Missouri’s only abortion provider is expected to close its doors for good this week in a move that would effectively end access to legal abortions throughout the entire state.
The state’s last remaining abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood of Missouri, said in an interview with CBS News Tuesday that Missouri’s health department is refusing to renew its annual license which is required to legally provide abortions in the state.
“This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is a real public health crisis,” Dr. Leana Wen, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told CBS News.
If the health department refuses to renew the license by May 31, Missouri will become the first state without a legal abortion provider since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. It is already one of only six states with just a single abortion clinic.
Representatives for Planned Parenthood attempted to work for weeks to resolve the issue after being informed by Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services on May 20 about three potential issues that could impact its license renewal.
By May 22, Planned Parenthood had agreed to rectify two of the issues: adjusting who provided state-mandated counseling at the clinic; adding a mandatory pelvic exam for patients seeking surgical abortion procedures.
However, in its third request the department wanted to Planned Parenthood to provide interviews with seven doctors it said were under investigation for “deficient practices.” Two of those doctors were employed by Planned Parenthood, while the other five provided services at the facility. Planned Parenthood said it could provide interviews with the two doctors under its employ, but not the other five as they had not consented to be interviewed.
In response, the health department sent a letter to Planned Parenthood stating it was unable to complete the investigation “until it interviews the physicians involved in the care provided in the potential deficient practices,” before adding that “the investigation needs to be completed and any deficiencies resolved before the expiration of [the clinic’s] license on May 31, 2019.”
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a Planned Parenthood physician in St. Louis, said the state’s issues with the clinic are not related to medical care in any way, referring to the department’s attempts to force the clinic to perform mandatory pelvic exams for pill-induced abortions which she says are medically unnecessary.
“When I say an unnecessary pelvic exam what I mean is that the state is forcing me to put my fingers in somebody’s vagina when it is totally medically irrelevant,” she said. “That is really bordering on harassment… I am really proud of our clinicians for taking a stand and saying you know we just won’t do that to patients.”
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed a law banning abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions only for medical emergencies on Friday.
Planned Parenthood plans to file a lawsuit to keep operating in the state on Tuesday.
[Image via Saul Loeb/Getty Images]