Fate Of Missouri's Only Abortion Clinic To Be Decided

Oct 31, 2019
Originally published on October 31, 2019 6:08 pm
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In St. Louis, a weeklong hearing that could determine the fate of Missouri's only abortion clinic ended today. Lawyers for the state argued that the clinic was the site of significant safety issues. Planned Parenthood lawyers argue that Missouri is treating the clinic differently in a politicized effort to close it. St. Louis Public Radio's Chad Davis reports.

CHAD DAVIS, BYLINE: Lawyers representing Missouri and Planned Parenthood have been arguing over the state's only abortion health care clinic for months now. Earlier this year, Missouri refused to extend the license for the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, citing four instances where patients experienced complications following abortion procedures. M'Evie Mead, the director of policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Missouri, says the clinic is being targeted.

M'EVIE MEAD: What we have is an agency and a director that appear to be obsessed with attacking access to abortion.

DAVIS: The state's administrative hearing commission extended Planned Parenthood's license, allowing the clinic to remain open until a decision on the case is made. Planned Parenthood officials say from time to time, complications do occur. They argue that focusing on these four cases is unfair since the clinic sees thousands of patients a year. They also criticized how the records have been requested and stored for some Planned Parenthood patients. The Missouri Department of Health revealed at the hearing this week that it collected data on some patients' menstrual cycles to see if there have been failed abortions.

That news has sparked controversy across the state, with several politicians calling on the governor to investigate health director Randall Williams. Some legal professionals have been puzzled by this revelation, including Mary Ziegler, who teaches law at Florida State University. She spoke to Kansas City's KCUR.

MARY ZIEGLER: There is a history of record-keeping laws being introduced into abortion restrictions - so requiring clinics to submit certain records to the state. So it's not an entirely new strategy, but I've never heard of anyone keeping records of menstrual periods.

DAVIS: But state officials say Williams did not authorize the recording and that he hadn't seen any of the data until he was deposed earlier this month. Lisa Cox is the communication director for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

LISA COX: Do we have a spreadsheet with every Planned Parenthood patient's menstrual cycles on it? Absolutely not.

DAVIS: State officials also maintain that patient privacy was not compromised during the data collection. Anti-abortion activist Kristi Hamrick is among those pushing hard for the state's final clinic that performs abortions to close.

KRISTI HAMRICK: It doesn't matter how many people are harmed. What matters is what has happened to the people at that vendor.

DAVIS: But Planned Parenthood officials say the number does matter and that the closure would negatively affect women all across Missouri. Dr. Colleen McNicholas is a medical officer for Planned Parenthood and says the four cases are in line with Missouri's acceptable and legal health standards. She says using them to deny access to all patients is just wrong.

COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: Abortion is health care. There will be times when there are complications - doesn't demonstrate any systematic or systemic-wide problem. Abortion is health care, and we'll continue to provide that quality health care and fight for people to have access to that.

DAVIS: A decision on whether the Planned Parenthood clinic will remain open will be decided later this winter.

For NPR News, I'm Chad Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.