A state commission will decide whether Planned Parenthood in St. Louis will be allowed to renew its abortion facility license.
Testimony was heard last month at a four-day hearing before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services denied a renewal of Planned Parenthood’s abortion facility license, citing concerns over patient safety, including several failed abortions. The commission isn’t expected to make a decision until February at the earliest.
In a lawsuit filed against the state earlier this year, Planned Parenthood alleged that the state health department is attempting to shut down the abortion clinic by “unlawfully conditioning” a decision on its license renewal application.
Governor Mike Parson said earlier this year that the issues are centered on Planned Parenthood not following the law and not protecting women’s health. He cited several recent cases of failed abortions at the St. Louis clinic, including one in which the patient was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. A statement from the health department noted that there was at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised, failed surgical abortions in which patients remained pregnant, as well as concerns about quality control and communication with a contracted pathology lab and failure to obtain informed consent.
As part of the renewal application process, the health department sought to interview seven physicians that worked at the clinic. Five of those doctors have refused to be interviewed. Planned Parenthood has said that it has no power to compel those doctors to speak with investigators, as they were not directly employed by the clinic.
In June, Planned Parenthood sued the state, and the case went before St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer. He ordered that the case go before the Administrative Hearing Commission, which conducts hearings and issues decisions in cases involving state agencies and private citizens. Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi has kept a preliminary injunction in place, allowing abortions to continue at the facility until a decision is made.
Kawanna Shannon, director of surgical services with Planned Parenthood’s Reproductive Health Services, testified on the last day of the commission hearing Oct. 31 that the relationship between state health inspectors and the abortion facility had become more contentious in the past year. She said that the facility was visited by inspectors five times from January-May 2019. In previous years, the facility typically received a visit once a year, she said.
Responding to media reports that state health director Dr. Randall Williams had compiled spreadsheets of the menstrual cycles of women who were patients at Planned Parenthood, the health department issued a statement denying that spreadsheets with information violating patient privacy exist, or that Williams had ordered their creation.
Concerned that the health department wasn’t receiving complication reports for failed surgical abortions, as required by law, health department regulators “devised a means to efficiently investigate that concern using legally obtained information, which was required by law and which Planned Parenthood routinely submits,” according to the statement.
Regulators examined abortion reports, which are submitted to the state by law, and which contain data on the patients’ last normal menstrual period. The statement added that Williams never possessed a spreadsheet of patient information, and no patient data had been released.
“This information, in fact, was important in the investigative process in ensuring that facilities are safe for patients,” according to the statement.
Planned Parenthood has lost its license due to “incompetence, and for no other reason,” Susan Klein, executive director of Missouri Right to Life, wrote in a statement. “The blame for the deficiencies and infractions at the Planned Parenthood abortion site in St. Louis can be laid specifically and only on those who operate that abortion facility. Women’s lives were put at risk and the law was broken at the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. No one and no health care facility is above the law.”
Deacon Sam Lee, pro-life lobbyist with Campaign Life Missouri, said he was struck by the lack of apology from Planned Parenthood officials for the failed abortions cited by state officials. “None of them ever once said, ‘I’m sorry that this happened, or we wish it did not happen.’ There was nothing like that at all. Planned Parenthood has been existing under a laissez-faire system in the past, and now they are under more scrutiny, as the department has found four women who have been injured by abortions.”
Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, located in the Central West End, is the only abortion facility remaining in Missouri. If it loses its license, Missouri would become the first state without an operating abortion facility since the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.