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Missouri's last abortion clinic can stay open, commissioner rules

Missouri's last clinic that provides abortion — a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis — will be allowed to continue providing the procedure after its license was renewed following a year-long battle with the state's health department.

On Friday, Missouri's Administrative Hearing Commission filed a 97-page decision granting Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region its license, despite the state's refusal to renew it. In his decision, commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi wrote "Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care."

"In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license," Dandamudi wrote. "Therefore, Planned Parenthood is entitled to renewal of its abortion facility license."

The Missouri attorney general's office said the office was "reviewing the ruling and deciding on next steps," according to the Associated Press. Lisa Cox, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, did not immediately respond to a voicemail and email requesting comment.

"Today's decision is a hard-fought victory for Planned Parenthood patients — and for people across Missouri," said Alexis McGill Johnson, the organization's acting president. "This is how we fight for our patients: case by case, day by day, to ensure abortion remains safe and legal across the country."

Friday's decision means that Missouri will not become the first state to be without a legal abortion provider since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure with its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood St. Louis' ability to perform abortions has been in jeopardy since May 2019, when Missouri's health department held up the clinic's license over what it called "failed abortions." Planned Parenthood accused the state of trying to end abortion services in Missouri and challenged the decision. 

Missouri was one of a handful of states that passed so-called "heartbeat" bills in 2019, an abortion ban that prohibits the procedure at about six weeks before more patients know they're pregnant. The laws, which have been temporarily blocked by courts, are designed to offer a challenge to existing legal structures that protect access to abortion as the Supreme Court has become more conservative.

A handful of anti-abortion rights groups slammed the decision on Friday afternoon. In a statement shared with CBS News, Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, said Planned Parenthood's "numerous deficiencies... merited closure." In an emailed statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony List, accused the health organization of receiving "special treatment."

Though Planned Parenthood will be able to continue offering abortion services, access to the procedure in Missouri is still limited. Doctors are required to give patients state-directed counseling and literature, including a booklet that says, "the Life of each human being begins at conception." After that, patients are required to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion. The procedure must also be conducted by the same doctor who directed the counseling, a scheduling detail that can often push the waiting period past three days.

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