A recent state bill would hold abortion providers in Missouri to the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and Columbia’s Planned Parenthood clinic would not be able to provide surgical abortions until significant upgrades are made to its facility.
The legislation, awaiting Gov. Matt Blunt’s signature, would require abortions to take place at “ambulatory surgical centers.” That means that Planned Parenthood clinics would fall under this umbrella and be forced to comply with Department of Health regulations for ambulatory surgical centers, which would now include facilities that offer second- and third-trimester abortions, and at least five first-trimester abortions per month.
According to state construction standards for ambulatory surgical centers, everything from the size of a janitor’s closet and doorway widths to hallway widths, operating room square-footage and ventilation standards would need to be updated, as well as the hiring of additional medical staff members.
“To meet those requirements, there would be major interior work for half of the facility, which would need gutting and re-working the floor space,” said Peter Brownlie, CEO and President of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. “Though hiring more staff would also be expensive, it’s not going to cost as much as getting the building to meet the standards.”
Brownlie said the clinic is meeting with an architect to discuss renovations, which he expects would cost more than $500,000.
Columbia’s clinic is only one of two places in Missouri where surgical abortions take place, providing 550 abortions in 2006, according to Brownlie. If the bill is signed into law, the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic would be the only place available for abortions.
“The St. Louis clinic renovated and moved into new facilities five or six years ago,” Brownlie said. “Though they didn’t need to meet the ambulatory surgical center regulations, they decided to become up-to-standard with those regs.”
Other than St. Louis, the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic that provides surgical abortions is in Overland Park, Kan.
“The passing of the bill creates another obstacle in the way of a woman making her own decisions,” Brownlie said. “The bill sponsors are burdening a woman’s constitutional rights.”
Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, sponsored the bill, citing women’s safety.
“Abortion in Missouri is unregulated, which is uncalled for and dangerous,” Sander said. “Putting oversight in place is to protect women’s lives.”
Sander added that if clinics weren’t willing to go the extra mile, they shouldn’t provide abortions. They need to be held to the same standards as hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers, she said.
An objection was filed by Democratic Sen. Maida Coleman of St. Louis, minority floor leader, before the bill was signed in the Senate and sent to the governor. Coleman said the bill “not only hurts Missouri women, but hurts all taxpayers of Missouri when precious state resources are exhausted to defend unconstitutional legislation.”
Chris Schappe, legal counsel for Coleman, said that there were no other plans of action at this time and that they would wait for legal challenges to the bill. Brownlie said Planned Parenthood attorneys “are looking at specifics and are considering action.”