- Associated Press - Friday, August 5, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A federal judge who quashed Missouri’s push to revoke a Planned Parenthood clinic’s abortion license has ordered state taxpayers to pay more than $156,000 to cover the organization’s legal bills tied to the dispute.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey this week ruled that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services must pay $156,631 in attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred by what now is Planned Parenthood Great Plains. That’s $157.50 less than Planned Parenthood had sought.

Laughrey also declined the state’s request to amend her May ruling that sided with the Columbia clinic after the state last year tried to revoke its abortion license. The judge has concluded that the challenge of the license likely was at least partly due to “political pressure,” and said it could not be revoked before its expiration in June.

The clinic already had stopped performing abortions because it could not meet a separate state requirement, but it did not want to lose the license because of the expense and hassle to reapply.

Laura McQuade, the regional Planned Parenthood’s president and chief executive, said Laughrey’s ruling this week was “additional confirmation that Planned Parenthood’s equal protection rights were violated by the state of Missouri.”

McQuade, in an emailed statement Friday to The Associated Press, called the outcome “heartening, and a reminder that the law will hold accountable those who seek to block women from accessing safe, legal abortion.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, which represented the state, said Friday by email that that office was reviewing Laughrey’s latest ruling and declining immediate comment.

In her May ruling, Laughrey concluded the state Department of Health and Senior Services treated the clinic “more harshly” than other ambulatory surgical centers, and that “disparate treatment” of the clinic “cannot be justified by political pressure or public opposition.”

The agency’s actions “likely were the result of political pressure being exerted by Missouri legislators and the Department’s perception that if it did not act in accordance with the legislature’s desires, its budget would be cut,” Laughrey wrote.

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.

The legal fight over the Columbia clinic came after the department warned it would revoke its license when its only doctor performing medication-induced abortions lost needed privileges with University of Missouri Health Care in December. Without a physician with those privileges, the clinic stopped performing abortions.

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