Missouri’s Last Abortion Clinic Faces Closure. OB-GYNs Are Fighting Back.

“This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is real, and it’s a public health crisis.” Those were the words of Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen Tuesday, when news broke that Missouri’s only abortion clinic might be forced to close by the end of the week, effectively ending access to legal abortion in the state. Planned Parenthood says that Missouri’s health department is threatening not to renew its license over a series of unreasonable demands, including interviewing seven of the clinic’s doctors. Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at the clinic, told reporters, “This is harassment and attempted intimidation of doctors at the highest levels of government.” Missouri is one of six states in the country with just one abortion clinic left. If it fails to renew the license by May 31, it will become the first state without any abortion services since Roe v. Wade recognized the constitutional right to an abortion in 1973. Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit to stop the clinic’s closure. A hearing is scheduled for this afternoon in St. Louis. This comes less than a week after Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson signed a law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. The law will trigger a total ban if Roe v. Wade is overturned. We speak with Dr. Erin King, a gynecologist and the executive director of Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, about 10 minutes from downtown St. Louis, Missouri.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: “This is not a drill. This is not a warning. This is real, and it’s a public health crisis.” Those were the words of Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen Tuesday, when news broke that Missouri’s only abortion clinic might be forced to close by the end of this week, effectively ending access to legal abortion in the state.

As Republican legislatures across the country attack reproductive rights with a wave of anti-abortion bills, this threat is coming from the state of Missouri itself. Planned Parenthood says that Missouri’s health department is threatening not to renew its license over a series of unreasonable demands, including interviewing seven of the clinic’s doctors. Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an abortion provider at the clinic, told reporters, quote, “This is harassment and attempted intimidation of doctors at the highest levels of government.”

Missouri is one of six states in the country with just one abortion clinic left. The others are Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia. If Missouri fails to renew the license by May 31st, it will become the first state without any abortion services since Roe v. Wade recognized the constitutional right to abortion in 1973.

Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit to stop the clinic’s closure. A hearing is scheduled for this afternoon in St. Louis.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes less than a week after Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson signed a law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. The law will trigger a total ban if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The same day Planned Parenthood announced the threats to its last clinic in Missouri, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to take up a provision of an Indiana law that bars abortions based on sex, race or disability of the fetus. The decision keeps in place a lower court injunction on the measure. The Supreme Court, however, decided to allow Indiana’s so-called fetal burial law to go into effect, which stipulates abortion clinics must dispose of fetal remains either through burial or cremation. The measure was signed into law by then-governor, now vice president, Mike Pence in 2016.

Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. In St. Louis, Missouri, we go to Dr. Erin King, OB-GYN and the executive director of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, which is about 10 minutes from downtown St. Louis, Missouri. Here in New York, we’re joined by Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. She recently filed the ACLU challenge to the Alabama abortion ban.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Dr. Erin King. You are minutes from the St. Louis women’s health clinic that provides abortion. Explain what is happening this week. Before we move on to the Supreme Court, what could happen by Friday with Missouri’s last remaining women’s health clinic that provides abortion.

DR. ERIN KING: Well, thank — excuse me — thank you for having me on the show this morning. We’re really, really concerned here in Missouri. I’m a Missouri resident. Right now I’m sitting literally about a couple of miles from the last remaining clinic. And the news that broke yesterday about the fact that the Missouri state health department is threatening to shut this clinic down, based on unreasonable demands, is most concerning for the patients in the state of Missouri. We are really literally in a crisis right now, where the patients in our own state, in Missouri, cannot access safe reproductive healthcare as of Friday.

So, right now I happen to be fortunate enough not just to be a gynecologist and provide abortion care, but to do that in Illinois. And I really will — I’m really predicting seeing a high number of patients having to start to travel across state lines just to receive the healthcare that they seek.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. King, in terms of what you’ve already — what your clientele already is in Illinois, could you talk about that? Because given the fact that there are so — there’s only one clinic left in Missouri right now that can provide abortions.

DR. ERIN KING: At the Hope Clinic for Women, where I’m the executive director and also a physician, we have seen patients for over 45 years, many of whom are from Missouri. So we already see patients — over 50% of our patients come from Missouri. In the last two years, with a significant number of restrictions around abortion in Missouri, we’ve already seen a very, very high number of patients have to come over to Illinois to see us. I expect that number will increase significantly.

Just yesterday, as the news was breaking about the health clinic potentially being shut down, Planned Parenthood potentially being shut down on Friday, we already had a flood of phone calls of very panicked and frantic patients wondering what was going on, where they can go, where they can seek care. So we’re already really concerned that there’s a lot of confusion around this issue. And, unfortunately, not all patients can just pick up and drive across a state line to seek care.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. King, can you explain what is happening by Friday? Why suddenly, it seems — we’re just talking about licensing of the clinic, something that happens every single year. Now, your husband is also an abortion provider, right, in the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic?

DR. ERIN KING: Right, correct. So, what is happening is that every year — and this is a law that’s in Missouri — every year, the abortion clinic has to apply and be accepted for a new license as this abortion facility, which comes with a lot of regulations, above and beyond the usual regulations around healthcare. And the Missouri state health department has stated that they don’t think that the Planned Parenthood in St. Louis can comply with these regulations. And they are forcing the doctors to go through interrogations. They are forcing — I think you said at the beginning of the program, so I don’t want to misspeak, but — seven of the doctors to go through interrogations just to get this licensing through.

The Planned Parenthood in St. Louis are close colleagues of ours at Hope Clinic. We work with them on a day-to-day basis. We know the healthcare they provide is very safe. It is high quality. It is well within the standards of medical care. And shutting down the clinic based on new allegations and interrogations just based on harassment and intimidation does nothing to improve the health or safety of the patients in the state of Missouri.