Updated at 6:10 p.m., May 29 with comment from Planned Parenthood officials
The last clinic providing abortions in Missouri can remain open, a state commissioner ruled Friday.
Missouri Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi said in a 97-page decision that Gov. Mike Parson's administration was wrong to not renew the license of a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis in spring 2019. The clinic has remained open while the commission considered its appeal.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services cited unsafe patient conditions and negligence from staff as its reason for the denial. But Dandamudi said in the ruling that the clinic has met the requirements for a license to perform abortions and granted the renewal of that license.
“Although we found violations of two provisions of law, we cannot deny Planned Parenthood’s license because those findings do not constitute substantial failures to comply with [Missouri law],” Dandamudi wrote. “The Department has failed to raise an affirmative defense sufficient to justify this denial.”
The order comes months after a weeklong hearing in October and marks a victory for Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Services, which has been locked in a protracted legal battle with the state. If the clinic were shut down, Missouri would have become the first in the nation with no abortion provider.
Orders from Dandamudi and Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer allowed Planned Parenthood to continue to provide abortion services while the appeal was being considered.
Planned Parenthood officials said during the October hearing that the refusal to issue a license was the latest move from a state administration that opposes abortion rights. The denial came shortly after Missouri’s Republican-led state Legislature passed and Gov. Mike Parson signed a law prohibiting most abortions after eight weeks.
Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams testified during the hearing that state inspectors had found instances of patients’ pregnancies continuing after undergoing an abortion procedure, indicating the clinic was not following proper practices.
The Administrative Hearing Commission found the clinic did violate state law in two cases.
In one instance, workers did not file a required report after multiple attempts to abort a pregnancy failed.
In another case, staff members did not document their discussion and review of a failed abortion, in which a patient remained pregnant because of a “missed twin” and developed an infection.
But those two violations do not mean the clinic is unsafe, the commissioner said.
“Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care,” Dandamudi wrote. “In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license.”
The commissioner’s report confirms the license denial was about politics, not safety, said Yamelsie Rodriguez, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.
She said the state health department “has been relentless in their attempts to revoke our abortion license, and this particular case has nothing to do with [our] safety record and the high quality care that our providers provide to patients every day and everything to do with a targeted political agenda.”
Abortion providers in the state must have their license renewed annually. Rodriquez says she hopes the state and the clinic will avoid contentious investigations in the future.
A department spokesperson declined to comment on the ruling. The state has a month to submit an appeal to the commission.
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