Judge’s order means Missouri’s last remaining clinic can keep performing abortions

Anti-abortion demonstrators hold a protest outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services Center in St. Louis, Missouri, May 31, 2019, the last location in the state performing abortions. (Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri judge issued an order Friday ensuring the state’s only abortion clinic can continue providing the service, acting just hours before the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility’s license was set to expire.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had not renewed the clinic’s license, citing concerns with “failed abortions,” compromised patient safety and legal violations at the clinic. Agency officials also insisted upon interviewing additional physicians at the clinic as part of an investigation.

Planned Parenthood preemptively sued this week to prevent a potential gap in abortion coverage. St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer heard arguments Thursday. His ruling prevents Missouri from become the first state without an abortion clinic since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.

The nearest clinic performing abortions is just across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois, less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis. Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in the Kansas City area is in Overland Park, Kansas, just 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the state line. State figures show a handful of Missouri hospitals also perform abortions, but those are rare,

The fight over the clinic’s license comes as lawmakers in conservative states across the nation are passing new restrictions that take aim at Roe. Abortion opponents, emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, are hoping federal courts will uphold laws that prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, the dividing line the high court set in Roe.

Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted bills barring abortion once there’s a detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Missouri lawmakers recently approved an eight-week ban on abortion. Alabama’s gone even further, outlawing virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. None of the bans has taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges.

The number of abortions performed in Missouri has declined every year for the past decade, reaching a low of 2,910 last year. Of those, an estimated 1,210 occurred at eight weeks or less of pregnancy, according to preliminary statistics from the state health department.

Missouri women also seek abortions in other states. In Kansas, about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed in 2018 were for Missouri residents, according to the state’s health department. Illinois does not track the home states of women seeking abortions.

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