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Missouri has only one health center with a license to provide abortion, and that license had been wrongfully withheld — until now.

Today, the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) renewed the abortion license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region (RHS), the last remaining health center in Missouri with a license to provide abortion. RHS can continue providing abortion services at its St. Louis health center. 

The commissioner wrote in his decision: “The physicians who perform abortions at Planned Parenthood through Washington University and [Barnes Jewish Hospital] are all exceptionally competent and well trained… Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care.” 

The administrative commission’s ruling that the state wrongfully withheld RHS’s license comes after a year-long battle with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS).

“Today’s decision is a hard-fought victory for Planned Parenthood patients — and for people across Missouri. This is how we fight for our patients: case by case, day by day, to ensure abortion remains safe and legal across the country. The data shows that many have already paid the price, with the vast majority of Missouri patients forced to cross state lines to get the care they need.

"This is what it looks like when abortion is a right in name only. There is much more work to be done to ensure patients can access safe, legal abortion inside their home state.”

— Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Here’s the Harrowing Background to the Heartening Victory

In May 2019, just days after Gov. Mike Parson signed one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country into law, the Missouri DHSS refused to renew Planned Parenthood’s license to provide abortion care. Planned Parenthood sued, and a state judge blocked DHSS from shutting down Planned Parenthood. 

In June 2019, the AHC in Missouri granted a stay, allowing Planned Parenthood to remain open while its case challenging the state’s denial of its abortion facility license was being litigated. The AHC heard the case last October. During that hearing, Missouri’s DHSS director, Randall Williams, was thrust into national headlines after he admitted under oath to keeping a spreadsheet of women’s menstrual cycles to track abortion patients. He also forced medically unnecessary and invasive pelvic exams on abortion patients. Again, all of this happened just after Gov. Parson signed one of the most extreme anti-abortion bills in the country — chock full of various abortion bans targeting all stages of pregnancy.  

Today the AHC issued its decision, finding that RHS provides safe abortions and that DHSS wrongly withheld RHS’s license and ordered the license renewed.

“This ruling is vindication for Planned Parenthood and our patients who rely on us. But the reality is, abortion has essentially become a right in name only in Missouri.

"We continue to keep our doors open, and can continue to care for all patients who choose to access reproductive health care — including safe and legal abortion — in Missouri and across the region.

—Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region

The Majority of Missouri Patients Are Already Forced to Cross State Lines to Access Safe, Legal Abortion

For far too many people, abortion is already inaccessible in Missouri. Data reveals that nearly all Missourians already leave the state for abortion services. Many patients have told RHS the same thing: The long list of medically unnecessary abortion restrictions make it too difficult to access the care they need in their home state. 

Missouri’s medically unnecessary requirements include:

  • Two in-person trips to the health center at least 72 hours apart;
  • A ban on using telehealth for an abortion; and
  • A needless, invasive pelvic exam for medication abortion.

These medically unnecessary requirements still make it extraordinarily difficult for people to access abortion care in Missouri.

An abortion license, while critical to Planned Parenthood’s ability to provide care, still cannot undo the harm that medically unnecessary policies inflict on patients in Missouri. It doesn’t have to be this way. Gov. Parson could eliminate these medically unnecessary restrictions using the authority granted in his emergency order.

“We know care is much more than the services we provide; it's how we show up for each other and in the world. In these uncertain times, we’re in this together.”   

— Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president & CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Abortion Access in Missouri

For more than a year, Missouri’s health department has targeted Planned Parenthood. Missouri’s health department director, Randall Williams, made false allegations about the high-quality care RHS provides and the dedicated, expert medical staff who provide it. All the while, Williams failed to tackle the real public health crises ravaging the state, including the rising infant and maternal mortality rates, and skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted infections. The Missouri health department's continued focus on shutting down abortion access has diverted resources away from managing the rest of Missouri's health care system, which is now struggling to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During a worldwide pandemic, every public health care provider — including Planned Parenthood — should have all the resources they need to care for the complex needs of their communities, including abortion. Planned Parenthood remains committed to helping every patient access the care they need, even if that means having to leave their home state.

Since 2011, more than 450 abortion restrictions have been passed nationwide. Just last year, 12 states, including Missouri, enacted 25 abortion bans. Abortion access is hanging on by a thread in many places in the United States. What’s happening in Missouri, and in other states with limited access or only one abortion provider, could become the reality for states across the country.

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