ST. LOUIS - Today, a Missouri circuit court judge granted Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region a preliminary injunction, allowing it to continue to provide abortion services at its health center for the time being. Reproductive Health Services is the last health center in the state that provides safe, legal abortion. This victory means patients can continue accessing safe, legal abortion in Missouri. The judge has ordered the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services to make a decision about the license by June 21, and stated that the preliminary injunction will stay in effect until the court issues another ruling. If access to abortion care is eliminated at this health center, Missouri will become the first state since Roe v. Wade to have zero health centers that provide abortion.
This lawsuit is the result of Missouri Gov. Parson and DHSS Director Randall Williams weaponizing a regulatory process for health center licensing that is meant to protect patients. Instead, they’ve used it to try to ban abortion. Leading medical experts have denounced political interference in care provided at Planned Parenthood, warning politicians that Gov. Parson’s actions are dangerous and will harm Missourians.
Statement from Dr. Leana Wen, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“Today’s decision is a clear victory for our patients — and for people across Missouri — but the threat to safe, legal abortion in the state of Missouri and beyond is far from over. We’ve seen just how closely anti-health politicians came to ending abortion care for an entire state. We are in a state of emergency for women’s health in America. In Missouri, and across the country, Planned Parenthood will do whatever it takes to combat the extreme, dangerous, and unconstitutional efforts by politicians to ban access to health care including safe, legal abortion. We will never stop fighting for our patients.”
Statement of Dr. Colleen McNicholas, ob-gyn, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region:
“Today’s ruling gives doctors like me the ability to wake up tomorrow and continue providing safe, legal abortion in the last health center in the state that provides abortion care. For patients, that means for now, they can continue to make decisions about their bodies, lives, and future in their home state.
“While this is welcome relief for patients and providers at Planned Parenthood, this fight is far from over. Abortion access in Missouri is hanging on by a thread and for many, politicians like Gov. Parson have already created an impossible landscape for patients who need access to abortion. Abortion remains one of the most inappropriately regulated health care services. Until that changes, access to care in our state will depend on where you live and how much money you earn. We are too close to losing our rights and freedoms and we will not back down today, tomorrow, or ever.”
Before Missouri’s latest abortion ban will take effect in August, Gov. Parson and anti-abortion leaders are on an aggressive two-prong track to end abortion in Missouri: using medically unnecessary restrictions and politicizing health care oversight to ban abortion, despite Roe.
It is not new for politicians in Missouri or elsewhere to use a combination of state laws and regulatory harassment to target abortion providers — in fact, the state has already used similar targeting to whittle the state down to only one health center that provides abortion. Missouri requires doctors to perform invasive, medically unnecessary vaginal exams on patients. It has imposed dozens of medically unnecessary restrictions that make abortion nearly impossible to access, including a 72-hour mandatory delay for patients accessing abortion. This requires patients to make two trips to the health center. There is an additional requirement that abortion providers hold local hospital admitting privileges.
While the state is cutting off access to abortion, maternal and reproductive health in the state are declining. Maternal mortality rates in Missouri are more than 50% higher than the rest of the country, and a syphilis outbreak is sweeping the state.
This follows an alarming trend of abortion bans passing in states aimed at criminalizing and intimidating doctors with the threat of prison time. With President Trump in the White House and Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, state politicians have been emboldened to try and ban safe, legal abortion. In just the first five months of 2019, 12 states have enacted 20 abortion bans, including multiple bans in some states. Missouri and Alabama just passed some of the most extreme abortion bans we’ve seen since Roe v. Wade, with egregious criminal penalties against doctors. Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Mississippi have passed six-week bans this year. This is all part of a concerted strategy to ban abortion outright by overturning Roe v. Wade.
Already, 1 in 3 women of reproductive age lives in a state where abortion could be outlawed if Roe is overturned. That’s over 25 million people. While abortion bans impact everyone who can become pregnant, they hit people of color and those who are struggling to make ends meet the hardest — the people who already face significant barriers to accessing quality health care. While some wealthy women may be able to find a way around abortion bans, far too many people — especially those who already face racism, homophobia, and transphobia — will be left with no options at all.