ST. LOUIS ― A judge has ruled that Missouri’s only abortion clinic may remain open for now, ahead of the expiration of its operating license at the end of Friday.
Judge Michael Stelzer, a circuit court judge in St. Louis, issued a temporary restraining order, blocking Missouri from revoking Planned Parenthood’s operating license until another hearing takes place, which is currently scheduled for June 4.
“Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over,” said Planned Parenthood President and CEO Leana Wen. “We have seen just how vulnerable access to abortion care is here ― and in the rest of the country. We are glad that the governor has been prevented from putting women’s health and lives in danger ― for now ― and call on him to stop this egregious politicalization of public health in an attempt to ban all safe, legal abortion care in the state.”
Planned Parenthood announced this week that it would have to close the St. Louis clinic unless the state renewed its license, which expired on May 31. It sued the state, asking a judge to stop it from shutting the group ― and the clinic ― down.
If the St. Louis clinic closes, Missouri will become the first state without an abortion facility since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.
The state became the latest focal point for the battle over abortion rights, with hundreds of people joining a rally in support of Planned Parenthood on Thursday.
On Friday morning, anti-abortion protesters congregated in front of the clinic, holding signs and praying for the judge to rule in their favor. As patients left the parking lot, they cheerfully handed them pamphlets advertising services for pregnant women.
After the ruling, John Ryan, an anti-abortion protester who was once accused of making terrorist threats against the clinic but was later acquitted, said he was disappointed.
“The sooner we can close that place down, the better,” he said.
A handful of pro-choice protesters stood nearby with signs, including Chris Kaufman, 61, a St. Louis resident who showed up with her dog.
She said she’d seen the rights of women chipped away in the state for 20 years.
“It’s extremely scary,” she said. “This is not about women’s health; it’s about control.”
As a gun owner who carries, she said, she felt like her firearm has “more rights than my uterus
The state health department has refused to budge on Planned Parenthood’s license unless the group meets certain demands.
The reproductive rights group agreed to address two of them: adding a pelvic exam and addressing who at the clinic provided state-mandated counseling, according to CBS News.
But the state health department said it also had to interview seven doctors who work at the clinic. Planned Parenthood said it could provide interviews with two of them, but the others weren’t employed by the organization and hadn’t consented to be interviewed.
Some of the doctors who didn’t want to be interviewed were residents who had refused to cooperate at the advice of their own legal counsel because talking about the abortions they perform could put them in legal or professional trouble.
Jamie Boyer, Planned Parenthood’s lead attorney, also argued in the hearing on Wednesday that the group has bent over backwards to comply with the state ― but that it kept adding more onerous regulations and shifting its demands.
“Every time, Lucy pulls that ball from under him and puts him flat on his back,” Boyer said, comparing the situation to the famous dilemma facing Charlie Brown.
Despite the public pressure, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) refused to budge, and in a press conference Wednesday, he warned the judge not to side with Planned Parenthood.
“It would be reckless for any judge to grant a temporary restraining order ruling before the state has taken action on a license renewal,” he said. “No judge should give special treatment to Planned Parenthood in this instance.”
Last week, Parson signed a law banning abortion at eight weeks into pregnancy, with exceptions only for medical emergencies. Anyone who performs an abortion after this period could be charged with a felony and face up to 15 years in prison.
Before the decision came down, Mary Maschmeier, president of Defenders of the Unborn, said she was cautiously optimistic that the clinic would close that day.
She said she was happy with where the state was headed and praised the governor for signing a law banning abortion at 8 weeks.
“This is a good start,” she said. “But it’s not over. It will be over when the Supreme Court dismisses Roe vs. Wade.”
Melissa Jeltsen reported from St. Louis, Missouri.