A judge will determine this week whether Missouri's only abortion clinic can remain open as several states pass laws making the procedure more restrictive.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is suing the state over the refusal by health officials to renew its license, due to concerns over 'patient safety.'
A St. Louis judge ruled on Tuesday that testimony from non-staff doctors at Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s single clinic in St. Louis, will not be required for the hearing.
Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer agreed to throw out subpoenas for four doctors who worked briefly at the clinic during their training.
Stelzer's ruling set a hearing for Wednesday to consider Planned Parenthood's request for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from forcing the clinic to close.
A judge will determine this week whether Missouri's only abortion clinic can remain open as several states pass laws making the procedure more restrictive. Pro-life protesters are pictured outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on Tuesday
A woman stands with her child in a stroller during a pro-life rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Center on Tuesday
'I can only draw the conclusion there is confusion about what is and what isn't before the court,' Seltzer said, excluding the state's recently signed abortion laws. 'Recent Missouri law is not in front of this court.'
Missouri is demanding that doctors must submit to questions from state regulators to keep their licenses to continue performing abortions.The ruling is the latest in a legal fight over the facility's abortion license.
The abortion debate in Missouri intensified after Gov. Michael Parson signed into law House Bill 126, which bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest.
The health department last week declined to renew the clinic's license to perform abortion procedures, citing concerns about patient safety, including 'failed abortions' and legal violations.
Stelzer on Friday issued a temporary restraining order to allow the clinic to continue to perform abortions, at least until a decision is made on the injunction request.
Missouri Governor Michael Parson, (pictured), signed into law House Bill 126, which bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest on May 24
Dr Colleen McNicholas, (pictured), board certified OBGYN and abortion provider, sits inside a testing office at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis
The state issued subpoenas to staff doctors and former medical residents who worked at Planned Parenthood's St. Louis facility, seeking their testimony about what an assistant attorney general called "grave concerns" about patient safety.
Clinic leaders said the state's move is part of an effort by an anti-abortion administration to eliminate the procedure in Missouri.
Planned Parenthood attorney Jamie Boyer said both staff doctors were interviewed by health officials, but other doctors who worked at the clinic are no longer there and declined to speak with investigators.
According to a filing by the former residents' attorneys, a state health official in an affidavit explained that the dispute is over 'whether the same physician must provide informed consent and perform/induce the abortion.'
Hours before the ruling, the judge held a brief hearing on the physicians' request to block the subpoenas.
Attorney Russell Makepeace said his two clients were doctors who as part of their residency at a hospital worked 12 days each at the clinic over a four-year period. Neither is currently involved with the clinic.
Abortion-rights supporters take part in a protest last Thursday as Judge Stelzer issued a temporary restraining order to allow the clinic to continue to perform abortions
The fight over the clinic's license comes as lawmakers in many conservative states are passing new restrictions that take aim at the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling
'They really have nothing to add' to the investigation, Makepeace told the judge.
He also said the doctors are concerned that due to Missouri's 'shifting interpretation' of state statutes, they could face criminal charges for any involvement in abortions.
Assistant Attorney General John Sauer said the state has a right to hear from the doctors because of concerns about the quality of care at the clinic.
About 100 anti-abortion protesters rallied outside the clinic, lauding Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and chanting "Pro-life! Pro-woman!" At times, people driving by honked to show their support. Other drivers cursed at the protesters.
'Pregnancy is not a disease cured by abortion,' speaker Reagan Barklage of Students for Life of America, the group that hosted the rally, told the crowd.
The fight over the clinic's license comes as lawmakers in many conservative states are passing new restrictions that take aim at the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.
Abortion opponents, emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, hope federal courts will uphold laws that prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, the dividing line the high court set in Roe.
The number of abortions performed in Missouri has declined every year for the past decade, reaching a low of 2,910 last year.
Of those, an estimated 1,210 occurred at eight weeks or less of pregnancy, according to preliminary statistics from the state health department.
Missouri women also seek abortions in other states. In Kansas, about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed in 2018 were for Missouri residents, according to the state's health department.
A video posted on Facebook shows a woman entering EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, the state's only abortion clinic, as protesters shout at her, 'Don't kill your baby!' (scenes from the video shown)
In the minute-long clip, the woman is seen as she's escorted by five Every Saturday Morning volunteers to the front entrance of EMW Women's Surgical Center. Some volunteers are hidden from view as the group walks closely together to keep the woman guarded
Illinois does not track the home states of women seeking abortions.
An abortion clinic is located just across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois, less than 10 miles from the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis.
Planned Parenthood's abortion clinic in the Kansas City area is in Overland Park, Kansas, just 2 miles from the state line. State figures show a handful of Missouri hospitals also perform abortions, but those are relatively rare.
The Missouri case comes days after disturbing video footage emerged of pro-life protesters harassing a woman as she entered an abortion clinic in Kenutcky, where the procedure remains lawful.
A video posted on Facebook by John Williams, who calls himself a 'street preacher,' shows a woman entering EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville as protesters shout at her, 'Don't kill your baby!'
The loud crowd is seen lining the walkway leading up to the only clinic in the state which performs abortion procedures, coming close to the woman as she walks with her head covered and with volunteer escorts surrounding her on all sides.
To the left, a large sign reads, 'Abortion is murder,' and as the woman walks past it with the escorts, a woman's voice can be heard shouting, 'Don't kill your baby!'
As the woman nears the clinic's front door, a man says over the loudspeaker, 'Young lady, you don't have to be a murderer this morning, young lady'
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently signed into law both a so-called 'heartbeat bill' abortion ban and a ban on abortions for specific reasons, which have now been blocked from taking effect while litigation over the bills continues.
Amber Duke, communications director for the ACLU of Kentucky which represents EMW Women's Surgical Center in its various legal challenges against the state, told DailyMail.com of the scene in the video, 'This is a pretty typical of Saturday. Any time that clinic is open there are protesters out front.'
In the minute-long clip, multiple protesters can be seen walking alongside a woman as she's escorted by five Every Saturday Morning volunteers to the front entrance of EMW Women's Surgical Center.
The protesters right by her side appear to be saying things to her, but their actual words can't be heard over voice of a man talking through a loudspeaker.
To the left, a large sign reads, 'Abortion is murder,' and as the woman walks past it, a woman's voice can be heard shouting, 'Don't kill your baby!'
As the woman nears the clinic's front door, a man says over the loudspeaker, 'Young lady, you don't have to be a murderer this morning, young lady.'
He goes on, 'Don't listen to the wicked counsel of these orange-vested people, these orange-vested people who are rubbing you on the back and telling you that it's gonna be OK. It's not gonna be OK for your baby. It's not gonna be OK.'
The man then continues to talk after the woman has entered the clinic, saying things that are medically inaccurate.
'Your baby is gonna be torn limb from limb,' he says. 'Your baby's head is gonna be crushed.'
He continues, 'Your baby's gonna be destroyed with chemicals. It's not gonna be OK this morning, and it's not gonna be OK for you unless you repent.'
Williams, who posted the video, is pictured on social media holding a sign that reads, 'Mom, please don't kill me. I love you Mom,' showing a developing fetus in utero
STATES THAT NOW HAVE 'FETAL HEARTBEAT' LAWSGeorgia (signed into law May 7, 2019) Ohio (signed into law April 11, 2019, though it is being challenged) Alabama (on May 14, passed ban with no exceptions for rape or incest 25-6, from the moment of conception)
Missouri (signed into law May 24) Louisiana has passed a bill that Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will sign
STATES WHOSE BILLS HAVE BEEN BLOCKED BY COURTSArkansas (passed March 2014, blocked March 2015) Mississippi (signed into law March 21, 2019, blocked May 2019) North Dakota (passed July 2015, blocked January 2016) Iowa (passed May 2018, blocked January 2019) Kentucky (passed March 2019, blocked April 2019)
STATES THAT ARE CONSIDERING ITTennessee has a bill but the Republican AG warned it will be hard to pass, driving many to vote against South Carolina gave near-final approval to the bill last month Texas wanted