At an unannounced inspection of Planned Parenthood in Columbia, Mo., in September, the state health department discovered the facility had an abortion machine with what appeared to be dried blood and mold.
That finding, as well as other deficiencies detailed in a report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, eventually led to an expiration of facility’s abortion license Oct. 2. It’s one of the most recent issues Planned Parenthood has faced amid a roller coaster of legal decisions regarding the regulation of abortions in Missouri.
Earlier this month, federal Judge Brian Wimes declined to halt a Missouri law requiring abortion doctors to have local hospital privileges. Wimes’ decision followed a previous ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that ended a preliminary injunction blocking the Missouri rules, sending the case back to the lower court.
Enacted in 2005, the Missouri law requires doctors to have hospital privileges within 30 miles of where the abortions are performed. Pro-life advocates said the provision offers women undergoing an abortion quick admittance to a hospital in the event that emergency medical attention is needed.
The decision has left Planned Parenthood in Columbia without a doctor with hospital privileges to perform abortions. At this point, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis is the only remaining abortion provider in Missouri. The Columbia facility remains open, providing non-abortion-related services.
Planned Parenthood has pointed out the similarities between the Missouri hospital privileges law and what happened in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt case, which noted that a similar provision regarding hospital privileges in Texas was medically unnecessary. The Supreme Court case is among some of the most significant abortion-related cases in several decades.
Two years ago, Planned Parenthood filed suit against the Missouri requirement, and wrote in a statement that the Eighth Circuit court “sidestepped Supreme Court precedent and allowed two abortion restrictions to take effect, even though they were virtually identical to those held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt two years prior.”
However, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hellerstedt case might not carry much weight beyond the specific circumstances related to abortion in Texas. “Hellerstedt did not find, as a matter of law, that abortion was inherently safe or that provisions similar to the laws it considered would never be constitutional,” wrote Judge Bobby Shepherd. “Despite the district court’s assertions to the contrary, Hellerstedt’s analysis of the purported benefits of the law at issue were, of course, related to what the law in that case regulated: abortion in Texas.”
A court brief filed in September by Attorney General Josh Hawley noted that the Hellerstedt decision “requires that courts consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.”
“Missouri can establish with credible evidence two things the Hellerstedt record lacked: Missouri-specific problems justifying the Privileges Requirement, as well as general benefits,” Hawley wrote. “The Privileges Requirement targets Missouri-specific problems, and the record includes evidence of general problems not in the Hellerstedt record. This case is different from Hellerstedt for many reasons. The record already includes substantial evidence that Missouri faces specific problems. The record reveals at least five Missouri-specific problems and at least three other distinctions from the Hellerstedt record.”
Hawley noted that the issues include:
• Significantly worse complication rates in Missouri than elsewhere. “… The hospitalization rate for major complications at the St. Louis facility from 2012-16 was six times greater than nationwide figures provided by plaintiffs’ expert,” Hawley wrote.
• The failure rate for medication abortions at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was almost three times greater than its expert predicted for medication abortions nationwide.
• Abortion facilities in Missouri have a pattern and practice of failing to comply with basic sanitation practices — Hawley cited an abortion machine with black mold and bodily fluids found at the Columbia facility.
• Missouri abortion providers have failed to maintain networks of communication with treating physicians.
• For at least 15 years Planned Parenthood has ignored a statutory obligation to file complication reports with the state when a patient suffers post-abortion complications.
Planned Parenthood has said that is has addressed the deficiencies found in the health department’s inspection. The abortion provider called on the state to renew the Columbia facility’s license and plans to petition the court to block the hospital privilege requirement.