewed, the organization says Missouri would become the first state without a functioning abortion clinic since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

The dispute comes days after Parson signed a bill banning abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Missouri is among half a dozen states that have passed sweeping anti-abortion measures.

If the St. Louis clinic no longer can provide abortions, the nearest clinics performing abortions are in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City and in Granite City, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The Kansas clinic is about 260 miles (420 kilometers) from St. Louis.

Even before the latest legislation, Missouri already had some of the most restrictive abortion regulations in the nation, including a requirement that doctors performing abortions have partnerships with nearby hospitals.

A total of 2,910 abortions occurred in 2018 in Missouri, according to provisional data provided by the state health department. That includes 433 abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy and 267 at six weeks or earlier.


Salter reported from St. Louis.

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Summer Ballentine and Jim Salter


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