Missouri’s Last Abortion Clinic Safe for Now Under Judge’s Order

A federal judge in Missouri stepped in Friday to allow the state’s last remaining abortion clinic to continue operating.

The 11th-hour decision followed mass protests in St. Louis on Thursday, with rights advocates demanding that Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region be permitted to stay open, lest Missouri become the first state in more than four decades to make it impossible for women to access safe, legal abortion care without crossing state lines.

Judge Michael Stelzer issued a temporary stay, rejecting the state’s claim that the clinic must stop providing abortions unless staffers submit to questioning from the state health department. Republican Gov. Michael Parson’s administration claims the clinic has “a large number of possible deficiencies.”

The clinic, Stelzer wrote in his ruling, “has demonstrated that immediate and irreparable injury” would result if its license was revoked at midnight Friday.

“The court finds that a temporary restraining order is necessary to preserve the status quo and prevent irreparable injury” to the clinic, the judge ruled.

Planned Parenthood celebrated the judge’s decision but warned that the U.S. is still in the midst of a battle for reproductive rights, four decades after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that American women have a constitutional right to abortion care.

“This is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over,” said Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood. “We have seen just how vulnerable access to abortion care is in Missouri—and in the rest of the country. We’ll keep fighting these attempts to end access to healthcare—no matter what.”

Parson’s attempt to close the clinic came days after he signed an eight-week abortion ban, part of the Republican Party’s attack on Roe vs. Wade. Barring a legal challenge, starting at the end of August when the law is set to go into effect, abortion doctors in Missouri could face up to 15 years in prison for delivering care to their patients after the eighth week of pregnancy.

Across the country, reproductive rights advocates are planning to rally in the coming days for Planned Parenthood’s Emergency Response Weekend of Action, even though the clinic in St. Louis will remain open for now.

“The fight doesn’t end here,” tweeted Planned Parenthood Action.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, the matter of the clinic’s license renewal will go before a federal judge again on June 4.