A Missouri judge on Friday issued an order that will keep the state's last abortion clinic from closing at midnight after Planned Parenthood warned Missouri was at risk of becoming the first state in nearly 50 years to lack an abortion provider.
The order from Missouri Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer, granting the clinic a temporary restraining order, ensures the clinic can remain open until at least Tuesday.
It comes amid a national battle over reproductive rights. A number of conservative legislatures, including Missouri's, have raced in recent weeks to pass restrictive abortion laws, sparking nationwide protests.
The legal matter addressed Friday, however, was not related to those laws, which have largely concerned how late in a pregnancy an abortion may be sought. Rather, the temporary order was connected to a dispute over the clinic's compliance with state health regulations.
The clinic, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, was scheduled to lose its license at midnight.
Stelzer wrote that the clinic "demonstrated that immediate and irreparable injury will result if [its] license is allowed to expire."
No state has lacked a lawful abortion provider since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court decided the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, which outlawed state abortion bans.
The judge ordered that the license "shall not expire and shall remain in effect" until a later ruling on the matter and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday morning.
"This is a huge sigh of relief for the many patients who need access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri," Colleen McNicholas, an OB-GYN affiliated with the clinic, said in a statement. "The fight goes on. While temporary, we celebrate today, and tomorrow we go back to work to ensure access to abortion does not go dark at the last health center that provides abortion in Missouri."
The order comes as part of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood against Missouri's health regulator, which inspected the facility in March. The Department of Health and Senior Services said it notified Planned Parenthood in early April that it was concerned about potential violations of state law. The clinic filed an application to renew its license May 16.
The department wrote in a release on Wednesday in response to Planned Parenthood's lawsuit that its concerns were related to one case in which "patient safety was gravely compromised." The department also noted concerns about "failed surgical abortions," "concerns about quality control and communication with a contracted pathology lab," and "failure to obtain informed consent."
The state has said that the clinic failed to comply, until recently, with regulations requiring pelvic exams and a law that requires the physician who does counseling prior to the abortion to also perform the abortion.
The regulator said it cannot renew the clinic's license until it interviews physicians who work at the clinic. Several of those doctors have refused to comply with interview requests, it said.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, said at a news conference this week that it would be "reckless" for a judge to permit the clinic to continue to provide abortions while its license remains under review.
"If you don't provide a standard of care that ensures the safety of women, you shouldn't be allowed to operate. It's that simple," he said.
Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, has said the clinic complies with state laws and regulations and accused Missouri of imposing unnecessary hurdles to receiving abortions.
"Over the last 10 years the state of Missouri has imposed regulation upon regulation that has no basis in medicine," Wen, who is a physician, told CBS. "We've complied with all of them because we want to keep our health center open. These are things like making our hallways extra wide, forcing women to wait 72 hours — even having unnecessary, invasive pelvic exams."
In a statement issued Friday, Wen declared "victory for women across Missouri" but cautioned that "this fight is far from over."
"We have seen just how vulnerable access to abortion care is here—and in the rest of the country. We are glad that the governor has been prevented from putting women's health and lives in danger—for now—and call on him to stop this egregious politicalization of public health in an attempt to ban all safe, legal abortion care in the state," Wen said.
Read the full order: