Planned Parenthood to open large secretly built Illinois clinic as Missouri readies abortion ban

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood is set to open a large facility in western Illinois this month that will provide abortion access for women in Missouri as officials there aim to shutter the state’s sole abortion clinic, the organization said on Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood has been secretly building the 18,000-square-foot clinic in Fairview Heights since August 2018, using shell companies to avoid attention and protests, CBS first reported.

The new healthcare center will provide abortion and other health services to women in western Illinois and eastern Missouri, and is located just 13 miles from Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic. Missouri has declined to renew that facility’s license, citing its failure to meet state health department standards.

“While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois,” Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s southwest regional chapter, said in a statement. “The new health center is a testament to the needs of the greater bi-state region and our commitment to provide, protect and expand access to healthcare, no matter what.”

A federal judge has allowed the Missouri clinic to stay open pending the decision of a state arbiter, who will weigh Planned Parenthood’s case against the state health department. If officials in Missouri succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious belief to declare it immoral.

Missouri is one of 12 states to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

A U.S. federal judge in August temporarily blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency.

Illinois has moved to protect women’s right to abortion as other states have tried to overturn it. The state passed the Reproductive Health Act in June to preserve the legality of abortion even if Roe v. Wade should be overturned. It has refused funding from the Title X family planning program because of President Donald Trump’s “gag rule,” which withholds federal funds from health providers who perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Federal judge blocks restrictive Missouri abortion law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant/File Photo

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks except in cases of medical emergency.

The law was set to take effect on Wednesday, but U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City ruled that the state not enforce it, pending litigation or further order of the court, according to a court document.

The ban, like others by U.S. states this year, was written in the knowledge it would likely be struck down but with the hope it would prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to review its landmark 1973 decision protecting abortion rights.

“While federal courts should generally be very cautious before delaying the effect of State laws, the sense of caution may be mitigated when the legislation seems designed, as here, as a protest against Supreme Court decisions,” the judge wrote.

“The hostility to, and refusal to comply with, the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence is most obviously demonstrated in the attempt to push ‘viability’ protection downward in various weekly stages to 8 weeks.”

Women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Missouri last month over the law, which also bans abortions sought on the grounds of the fetus’ race, sex or disability and makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in violation of the law.

Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinic and the ACLU have argued the law will cause “significant and irreparable constitutional, medical, emotional” harm to patients in that state, who may not even know they are pregnant at eight weeks, according to court documents.

The law declares Missouri to be a “sanctuary of life” that protects “pregnant women and their unborn children.” It does not make exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and it includes a provision that would trigger a statewide abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion is one of the most divisive political issues in the United States. Several conservative states have passed restrictive laws on abortion in 2019 to try to make the Supreme Court revisit the constitutional issue.

Missouri has been at the center of the nation’s escalating abortion debate, as Planned Parenthood is fighting a state health department decision not to renew the license of the provider’s clinic in St. Louis, the only abortion clinic in the state.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. abortion rights groups sue over Missouri law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Prominent U.S. abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit late on Tuesday in an effort to stop a new Missouri law that bans almost all terminations of pregnancies after eight weeks.

The new law was signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson in May and is set to go into effect on Aug. 28.

The 31-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri contends that the legislation is unconstitutional. It asks for an injunction to stop the law from being enacted next month until the complaint is resolved.

“Without this relief, the bans will have a devastating effect on patients seeking access to abortion in the state,” lawyers wrote in the complaint.

The law is one of the most restrictive in the nation and activists contend it effectively forbids most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant yet at eight weeks.

In a perennially divisive moral and political fight, similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other U.S. states as Republican-controlled legislatures flex their muscles.

Efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, have been emboldened by two appointments by President Donald Trump giving conservatives a solid majority on the court.

Neither representatives for the Missouri governor’s office, nor lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, were immediately available for comment early Wednesday.

Parson said in May the new law would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”

The legislation allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies, and provides no exceptions for victims or rape or incest.

Plaintiffs in the Missouri complaint said the law conflicts with more than four decades of binding precedent, would prohibit “the vast majority of pre-viability abortions”, and denied patients healthcare they were entitled to.

Planned Parenthood is engaged in separate litigation with the state to keep a St. Louis clinic open. If Missouri officials succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. top court to review Montana dispute over religious school subsidies

A man stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a case that could once again test boundaries for the separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide the legality of a Montana state tax credit that could help students attend private schools including religious ones.

The justices took up an appeal by three mothers of Christian private school students of a decision by Montana’s top court striking down the program because it ran afoul of a state constitutional ban on aid to religious institutions.

Churches and Christian groups have pushed for expanding access to public dollars for places of worship and religious schools, testing the limits of secularism in the United States.

The decision to hear the case could give the justices an opportunity to build on a major 2017 ruling that sided with a Missouri church and opened the door to more taxpayer funds going to religious entities.

In that case, the justices ruled that churches and other religious entities cannot be flatly denied public money even in states where constitutions explicitly ban such funding, siding with a church that sued after being denied access to a state grant program that helps nonprofit groups buy rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires.

Much litigation over the years has involved school “voucher” programs and other subsidies to help parents pay for children to attend private religious schools, in states whose constitutions explicitly ban such funding. Republican President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a prominent supporter of such “school choice” plans.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Denied a license, Missouri’s only abortion clinic awaits judge’s ruling

FILE PHOTO: Planned Parenthood's employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Robert Langellier

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri health officials on Friday refused to renew the license of the state’s only abortion clinic, but the facility will remain open for now as a judge left in place an injunction blocking its closure.

At a brief circuit court hearing on Friday, Judge Michael Stelzer said it might be days before the court would come to a decision on whether the state could shut its only abortion clinic, which is operated by women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

“I think you guys are expecting an order soon. I don’t know that order is going to be today,” Stelzer said during the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes.

If the clinic were to close, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion clinic.

Missouri officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This decision signals the true motive behind this license renewal mess that has left patients in limbo, uncertain about their health care: to ban abortion without ever overturning Roe v. Wade,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinic, said in a statement.

The state is one of 12 to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri health officials after they warned they would decline to renew the license of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on the grounds it failed to meet their standards.

Stelzer on June 10 issued a preliminary injunction blocking the clinic’s closure until the state made an official decision on its license.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral.

The legal battle in Missouri began after Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight to protect abortion access in Missouri and to push back on regulatory standards that the women’s healthcare organization believes put a burden on abortion rights.

Court documents show that Missouri health officials declined to renew the clinic’s license to perform abortions because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices.”

(Reporting by Robert Langellier in St. Louis; writing by Gabriella Borter; editing by Scott Malone, Sonya Hepinstall and Jonathan Oatis)

Judge weighs fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic after court hearing

Planned Parenthood's employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Gabriella Borter and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A St. Louis judge said on Tuesday he will work quickly to decide whether Missouri’s only abortion clinic can remain open after a hearing on a lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of the St. Louis clinic, called Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood, because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

Judge Michael Stelzer held a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire hours later, issuing a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood that enabled the clinic to continue providing the procedure.

After listening to arguments from both sides on Tuesday, Stelzer said he will work “expeditiously” to come to a decision in the case, according to a court spokesman.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. Abortion rights advocates have said restrictions being passed at the state level amount to state control of women’s bodies.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Anti-abortion activists have said they hope to prompt the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling by enacting laws such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are assured of facing court challenges.

The Supreme Court last week sent a mixed message on abortion, refusing to consider reinstating Indiana’s ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus while upholding the state’s requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated after the procedure is done. Several other abortion-related cases also are heading toward the high court.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic at stake as St. Louis judge holds hearing

A banner stating "STILL HERE" hangs on the side of the Planned Parenthood Building after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

(Reuters) – The fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic will be at stake on Tuesday when a St. Louis judge hears arguments in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. Abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire at midnight. He issued a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood, allowing the clinic to continue offering the procedure.

Stelzer will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in CHICAGO; Editing by Paul Tait)

Missouri abortion clinic to stay open for now after court order

Pro-Life supporters protest outside of Planned Parenthood as a deadline looms to renew the license of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Pavithra George

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri’s only abortion clinic will stay open at least a few more days after a judge on Friday granted a request by Planned Parenthood for a temporary restraining order, allowing the facility to keep operating until a hearing on Tuesday.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri this week after state health officials said the license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was in jeopardy, meaning the clinic could have closed at midnight unless the judge granted the request for a temporary restraining order.

“Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over,” Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said in a statement after Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer agreed to the organization’s request.

Representatives for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services could not be immediately reached for comment.

Health officials had refused to renew the clinic’s license because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to documents filed in a St. Louis court.

The legal battle in St. Louis comes a week after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

On Friday, Stelzer said the clinic’s license would remain in effect until a ruling is made on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction against the state. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Outside the clinic on Friday, a handful of anti-abortion protesters stood holding “Choose Life” signs.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral, while abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

 

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

As conservative U.S. states pass abortion bans, Missouri’s sole clinic could close

People take part in a pro-choice march in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., May 30, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Ael Diehm/via REUTERS

By Pavithra George

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri could become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion provider on Friday, as its only abortion clinic could lose its license to perform the procedure unless a St. Louis judge intervenes.

The legal battle in St. Louis comes a week after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri this week after state health officials said the license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was in jeopardy because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” documents filed in a St. Louis court showed.

The circuit judge in the case, Michael Stelzer, was expected on Friday to rule on Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the state, according to local media.

Outside the clinic, a handful of anti-abortion protesters stood holding “Choose Life” signs early Friday.

If Stelzer rules against Planned Parenthood, the clinic’s license to perform abortions would expire at midnight, making Missouri the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral, while abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

On Thursday, abortion-rights demonstrators held a rally in downtown St. Louis, where police arrested Alderman Megan Ellyia Green and several Planned Parenthood board members during a sit-in at the Wainwright State Office Building, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

A series of prominent U.S. media companies said they will rethink working in Georgia, if a new state law takes effect, banning abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected by doctors. That standard effectively bans abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, before some women would even be aware they were pregnant.

Those companies include AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia, CBS Corp, Viacom Inc, Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, AMC Networks Inc, Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc.

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

Death toll from storms lashing central U.S. rises to seven

A member of the Jefferson City Fire Department checks houses for people on Woodland Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

By Antranik Tavitian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Reuters) – The latest in a line of destructive storms pounding the central United States killed at least three people as tornadoes raked across Missouri while heavy rain flooded rivers in Oklahoma, authorities said on Thursday.

The three deaths and several injuries were recorded in and around Golden City, Missouri, some 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Joplin where a tornado touched down on Wednesday evening, the Missouri Department of Public Safety said on Twitter.

A damaged car is parked on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

A damaged car is parked on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

The casualties brought the week’s weather-related death toll to at least seven, as forecasters said the rain and threat of damaging winds were not expected to let up.

“It looks to stay quite wet over the next week across the central portion of the country,” said meteorologist Mark Chenard of the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

A system of showers stretched from the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma north to Nebraska on Thursday, threatening to bring more flooding, Chenard said. A diminished threat of tornadoes will persist from the Texas Panhandle through Kansas, he said.

In Jefferson City, the state capital of Missouri, officials said a “massive” twister caused widespread damage but no fatalities.

“Many, many buildings have significant damage, and there’s a lot of them that just have small damage as well, so it’s just very widespread,” Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin told CNN.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson said at least 20 people were treated at hospitals but that most had been released.

A firefighter and FEMA employee survey damage on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

A firefighter and FEMA employee survey damage on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

“The damage tornadoes & severe storms cause is devastating, but I am encouraged & inspired by storm survivors. In a time of tragedy, Missourians came together and cared for their neighbors, and our first responders acted with speed & skill to rescue survivors,” Parson wrote on Twitter.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that his heart went out to the people of Missouri.

“You are strong and resilient, and we are here to assist,” he wrote.

Trump also urged Oklahomans to stay safe and listen to the warnings of local officials. “We are with you!” he tweeted.

Earlier this week, a tornado killed at least one person in Iowa, while two people in Oklahoma died in accidents on rain-slicked roads and a third in flooding.

The Arkansas River town of Webbers Falls was ordered evacuated on Thursday, while residents of several other communities were advised to leave, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Caine said by phone.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Tom Brown)