- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The last abortion clinic in Missouri could close in two days, a situation that Planned Parenthood has attributed to the state’s increasingly tough regulations, while pro-life activists say the facility has only itself to blame.

Since 2009, Coalition for Life volunteers doing daily “sidewalk counseling” outside the clinic have recorded 74 ambulance trips to emergency rooms. The lion’s share was for hemorrhaging, according to documents obtained by Operation Rescue, which has dubbed the clinic “the most dangerous abortion facility in America.”

More concerns were raised Wednesday by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who said that the clinic still has time to avoid a shutdown before the Friday deadline. A closure would make Missouri the first state without an abortion facility since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

Before the clinic’s license is renewed, however, the Republican governor said Planned Parenthood officials need to cooperate with a state health investigation, which found multiple violations of state law and several incidents of botched abortions.

“There are a number of serious health concerns that still exist at the Planned Parenthood St. Louis facility,” Mr. Parson said at a press conference. “We should all agree that regardless of the number of abortion facilities, every step should be taken to ensure that all laws are followed for the safety and well-being of women’s health care.”

Planned Parenthood has gone to court to stop the closure, which would become effective when the clinic’s license expires Saturday. A hearing on a request for a temporary injunction is scheduled for Thursday morning in state court in St. Louis.

Dr. Colleen McNicholas of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region blamed the looming shutdown on unreasonable state laws and a politically motivated inspections process designed to “intimidate doctors like me and to push abortion care out of reach for patients.”

She said the impending closure is just about banning abortion and has nothing to do with patient health or safety. “State officials continue moving the goal post on abortion providers until we can no longer provide care,” she said in a statement.

Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Wednesday she hoped the court would see “exactly what’s happening, which is that over the last 10 years, Missouri has imposed regulation upon regulation that has no basis in medicine.”

In an interview on “CBS This Morning,” she said, “We’ve complied with all of them because we want to keep our health center open.”

That said, the St. Louis clinic has been in trouble for years. Operation Rescue, which monitors abortion clinics, said patient visits have dropped and ambulances have been called three times — April 24, April 26 and May 15 — in the last 22 days.

In 2008, Planned Parenthood offered abortions at five health centers in Missouri, but four have closed in the aftermath of a state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 15 minutes of the clinics.

“Over the last 40 years, Missouri has placed numerous medically irrelevant restrictions on abortion that have severely limited access and reduced the number of health centers offering abortion so dramatically that only one remains,” said Planned Parenthood in its lawsuit.

Plans to offer abortion services at additional health centers have fallen through because “they can’t comply with the licensing requirements,” said Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger.

A 2017 state health inspection posted by Operation Rescue identified multiple problems, including contamination issues and staff failing to wash hands between glove changes. The latest inspection conducted March 11-13 found “numerous violations of state laws and regulations,” said Mr. Parson.

For example, he said Planned Parenthood had failed to follow laws requiring the same physician performing the abortion to receive the patient’s informed consent, and for a pelvic exam to be performed 72 hours before the abortion.

He also cited records provided by Planned Parenthood showing that three pregnant people underwent abortions but returned later “after realizing they were still pregnant.” In another case, the facility rushed a patient to the hospital for emergency surgery.

“All of these examples are unacceptable and have placed these women at serious health risk,” Mr. Parson said in his prepared remarks.

The state Department of Health and Senior Services had asked to interview the seven doctors providing abortions at the clinic. Two doctors were interviewed Tuesday, he said, but Planned Parenthood told the state to contact the other five doctors through their separate counsel.

Mr. Parson said Planned Parenthood had “ample time” to address the problems, but waited until the May 16 deadline to submit its application for renewal.

“For months during this process, Planned Parenthood has been reluctant to cooperate with state officials, including withholding access to interviews of abortion doctors,” said Mr. Parson. “These actions are unprecedented.”

At the same time, he stressed that Planned Parenthood still has time to address the problems before the license expires, although he said “they should not receive any exceptions simply because they are one clinic.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Parson signed a bill prohibiting most abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy, but he insisted that the issues surrounding the Planned Parenthood clinic’s license renewal had nothing to do with politics. However, many people are unaware that they’re pregnancy before the eighth-week mark.

In Missouri, 2,910 abortions were performed in 2018, including 433 procedures at eight weeks of pregnancy and 267 at six weeks or earlier, according to The Associated Press, using provisional data provided by the state health department.

“Look, this is not an issue of the pro-life issue at all,” Mr. Parson said. “They know what the standards are, they know they were deficient. They’ve had two months to correct that, to abide by the law. That’s all we’re asking for.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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