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Federal Judge Temporary Blocks Mo. Health Officials From Revoking Columbia Clinic's Abortion License

Federal Judge Temporary Blocks Mo. Health Officials From Revoking Columbia Clinic's Abortion License

December 1, 2015 — A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services from pulling the Columbia, Mo., Planned Parenthood's license to offer abortion care, AP/Talking Points Memo reports.

According to AP/TPM, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey's order will remain in place until Wednesday, following another hearing in the lawsuit (Hanna/Ballentine, AP/Talking Points Memo, 11/30).

Background

Under state law, abortion clinics are required to meet ambulatory surgical center requirements. To meet those requirements, physicians who provide surgical abortions must have admitting privileges with a nearby hospital.

In 2014, University of Missouri Health Care granted "refer and follow" privileges to Colleen McNicholas, a physician who began providing medication abortions at the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic on Aug. 3.

In August, conservative state senators and the health department director in Missouri debated at a hearing whether the Columbia clinic met state licensing requirements when it received its license in July. During the hearing, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R) -- chair of the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as an interim committee investigating Planned Parenthood -- said the clinic failed to meet the ambulatory surgical center standards because the clinic's abortion provider does not have admitting privileges. However, Gail Vasterling, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the standard does not apply because the clinic only provides medication abortions, not surgical abortions. Physicians at the clinic or the clinic itself would need to obtain admitting privilege requirements only if the clinic started to offer surgical abortion.

Following a unanimous vote by a committee of executive staff, MU Health Care announced that it will cease refer and follow privileges, which permit physicians to provide medication abortions, beginning Dec. 1. Planned Parenthood in September said it would take legal action against MU for its decision to discontinue the privileges.

The Columbia clinic on Nov. 23 stopped offering abortion care in anticipation of McNicholas losing her privileges (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/25). According to AP/TPM, MU interim Chancellor Hank Foley on Monday said he would support MU Health Care's decision to end refer and follow privileges (AP/Talking Points Memo, 11/30). Meanwhile, McNicholas currently is seeking to obtain other privileges at MU Health Care (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/30).

Legal Challenge

On Monday, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri filed a legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, asking for a temporary restraining order that would permit the clinic to maintain its licensure as an abortion facility while it looks for a physician who has or who can obtain the necessary hospital privileges.

In the lawsuit, PPKM said it is not required under state law to immediately revoke a clinic's abortion license if the facility loses a physician who has the required privileges. According to the lawsuit, the state allowed the clinic to keep its abortion license from June 2012 to September 2013, a time period when it did not have a physician with the needed privileges and was not able to offer abortion care.

PPKM contends that the state's decision to immediately revoke its abortion license violates PPKM's right to due process because it does not give the clinic adequate time to keep its license (Hancock, "The Buzz," Kansas City Star, 11/30).

According to PPKM CEO Laura McQuade, the clinic will not be able to offer abortion care until it employs a physician who has the necessary privileges, despite the restraining order. McQuade explained that it is important for the clinic to maintain its abortion licensure during that process because obtaining an abortion license can take up to six months. With the abortion licensure in place, the clinic will be able to resume providing abortion care immediately after a physician obtains the necessary privileges (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/30).