- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Planned Parenthood attorney asked a federal judge Friday for more time for a doctor at its Columbia clinic to obtain needed hospital privileges or to find another doctor who meets those requirements so abortions can be performed at the facility.

The clinic in November stopped offering non-surgical abortions induced by a pill because its doctor faced losing hospital privileges, effective Dec. 1. As a result of the loss of state-required privileges, the state health department is seeking to revoke the clinic’s abortion license.

A 1986 state law required physicians providing abortions to have certain agreements with hospitals for patient care, with the idea being patients could quickly receive help if they needed further medical assistance. The law was tightened in 2005 and most recently in 2007.

A Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis now is the only center offering abortions in Missouri.

Planned Parenthood last month sued the Department of Health and Senior Services, saying the agency didn’t give the Columbia clinic enough time to comply.

U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey previously temporarily blocked the health department from revoking the license through the end of December.

Since then, the Planned Parenthood doctor hasn’t managed to obtain new hospital privileges, and the clinic hasn’t found another doctor who meets state privileging requirements. Planned Parenthood attorney Diana Salgado during a Friday teleconference asked Laughrey to give the clinic more time.

Salgado argued that losing the license will mean the Columbia clinic needs to reapply, which can take months and costs money. Maintaining its license would allow the clinic to resume offering abortions if a hospital grants Planned Parenthood’s Colleen McNicholas privileges or the clinic finds another doctor who meets that requirement.

“We will be able to start up services immediately,” Salgado said. “That’s the meaningful difference here.”

Solicitor General James Layton argued that the state wouldn’t cause irreparable harm to Planned Parenthood if it revokes the clinic’s license because the Columbia site can’t perform abortions without a doctor anyway.

“If someone shows up at the Planned Parenthood facility and cannot get an abortion, it isn’t because of the revocation,” Layton said. “It’s because the facility does not currently have a physician who meets the requirements to provide that service.”

McNicholas’ privileges with University of Missouri Health Care ended following a vote by a panel of medical staff to stop offering privileges allowing outside doctors to refer patients to the hospital and check on them. The vote came as a Republican-led legislative committee investigated abortion practices in the state and focused on the university’s relationship with the nearby Planned Parenthood center.

Laughrey did not indicate when she might rule, but her prior restraining order to block the health department from revoking the clinic’s license expires Dec. 30.

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