Friday 20 September 2019

Missouri’s last abortion clinic ‘could close by end of week’

Pro-choice group Planned Parenthood said the current licence for the St Louis facility expires on Friday.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in St Louis (AP Photo/Jim Salter, File)
The Planned Parenthood clinic in St Louis (AP Photo/Jim Salter, File)

By Jim Salter, Associated Press

Campaigners say Missouri’s only abortion clinic could be closed by the end of the week because the state is threatening to not renew its licence.

Pro-choice group Planned Parenthood said the current licence for the St Louis facility expires on Friday. If not renewed, the organisation said Missouri would become the first state without a functioning abortion clinic since the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision.

Dr Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said: “This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is real and it’s a public health crisis.”

Planned Parenthood said the state told officials it was investigating “a large number of possible deficiencies”. The state wanted to interview seven physicians, but the organisation said only the two staff physicians agreed to be interviewed.

Missouri is among half a dozen states that have passed sweeping anti-abortion measures. Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill banning abortions on or beyond the eighth week of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Under the Missouri law that comes into force on August 28, doctors who violate the eight-week cut-off could face five to 15 years in prison. Women who terminate their pregnancies cannot be prosecuted.

Ms Wen said a lawsuit has been filed to try and keep the St Louis clinic open. If it closes, the nearest clinics performing abortions are in a Kansas suburb of Kansas City and in Granite City, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St Louis.

Ms Wen said Missouri has “illegally weaponized the licensing process”. Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician at the Planned Parenthood office in St Louis, called it the “natural consequence of several decades of restriction after restriction”.

“This is precisely what we’ve been warning of,” Ms McNicholas said.

Alabama’s governor signed a bill on May 15 making performing an abortion a crime in nearly all cases. Supporters have said they hope to provoke a legal challenge that will eventually force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalised abortion nationally.

Unlike Alabama’s near-total abortion ban, legislators who helped draft the Missouri bill say it is meant to withstand court challenges instead of spark them. If the eight-week ban is struck down, the bill includes a ladder of less-restrictive time limits at 14, 18 or 20 weeks.

Missouri’s bill also includes an outright ban on abortions except in cases of medical emergencies, but that would kick in only if Roe v Wade is overturned. Missouri Right to Life called it “the strongest pro-life bill in Missouri history”.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia have also approved bans on abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.

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