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Reported By Andy Marso |

Missouri could soon be the first state without a single place providing legal abortions. Planned Parenthood officials said Tuesday that the state is on the verge of pulling the license from its St. Louis location, which is the last one still providing abortion services following the passage of a series of restrictive laws.

But in a conference call Tuesday, Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that clinic will likely end those services Friday because of a “weaponization of the licensing process.”

“This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is a real public health crisis,” said Wen, a physician from Baltimore. “This week, Missouri would be the first state in the country to go dark — without a health center that provides safe, legal abortion care.”

Wen said Planned Parenthood will sue in an effort to continue providing abortions past this week. Wen said the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services plans to pull the St. Louis clinic’s license because of a refusal to submit employees to “interrogation” by regulators.

“The state is insisting that seven doctors, including residents and fellows who are obtaining medical training, be subject to interrogation that could result in them losing their medical license or even be subject to criminal prosecution,” Wen said.

Colleen McNicholas, a physician at the St. Louis clinic, said the state is attempting to strictly enforce a law requiring women seeking abortions to get a pelvic exam that she said is “invasive” and “medically unnecessary.”

A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which regulates abortion licenses, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Planned Parenthood used to offer abortion services in Kansas City and Columbia, in addition to St. Louis.

But those clinics had to stop offering them due to a law requiring that doctors who perform the procedure have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The Columbia clinic was also damaged earlier this year by an arson fire that the FBI is investigating as a possible hate crime.

The path forward for the clinics is further complicated by a bill just signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson that prohibits all abortions past eight weeks of pregnancy. That law, which takes effect in August, would practically rule out all abortions except those done by taking pills that can be received through the mail and don’t require a brick-and-mortar clinic.

“By signing this bill today, we are sending a strong signal to the nation that, in Missouri, we stand for life, protect women’s health, and advocate for the unborn,” Parson said in a statement. “All life has value and is worth protecting.”

That law is expected to be challenged in court.

The ACLU also filed a petition drive Tuesday to get it reversed through voter referendum.

“This week, Missouri may become the first state without a health center that provides abortion, even without the courts having to say they are overturning Roe v. Wade,” said Jennifer Dalven, the director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “This is a direct result of a years-long effort by anti-abortion politicians to pass medically unnecessary restrictions that burden providers with the goal of forcing them to shut down. This has been their end game for years, but it’s contrary to what the overwhelming majority of people in this country want.”

According to a Gallup poll, about 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.

Legal abortions are available just across the state line from Missouri at a Planned Parenthood in Overland Park and the Hope Clinic for Women in Illinois.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, about half of the 7,048 legal abortions performed in the state in 2018 were done on women who came in from other states. The vast majority of those out-of-state women — 3,279 out of 3,498 — were from Missouri.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kansas City Star health reporter Andy Marso was part of a Pulitzer Prize-finalist team at The Star and previously won state and regional awards at the Topeka Capital-Journal and Kansas Health Institute News Service. He has written two books, including one about his near-fatal bout with meningitis.

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