Protestors rally to keep abortion services in Missouri

Nikia Paulette, a worker at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, called for women's rights to be protected during a rally in front of the Wainwright Building in downtown St. Louis on Thursday, May 30.

Photo by Wiley Price / St. Louis American

In a big victory for women’s health in Missouri, an Administrative Hearing Commission today ruled that the Missouri Department of Health wrongfully withheld Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis’ license to provide abortion services.

The battle over the license has been going on since last spring. The AHC has authority to hear cases and issue a decision when a state agency has denied renewal of a license.  The case was decided by Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi. The ruling renewed the abortion license for Reproductive Health Services, and abortion services will continue at its St. Louis location.

“For more than a year, Missouri’s health department has targeted Planned Parenthood,” Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region said following the decision. “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.”

 “Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care,” Dandamudi 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.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said today’s decision is a hard-fought victory for its patients, and for people across Missouri, to ensure that 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,” McGill Johnson stated. “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.”

Last year, Missouri enacted one of the most restrictive bans on abortion in the country before DHSS refused to renew Planned Parenthood’s license. Planned Parenthood sued, a state judge blocked the shutdown of services, and the AHC granted a stay, allowing PP to stay open while the case was litigated. Today’s decision is a result of an AHC hearing in October 2019.

“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,” Rodriguez added.

“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.”

Either side has 30 days to file a motion to reconsider the decision with the AHC.

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