Judge Rules Missouri Planned Parenthood Clinic Cannot Offer Abortions

By Margaret Wollensak
Margaret Wollensak
Margaret Wollensak
February 26, 2019 Updated: February 26, 2019

A federal judge ruled that Planned Parenthood cannot resume performing abortions at a clinic in central Missouri as state restrictions were not “undue” burdens on women seeking abortions.

The judge denied an attempt from Planned Parenthood to resume being allowed to perform abortions at its Columbia, Missouri location, according to court records from Feb. 22.

Missouri law requires clinics that provide abortions have physicians with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This means the clinic needs a physician who could, as a member of a hospital, admit patients to that hospital.

The Columbia clinic in question, which is operated by Planned Parenthood Great Plains, has been unable to get a physician with those privileges after a panel of medical staff at the University of Missouri Health Care decided to stop offering the privileges in 2015.

The clinic filed a motion in December asking for an exemption from that requirement so that it could resume abortions.

A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York on Aug. 31, 2015. A federal judge has denied an attempt from Planned Parenthood to resume performing abortions at its Columbia, Missouri clinic. (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York on Aug. 31, 2015. A federal judge has denied an attempt by Planned Parenthood to resume performing abortions at its Columbia, Missouri clinic. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

However, U.S. Western District Judge Brian Wimes ruled on Feb. 22 that the admitting privileges were not an “undue burden” to women’s access to abortion services, The Columbia Missouri reported.

“The record does not provide a basis in evidence to approximate the number of women who will forego or postpone surgical abortion incidental to the inoperability of the Columbia Facility,” he said.

Wimes also wrote that requiring women to drive farther to obtain an abortion did not provide evidence of trying to find doctors with the necessary hospital privileges in Columbia, or evidence of fewer doctors, longer wait times, and increased crowding at the St. Louis clinic.

St. Louis has the only clinic able to offer abortions in the state.

Planned Parenthood and the state of Missouri have been in a legal fight over the restrictions since November 2016, when Planned Parenthood challenged the requirements for ambulatory surgical center licensing and admitting privileges to local hospitals for doctors, AP reports.

In October, the Columbia clinic’s license expired. It filed its latest injunction in December when the licensing process for the Columbia clinic was completed but abortion services were still not permitted because of the admitting privileges requirement.

New Federal Policy

The judge’s ruling came on the same day that the Trump administration implemented a new policy for federally funded family planning clinics. Released by the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), the revision would prohibit those clinics from referring women to other clinics to get abortions.

The new legislation would also prohibit clinics from being housed in the same locations as abortion providers as well as require stricter financial separation. By law, the family planning program does not pay for abortions.

Clinic staff would also no longer be required to discuss abortion with clients, though they are not prohibited from doing so.

Established in 1970, the federally funded family planning program known as Title X served about 3.5 million women in over 3,500 independent clinics in 2017, with priority given to low-income families. Clinics that receive grants under Title X provide a wide array of services, including birth control, pregnancy diagnosis and counseling, and screening for diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer.

As part of the underlying Title X legislation, the public health service act clearly states, “None of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.” The program costs taxpayers over $280 million in 2017.

Critics said that the new requirements for physical separation of facilities would be costly and near impossible for clinics to implement.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.

The new regulation was published Friday on an HHS website. It’s not official until it appears in the Federal Register and the department said there could be “minor editorial changes.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Feb. 25 that he will sue to challenge the policy. It’s the first of several legal challenges expected to be announced by Democratic-led states. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association said it would sue separately.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Margaret Wollensak