COLUMBIA — A federal judge temporarily blocked the revocation of the license that allows the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic to perform medical abortions, though the clinic will remain unable to provide abortion services.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey granted a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon after Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri filed suit in federal court earlier in the day to postpone the revocation of the license by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services until Wednesday, The Associated Press reported. The department planned to revoke the license at 5 p.m. Monday because the clinic's doctor would not meet state requirements.

The health care provider's lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services claims the department failed to give Planned Parenthood enough time to seek alternative solutions that would allow it to continue to provide medical abortions.

MU Health Care announced in September that on Tuesday it would discontinue "refer and follow" privileges, the category of privileges that allowed St. Louis-based Planned Parenthood doctor Colleen McNicholas to administer the medication used to end pregnancies at the Columbia Planned Parenthood clinic. Missouri law requires that doctors providing abortion services have clinical privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles from where the abortions are performed.

The clinic stopped providing abortion services on Nov. 23 in anticipation of the loss of McNicholas' privileges at University Hospital, making Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic the only abortion provider in Missouri.

Planned Parenthood asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division, to issue an injunction that would prevent the department from revoking its license to operate an abortion facility in Columbia, according to the lawsuit.

Peter Lyskowski, acting director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said the department would revoke Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri's license to provide abortion services by 5 p.m. Monday if the health care provider did not find a way to comply with state law.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the organization didn't file the lawsuit before Monday because it wanted to exhaust all other options, such as finding a doctor who already has privileges in Columbia or obtaining new privileges for McNicholas.

The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Health and Senior Services is not required by Missouri law to revoke the Columbia clinic's abortion facility license when McNicholas lost her privileges. The suit claims the department can choose to maintain the license while Planned Parenthood works to find a Columbia doctor to provide abortions or obtains new privileges for McNicholas.

The suit also alleges that the department allowed Planned Parenthood to retain its abortion facility license for 15 months despite not meeting state law after its previous doctor resigned in June 2012. If the license were revoked, it would be "expensive and time consuming" to apply for a new one, according to the suit.

Even if the court grants the injunction, Planned Parenthood would be unable to provide abortion services in Columbia this week unless MU Health Care restores McNicholas' refer and follow privileges, McQuade said. McNicholas began the application process for a different category of privileges at MU Health Care last week but will not obtain new privileges before the deadline Tuesday, McQuade said.

"If MU’s Interim Chancellor Hank Foley does not reverse the damage by reinstating privileges, or extending the deadline for ‘refer and follow’ privileges in the coming hours, women’s access to safe, legal abortion in Mid-Missouri ends at 5 pm today," McQuade said in a news release.

In a news release Monday afternoon, Foley said he would not reverse MU Health Care’s decision to end the privileges.

“The issue of abortion invokes much depth of emotion and passion; I understand this,” he said in the release. “However, as a state and federally funded university with a health system, we are required to follow applicable state and federal laws.”

Planned Parenthood has spoken with the interim chancellor’s staff but had not spoken with Foley personally as of Monday afternoon, McQuade said. Foley had scheduled a meeting with Planned Parenthood supporters last week but canceled and has not rescheduled, McQuade said.

In the release, Foley said his decision did not come lightly.

“I personally have given this issue much thought and have been touched by many of the emails and letters our office has received — especially those from women who have relied on Planned Parenthood for health care,” Foley said. “I am sympathetic to many of the situations and extenuating circumstances these women have found themselves in — situations and circumstances that lead to decisions most women will never have to make."

McNicholas was granted refer and follow privileges at University Hospital in December 2014 and began administering medical abortions in Columbia on Aug. 3, according to previous Missourian reporting.

“Obtaining privileges at a hospital is a tedious, not to mention, medically unnecessary requirement that can take six months, or even more, to fulfill," McQuade said in a news release Monday. "MU Health Care imposed an impossible timeline for our physician when it terminated Dr. McNicholas’ privileges just more than two months ago."

Since MU Health Care announced it would discontinue refer and follow privileges in September, Planned Parenthood has worked to find other doctors who already had hospital privileges in Columbia, McQuade said. The health care provider found two Columbia doctors who considered providing abortion services at the clinic, but both backed out, according to the suit. One said she was "not willing to subject herself or her family to the scrutiny and potential harassment that come with providing abortions," according to the suit.

State lawmakers in the Senate Interim Committee on the Sanctity of Life have heavily scrutinized the relationship between Planned Parenthood and the university. Led by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, the committee has questioned MU's decision to grant McNicholas privileges and criticized agreements that allowed MU students to work in Planned Parenthood clinics for academic credit and a graduate student’s project researching the effect of a state abortion law.

The study aims to determine how the Missouri law that requires women to wait 72 hours after an initial consultation before getting an abortion affects the women’s decision-making. Schaefer accused the university of violating state law that prohibits public money from being used for abortions.

In his statement Monday, Foley defended the study.

"I will continue to support academic freedom and the rights and responsibilities of this great land-grant university to continue its missions of education, research and service," he said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

  • Assistant city editor — Columbia Missourian eliseschmelzer@mail.missouri.edu

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