Missouri's Last Abortion Clinic Can Stay Open, Judge Rules — For Now


Update, June 4: In a hearing, St. Louis Judge Michael Stelzer delayed ruling on the merits of the license dispute between Planned Parenthood and the state. See the latest coverage here.

Our original story continues below.

A St. Louis judge has ruled that Missouri will not lose its only abortion provider — at least, not until attorneys representing both the state and Planned Parenthood can argue their respective sides at a hearing next week.

In a ruling issued this afternoon, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer granted a temporary restraining order to Planned Parenthood, which had sought to delay the expiration of the abortion license at its clinic in the Central West End. It is the only abortion provider in the state.

Without the judge's ruling, the license would have expired at midnight tonight.

The judge's decision follows a court hearing Thursday, during which lawyers representing Planned Parenthood argued that the state's refusal to grant the clinic a license represented an unprecedented "weaponization" of a regulatory process that, for years, had been renewed annually with little fanfare.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Senior Services, or DHSS, insisted that Planned Parenthood is responsible for the breakdown because it is refusing to cooperate in an investigation into undisclosed "deficiencies" revealed in the clinic's medical records.

In the order issued this afternoon, Stelzer essentially moved to preserve the status quo. A temporary restraining order, he wrote, is appropriate in situations where a party can demonstrate "immediate or irrepressible injury, loss, or damage" unless relief is granted.

That's a bar Planned Parenthood met, Stelzer concluded.

During yesterday's hearing, attorneys for Planned Parenthood pointed out the obvious: Without an abortion license, it would not be able to treat the women scheduled for the procedure this weekend and in the future.

Stelzer's order notes that, during oral arguments yesterday, the attorney representing DHSS made it clear that was "no prospect" that DHSS would act on the Planned Parenthood's license application before the deadline, thus guaranteeing the license would lapse at midnight.

Of course, this latest order is only temporary. Stelzer has scheduled a hearing for this coming Tuesday, June 4, for both sides to argue the merits of the case. At that point, Planned Parenthood will have to convince the judge that DHSS is violating the terms of the licensing process — which could be much tougher than just convincing a judge to grant a temporary delay.

You can read the full order here.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com
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