The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that struck down a Louisiana abortion law could speed the extension of abortion services to Columbia and other communities in Missouri.
Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains is the abortion provider run by the Planned Parenthood affiliate that operates the Columbia family planning clinic on Providence Road.
The Columbia family planning clinic has not provided abortions since October 2018 because no local hospital would give admitting privileges to doctors willing to perform the procedure.
Since then, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis has been Missouri’s only licensed abortion provider.
“Missouri's hospital admitting privileges requirement has been a major hurdle for patients seeking abortion care in mid-Missouri, even though it has no real benefit to patients, as the Supreme Court outlined in 2016 and today,” Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement to the Tribune.
“Our legal team is reviewing the June Medical Services ruling and how it affects our services in Columbia, where we've waged a public battle in the legislature and the courts to keep access.”
The Columbia clinic on Providence Road has had a difficult time maintaining services over the past five years as political pressure blocked it from obtaining admitting privileges required by state law until the courts struck them down.
Planned Parenthood first opened a clinic in Columbia in 1970 and began offering abortions locally in 1974. The clinic stopped offering abortions in 2012 after the staff doctor moved away.
The clinic’s abortion license was renewed in July 2015 amid a national controversy over videos produced by abortion opponents who accused Planned Parenthood of commercially trading fetal tissue. That led to an in-depth investigation by the state Senate, where pressure was applied to the University of Missouri to cancel privileges that allowed the 2015 license to be issued.
There were no abortions from Dec. 1, 2015, to October 2017, when the clinic license was renewed after the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law requiring privileges. The battle over the license continued until October 2018, when a federal judge refused to grant a restraining order blocking enforcement as the Louisiana case decided Monday was pending in the courts.
The state granted the annual renewal to the St. Louis abortion clinic last week and Gov. Mike Parson’s administration announced it will drop an appeal of the year-long effort to close the facility. Because the court case focused on the 2019 licensing decision, the new license makes it unneeded, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
After failing state health inspections last year, the facility was able to continue operating through the intervention of a judge's order.
The new license was issued nearly a month after a state administrative hearing judge ruled against the administration's effort to shutter the facility.
Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office, which handled the case, concurred.
"The Department of Health and Senior Services has made it clear that they are not interested in pursuing this further since a new license has been issued and the issue is moot, therefore no further action will be taken," spokesman Chris Nuelle told the Post-Dispatch.
As of Monday, Planned Parenthood Great Plains had not applied for a license for the Columbia clinic, Lisa Cox, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services wrote in an email to the Tribune.
The latest ruling means the department will look at how it licenses abortion providers, Cox wrote.
“We are currently reviewing the decision and what impact it will have on Missouri laws and regulations,” she wrote.
The next legal battle over Missouri abortion law will be over a bill approved last year that bans abortions beyond the eighth week of pregnancy. The law has never been enforced and its fate is also also likely to be decided by the Supreme Court in Washington.
In the statement to the Tribune, Hill said Planned Parenthood Great Plains has been in a constant fight to defend abortion rights in the states where it operates.
“Across the four states we serve, politicians have focused for years on similar methods to block care under the guise of patient safety,” Hill said. “Today's ruling is a rallying cry for change: patients deserve better than smoke and mirrors.”