FOR SEVERAL days last week, it looked as though Missouri might become the only state in which there was no operating abortion clinic — until a St. Louis judge issued a last-minute temporary restraining order Friday, preventing the state from revoking the license of a Planned Parenthood facility operating in the city. The dispute that led to the near-closure is a scandal — but so is the fact that there was only one remaining clinic in all of Missouri, a function of a state government determined to end access to legal abortion.
The latest dispute between the state’s anti-abortion government and its few abortion providers involved a health department investigation about alleged problems at the St. Louis clinic. In a legal complaint, Planned Parenthood explained that state officials had given the organization no details about the investigation, despite the fact that it had tried repeatedly to comply with the state’s various demands, and though it seemed likely that many of those demands were illegal. The state nevertheless appeared determined to find an excuse — any excuse — to refuse to re-up the clinic’s license, which had been set to expire Friday night. Missouri’s health department did not answer questions after we reached out.
The court’s temporary reprieve means the St. Louis clinic can continue providing abortion services while Planned Parenthood and the state wrangle in court. Yet even if the judge had allowed the license to lapse, women in St. Louis seeking abortion services could have crossed into nearby Illinois. The stakes were lower for them than they were for women in other parts of Missouri — such as Columbia, in the center of the state — that previously lost clinics. Those women now live far away from any operating abortion facility, in or out of state.
Abortion was far more accessible in Missouri a couple of decades ago. Then the state began hassling abortion providers with restrictive and medically unnecessary regulations requiring, for example, that doctors associated with clinics have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, that there be a 72-hour waiting period before performing an abortion and that the doctor who performs the procedure be the same person whom the woman saw before the waiting period. The result of this predatory regulation was the end of safe and noninvasive, medication-based abortion in the state, then the closure of every clinic save the St. Louis facility.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) declared on Facebook in May that it was “time to make Missouri the most Pro-Life state in the country!” Despite his government’s concerted effort to ignore Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 ruling remains the law of the land. And despite a slew of new laws in red states designed to give the court’s new conservative majority an opportunity to squash the precedent, Roe should remain intact, in substance and in spirit, if the current justices take seriously their public insistence that long-established precedents deserve ample deference.