- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Senate Republicans on Thursday blasted a court’s decision that the state had improperly tried to revoke a Planned Parenthood clinic’s abortion license, saying lawmakers were concerned that a state-funded hospital had provided privileges necessary for the license.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled Wednesday that the Department of Health and Senior Services could not revoke the license for the Columbia clinic until it’s set to expire June 30, saying the move likely resulted from political pressure. She said the agency likely acted hastily to revoke the clinic’s abortion license out of concern that lawmakers would cut its budget if it didn’t.

The department’s efforts came amid fallout from Republican lawmakers investigating abortion practices in the state, including privileges University of Missouri Health Care gave to the Columbia clinic’s only physician providing abortions. Some legislators argued the hospital facilitated abortions by granting those privileges. MU Health Care subsequently took away the physician’s privileges, prompting the health department to try to revoke the clinic’s license.

Lawmakers argued that they had a right to question a state-funded hospital’s decision to provide such privileges.

“It appears that the court in this instance failed to appreciate the fundamental constitutional authority of the Legislature to speak for the citizens of Missouri and to determine how their tax dollars will be spent,” said GOP Sen. Bob Onder, who was among senators investigating abortions. “There is no question that our constituents do not want their tax dollars being used to subsidize abortions, and we have a duty to make sure that the law as written is being followed.”

The Columbia clinic had already stopped offering medication-induced abortions last year after its doctor lost privileges, and Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Laura McQuade said the clinic still is searching for a replacement. But it did not want to lose the license because of the expense and hassle to reapply.

In the ruling, Laughrey cited the only other time the department tried to revoke a license for an ambulatory surgical center, during which the clinic had time to submit a plan of action and attempt to come back into compliance before the state finally took action. In the case of the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic, the health department had threatened to take away the license the same day the doctor lost privileges.

Lawyers for the state had argued that Planned Parenthood knew in advance that employing a physician with certain hospital privileges is necessary to be in compliance with state regulations and that the clinic had time to remedy the situation.

McQuade said in a Wednesday statement that the judgment confirms that the state “unfairly targeted Planned Parenthood and its staff for providing safe, legal abortion.”

GOP Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard in a Thursday statement called on the state attorney general’s office to appeal the ruling. Attorney general spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said the office is reviewing the ruling and hasn’t yet decided whether to appeal.

Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who is the Senate Appropriations chairman and oversees how much state money goes to the University of Missouri and the state health department, led the committee investigating abortion. He’s also running for attorney general.

Schaefer in a Wednesday statement said he makes “no apology for my role in uncovering that tax dollars were being used to enable abortions in Missouri.”

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