February 1, 2016 — The Missouri Attorney General's Office on Tuesday appealed a federal court ruling that prevents the state from revoking a Planned Parenthood clinic's license to provide abortion care, KCUR reports (Margolies, KCUR, 1/27).
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-based Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri's clinic on Aug. 3, 2015.
In August 2015, 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 2015. 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 would cease refer and follow privileges, which permit physicians to provide medication abortions, beginning Dec. 1, 2015.
The Columbia clinic on Nov. 23, 2015, stopped offering abortion care in anticipation of McNicholas losing her privileges. MU interim Chancellor Hank Foley said he would support MU Health Care's decision to end refer and follow privileges. Meanwhile, McNicholas currently is seeking other privileges at MU Health Care.
In December 2015, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a ruling that blocks DHSS from revoking the clinic's license until the lawsuit over the clinic's licensure is resolved. In her ruling, she stated that PPKM was subject to unfair treatment because it provides abortion care, and that revoking the clinic's license would cause irreparable harm.
Laughrey intends to resolve the case by May 1, at which point Planned Parenthood would have had enough time to meet the requirements for operating as an ambulatory surgical center.
The clinic cannot provide abortion care until a physician with admitting privileges begins working there (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/4).
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, PPKM spokesperson Bonyen Lee-Gilmore said the organization was unsurprised by the Attorney General's appeal, and "will continue vigorously fighting to keep access open to safe, legal abortion in mid-Missouri" (Stuckey, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/29).