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Administrative Hearing Commission rules that MO Department of Health wrongfully withheld Planned Parenthood’s abortion license

Abortion access protected for Missouri’s 1.1 million women of reproductive age

St. Louis — After a year-long battle with Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), an administrative commission just ruled that the state wrongfully withheld Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region’s (RHS) license. Today, the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) renewed the abortion license for 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:

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

For far too many people, abortion is already inaccessible in Missouri. Data revealed nearly all Missourians already flee 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 and burdensome to access the care they need in their home state.

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

“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.

“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. 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.”   

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

“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 we provide and the dedicated, expert medical staff who provide it — all the while failing to tackle the real public health crises ravaging the state, including the COVID-19 crisis, rising infant and maternal mortality rates and skyrocketing rates of sexually transmitted infections like syphilis. Today’s 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. Missouri’s medically unnecessary requirements, 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 still make it extraordinarily difficult for people to access care in Missouri.

“An abortion license, while critical to our ability to provide care, still cannot undo the harm that medically unnecessary policies in our state inflict on patients. It does not have to be this way. Gov. Parson could eliminate these medically unnecessary restrictions using the authority granted in his emergency order. 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.”

Last May, 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. 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 and 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.

During the AHC hearing last October, 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 enforced medically unnecessary and invasive pelvic exams on abortion patients. 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, all in one. 

But this isn’t just happening in Missouri. Nationwide, more than 450 abortion restrictions have been passed since 2011. Just last year, 12 states, including Missouri, enacted 25 abortion bans. Abortion access is hanging on by a thread in many places in this country. 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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