JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge on Monday temporarily blocked Missouri’s health department from revoking the abortion license held by a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia as its physician loses hospital privileges required under state law.
The clinic stopped terminating pregnancies last week, but Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit Monday in hopes of retaining its abortion facility license from the state Department of Health and Senior Services while its physician regains privileges or the clinic finds a new doctor. U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey issued her order at the end of a hearing by telephone conference call.
Laughrey’s order will remain in effect only until Wednesday to give attorneys a chance to address several legal issues. The judge scheduled another telephone conference call for Wednesday afternoon.
Missouri law requires a physician who performs abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Amid an investigation of abortion by the Republican-controlled Legislature, a University of Missouri Health Care system medical staff panel voted in September to discontinue the form of privileges granted to Planned Parenthood doctor Colleen McNicholas, effective Tuesday.
That action prompted the health department to notify Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri that the abortion facility license for its Columbia clinic would be revoked, also effective Tuesday. Missouri now has only one clinic performing abortions, in St. Louis.
“This was happening as a result of political pressure put on the university,” said Laura McQuade, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood chapter.
Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that the clinic’s right to due legal process was violated because it didn’t get enough time to remedy the issue with McNicholas’ privileges. The lawsuit noted that the clinic retained its license even when it didn’t have a physician from June 2012 to September 2013 and said forcing the clinic to reapply would result in “significant costs.”
Missouri Solicitor General James Layton argued in that Planned Parenthood still can seek an administrative review of the licensing decision, making its lawsuit premature. He rejected the argument that the health department has given Planned Parenthood too little time.
“They’ve known for years that the statute requires privilege,” Layton said. “They’ve known at least since sometime in September that their doctor was going to lose the privilege.”
Kansas enacted a similar requirement in 2011 but hasn’t been able to enforce it because of a state-court lawsuit filed by two abortion providers. The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing regulations enacted by Texas in 2013 that include a requirement that providers have hospital admitting privileges.
At the University of Missouri’s flagship Columbia campus, interim Chancellor Hank Foley said he will continue to support the decision of the health system’s staff panel to discontinue the “refer and follow” privileges that McNicholas held. She’s now seeking different privileges.
“The issue of abortion invokes much depth of emotion and passion; I understand this,” Foley said in a statement. “However, as a state and federally funded university with a health system, we are required to follow applicable state and federal laws.”
Hanna reported from Topeka, Kansas.
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
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