A federal judge denied Planned Parenthood's request for a mid-Missouri clinic to be temporarily exempted from certain abortion regulations, ensuring that the Columbia clinic will not be able to resume abortions.
U.S. Western District Court Judge Brian Wimes wrote in his ruling late Wednesday that even if he did lift the requirement that doctors at the clinic have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals before they perform abortions, the Columbia center still would not be able to provide abortions. Missouri is down to one clinic performing abortions, which is located in St. Louis.
That's because the clinic's license expired Tuesday. Abortions scheduled for Wednesday were cancelled.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood had requested that Wimes temporarily exempt Columbia from the hospital privileges requirement as Planned Parenthood's broader challenge to abortion regulations plays out in court.
The admitting privileges requirement is important because the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic has been unable to secure physician privileges or find a doctor with those privileges after a panel of medical staff at University of Missouri Health Care voted to stop offering those privileges altogether in 2015 amid a Republican-led legislative investigation on abortion in the state.
Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson in a Thursday statement called Wimes' ruling a "victory for protecting the sanctity of life." Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Brandon Hill in a Wednesday statement said the ruling is a "disappointing setback in our effort to protect access to safe, legal abortion in Missouri."
Wimes wrote in his ruling that Planned Parenthood can ask again to be exempted from the rule if the state later grants them an abortion license.
It's unclear when, or if, that will happen. State officials have repeatedly cited concerns raised during a Sept. 26 health inspection that found the Columbia clinic was using equipment with tubing that contained "black mold and bodily fluid," according to court documents filed by the Attorney General's Office. The attorney general is defending the state abortion regulations.
"As a Department, we are committed to ensuring the safety of all patients throughout their care at the facilities we regulate and license, including making sure that basic sanitation requirements are met," Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams said in a Thursday statement. "This was not the case during our most recent unannounced inspection of the Columbia facility."
A spokeswoman has said Planned Parenthood takes issue with that description, and said regardless the tubing has been replaced and other concerns raised in the Sept. 26 inspection have been addressed.