by Charlotte PLANTIVE
St. Louis, United States | AFP | Thursday 5/30/2019 – A judge heard arguments Thursday in a suit brought by Planned Parenthood to stop Missouri from effectively halting abortions in the Midwestern state by lifting its license to perform the procedure.
The state argued that the non-profit had failed to make its contract doctors cooperate with an investigation into its practices, and instead had “washed its hands of the issue.”
“In any other context, their arguments would not be taken seriously,” said John Sauer, Missouri’s solicitor general.
He spoke after a lawyer for the non-profit, which provide women’s reproductive services throughout the United States, accused Missouri of acting in bad faith, with “shifting interpretations of its regulations.”
“We have done everything we could to cooperate with this ever-shifting investigation,” Jamie Boyer, Planned Parenthood’s lawyer, said.
But, Boyer said, Planned Parenthood could not “in good conscience ask these doctors to sit for an interview on wide-ranging (subjects) in an investigation which might result in criminal charges.”
Judge Michael Stelzer, who presided over the hearing, must now decide whether to grant Planned Parenthoods request for a restraining order, or allow its license to perform abortions in the state to expire.
If the order is denied, Missouri would become the first US state in more than 45 years where abortions can no longer be obtained.
The case comes as more than a dozen US states have passed laws restricting abortion as part of a concerted strategy to push the issue before the Supreme Court.
The top US court, now dominated by a conservative majority, enshrined a woman’s right to choose an abortion in 1973, allowing for conditions to be placed on it only after the first trimester of pregnancy.
The moves by the states generally have sought to roll back when abortions are permitted to as early as when a heart-beat is first detected.
Earlier this month Missouri lawmakers passed a bill banning abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, including in cases of rape and incest.
Planned Parenthood alleges in its lawsuit filed Tuesday that the state has sought to use its regulatory powers to deny its license.
The state’s health department is attempting to shut down Planned Parenthood’s abortion service by “unlawfully conditioning a decision on its routine license renewal application on completion of a supposed ‘investigation’ of a patient complaint,” the non-profit argued.
Planned Parenthood said it had fully cooperated with “every investigative request within its power” but the state regulator was “refusing to proceed with its investigation in a reasonable manner.”
– Changing rules –
Missouri Governor Mike Parson, who recently signed the state’s new abortion law, on Wednesday accused Planned Parenthood of “actively and knowingly violating state law on numerous occasions.”
“Regardless if you support abortion or not, Planned Parenthood should be able to meet the basic standards of health care under the law,” he said.
But doctors at the health center accused the regulators of constantly changing the rules.
“By continuing to change the way that they are interpreting their own rules, it makes it impossible for us to be able to comply because we are just guessing what they think,” Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician-gynecologist, told a local Fox affiliate.
Planned Parenthood said it had agreed to change its procedures for consultations and exams, but could not force doctors to testify because they were not employed by the organization.