ST. LOUIS — Patient safety at Missouri's only abortion clinic is the point of contention at a state administrative hearing that will decide if the clinic can remain open.
Opening statements and testimony began Monday before a commissioner with the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. At issue is the state health department's effort to revoke the license for Planned Parenthood's clinic in St. Louis.
Assistant Attorney General John Sauer outlined four cases of "failed abortions," including one where a woman had to have up to five procedures to complete the abortion, and another where the doctor failed to recognize that a patient was pregnant with twins, requiring a second procedure to remove the second fetus.
Planned Parenthood attorney Chuck Hatfield played a video deposition of a health department official indicating the clinic is not unsafe.
Hatfield says these four deficiencies are unique. They said out of 3,000 women they help, the state looked at these specific cases, not at random. According to their argument, if there was serious problem, they could've suspended the facility or limited the amount of patients.
Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi is presiding. A commission official said that in his role, Dandamudi "acts as an independent trial judge." A ruling isn't expected until February at the earliest.
The hearing at a downtown St. Louis state office building is expected to last five days. Missouri officials have asked St. Louis police for heightened security since the licensing issue has generated protests from those on both sides of the debate.
Missouri would become the first state since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, without a functioning abortion clinic if the license revocation is allowed. The battle also comes as abortion rights supporters raise concerns that conservative-led states, including Missouri, are attempting to end abortion through tough new laws and tighter regulation.
Planned Parenthood has been battling the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services for months to try to keep open its St. Louis clinic.
People who are with Planned Parenthood made their presence known Monday morning. They unfurled two large banners on a parking garage that's across the street from where the hearing is taking place.
One banner reads, 'Abortion is healthcare', while the other reads, 'Shame on Gov. Parson'.
The state said concerns arose from inspections in March. Among the problems health department investigators cited were three "failed abortions" requiring additional surgeries and another that led to life-threatening complications for the mother.
The health department has sought to interview physicians involved in those abortions, including medical residents who no longer work there. Planned Parenthood has said it can't force them to talk and that the state's concerns were addressed long ago. Attorneys for the health department wrote in legal filings to the commission that physicians' refusal to talk "presents the final, critical obstacle."
Missouri is among several states to pass new restrictions on abortions in the hope that the increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation in May banning abortions at or beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest.
A federal judge in August temporarily blocked implementation of the law until the legal challenge plays out in court, which could take several months.
While the Missouri case unfolded, Planned Parenthood quietly built a new abortion clinic in Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The 18,000-square-foot (1,700-square-meter) clinic in Fairview Heights, 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of St. Louis, opened Wednesday, in part to meet the demand for abortions from Missouri residents.
Missouri women have been increasingly getting abortions at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, another St. Louis suburb. Deputy Director Alison Dreith said 58% of the abortions performed at the Hope Clinic through August of this year involved Missouri women, compared with 37% involving Illinois women.
Another abortion clinic sits in Overland Park, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb. The clinic is 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the state line. Information from the state of Kansas shows about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed there last year involved Missouri residents.