License For Missouri's Only Clinic That Performs Abortions Expires This Weekend

May 30, 2019
Originally published on May 30, 2019 1:32 pm
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NOEL KING, HOST:

There is a lot of movement in this country on the issue of abortion. Last night, Louisiana lawmakers sent a bill to the governor. It would outlaw abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. That bill makes no exceptions for rape or incest. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement that he will sign it.

And in the meantime, Missouri could become the first state without any health centers that provide abortions. The license for the state's last clinic expires on Friday at midnight unless a judge intervenes or Planned Parenthood can come to an agreement with state health officials.

During a press conference yesterday, Missouri's Republican Governor Mike Parson said this fight is not political.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MIKE PARSON: Look; this is not an issue about the pro-life issue at all. This is about a standard of care for women in the state of Missouri. Whether it's this clinic or any other clinic or any other hospital, they should have to meet the same standards.

KING: NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon has been following this story closely. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So Missouri's governor says this is not about politics. What does he say it's about?

MCCAMMON: As we heard, the state of Missouri says it's about protecting women's health. Governor Mike Parson says he has, quote, "serious health concerns" about this last remaining clinic in St. Louis, Mo. Planned Parenthood says it's part of a strategy to make abortion inaccessible by any means, including using the regulatory process to make it hard or impossible for clinics to stay open. And you may remember Governor Parson also just signed a law - a bill into law last week that criminalizes most abortions in Missouri. That's after eight weeks. That law has not taken effect yet.

But this last clinic in Missouri is now threatened not because of an abortion ban in this case but because of a dispute over how the state is enforcing health regulations.

KING: Yeah. Let's talk more about this dispute because it has turned into something like a standoff. What's the sticking point here, Sarah?

MCCAMMON: Well, there have been several issues. Some have already been worked out. For example, the state wants doctors to perform two vaginal exams before an abortion. Doctors say there's no medical reason to do that twice, but the state's required it, and Planned Parenthood reluctantly agreed.

They've also disagreed about a demand from the state to interview seven doctors who perform abortions there. The state has interviewed two more senior physicians, but Planned Parenthood has declined to subject some trainees to questioning. Here's what Governor Parson says about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PARSON: If Planned Parenthood is following all Missouri laws governing abortion and operating a safe environment for women's care, they shouldn't have any issues cooperating with the standard and ordinary review required by state law.

MCCAMMON: And Parson says state inspectors have found numerous deficiencies. He talked about a couple of incidences of what he described as failed abortions, but when pressed for more details by reporters in the room, he said he couldn't go into a lot of specifics because of an ongoing investigation.

Parson did say that if Planned Parenthood can comply by the deadline, they would have a right to renew their license.

KING: And how is Planned Parenthood responding?

MCCAMMON: Well, Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement that the governor's remarks are, quote, "not based on medicine, facts or reality." Wen said Planned Parenthood does everything they can to ensure patient safety and meet the highest standard of care. And she said the state is weaponizing the inspections process, as she put it, and that this is really about trying to end abortion in Missouri.

KING: So a real stalemate here. Any sign of progress on this?

MCCAMMON: Not in the past couple of days. Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit asking a state judge for a restraining order to allow abortions to continue at the St. Louis clinic. A hearing is scheduled for this morning in that. But if the clinic has to stop on Saturday, it would be the first time since 1974 that an entire state has been without a clinic providing abortions.

KING: Let me ask you quickly about this new bill in Louisiana. If it becomes law, do you expect it will be challenged in court?

MCCAMMON: I do. None of these early abortion bans are in effect yet. And reproductive rights groups have challenged or pledged to challenge all of them.

KING: NPR national correspondent Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thanks.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.