Missouri health officials on Friday refused to renew the license of the state's last remaining clinic that provides abortions, but the St. Louis facility will continue to provide abortions for now because a judge's order remains in place.
Earlier this month, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge granted Planned Parenthood's request to temporarily prevent state officials from revoking the clinic's license to provide abortions in the face of health officials attempting to revoke the license of the state's sole abortion provider.
It was the latest in a series of short-term legal reprieves for the clinic, though the provider's ultimate fate has not been determined.
At a court hearing on Friday, Judge Michael Stelzer said it is not clear when the court would reach a final decision on whether the state could stop abortion services at the clinic, which is run by Planned Parenthood, NPR member station St. Louis Public Radio reported.
If the state's efforts are successful, Missouri would become the only state in the U.S. without a legal abortion provider.
Health officials in the state have cited concerns about operations and the quality of care at the facility. As NPR has previously reported:
"In March, state officials cited a number of deficiencies in their inspections of the clinic as part of the annual license renewal process. One problem they noted was that not all of the staff had participated in a fire drill. Then in April, Missouri officials announced an investigation of an unspecified complaint from a patient.
"State officials asked to interview seven physicians associated with the clinic, some of whom were employed by Washington University Medical School and were not part of the clinic's full-time staff. Because of that relationship, the clinic argues it cannot force the doctors to be interviewed. It also says the state has not revealed the scope of the questioning, which the clinic's legal team says could include criminal referrals."
Abortion rights advocates claim Missouri is "weaponizing" state health law in an effort to eliminate the procedure from the state. The short-term win on Friday was cautiously applauded by Leana Wen, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.
"This fight is far from over — we will continue to do everything we can to maintain, protect, and expand access to safe, legal abortion care for our patients," Wen said.
Missouri is one of about a dozen states that have passed laws this year seeking to restrict abortion access. Supporters of some of the bills have said the new laws are an attempt to prompt a Supreme Court review of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortions nationwide.
In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson, signed a bill in May that criminalizes almost all abortions in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy.
Under the law, any person who performs an abortion after eight weeks — which is often before many women are aware they are pregnant — could be charged with a Class B felony punishable by five to 15 years in prison.