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Missouri Clinic That Performs Abortions Fights To Stay Open


Today could be the last day for the only clinic in Missouri that provides abortions. The clinic is in St. Louis, and it's run by Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood has filed suit to try to keep the doors open. If it closes, Missouri would be the first state to eliminate any legal abortion access since the procedure was legalized more than 40 years ago. We've got NPR's Sarah McCammon with us as well as Jo Mannies from St. Louis Public Radio.

Thanks to both of you for being here this morning.



MARTIN: Jo, I want to start with you. Can you just explain, first off, why this clinic is about to close?

MANNIES: Well, their license expires at midnight tonight. And the - they're in a dispute with the state health department over some interviews that the state health department wants to do with some contract physicians who have helped Planned Parenthood provide abortion services. They say they have no power to require those physicians to talk to the state. They say that the state, actually, is using this as an excuse to force the closure of the clinic because they see this as the quickest way to do it.

MARTIN: And those clinicians aren't sitting for those interviews because they feared some legal action could be taken against them, right?

MANNIES: Correct. I mean, this - Planned Parenthood is contending that the state has not been forthcoming in exactly what they want, what information that they say they need or an alleged patient complaint that the governor made reference to at a press conference earlier this week. They say this is all an excuse to do the desired effect of closing the clinic.

There's been battles over the Planned Parenthood clinic for decades. The difference now is that there is a governor who agrees with the Republican leaders in the General Assembly who have been trying for years to close this clinic. There's a - abortion opponents have been targeting the clinic for - since the late '70s.

MARTIN: So what would this mean for the women of Missouri if the clinic closes?

MANNIES: Well, it means that if you live on the Kansas side of the state, things probably won't change that much because they already have to go across the border into Kansas to - where the Kansas City Planned Parenthood actually has their clinic. On the St. Louis side, or basically the eastern part of the state, they'll have to go across the river into Illinois. There's - Hope Clinic, which is a longstanding abortion provider, is just a few miles away in Granite City. And they'll have to do that.

Now, the state law that the General Assembly passed, that the governor signed just a few days ago, attempts to even make that illegal if it goes into effect. There's actually two fights going on. There's one over the license requirements, and then there's one over the state law that the governor just signed a few days ago.

MARTIN: Right. So I want to bring NPR's Sarah McCammon into this conversation. You've been talking to people on both sides of this, right?


MARTIN: Abortion rights advocates are concerned about this. What are groups who are opposed to abortion rights saying?

MCCAMMON: Well, of course, opponents of abortion rights generally see abortion as a moral evil. They see it as taking a human life. So they're certainly not mourning the potential end of abortion services, for all intents and purposes, in Missouri. At the same time, a lot of the focus has been on this claim from the state that this is simply about enforcing health regulations.

Of course, as we heard, Planned Parenthood says they've done everything within their control to abide by the rules. And they say the state keeps moving the goalposts in an effort to shut them down. But when you talk to anti-abortion rights groups, like the Susan B. Anthony List - I heard from them this week. Their president issued a statement saying that closing the clinic would be good news for women's health and safety in Missouri.

And, of course, Republican Governor Mike Parson has said that this isn't political, that it's, quote, "not an issue about the pro-life issue at all," but, again, about health and safety. So that is largely the message, Rachel. But at the same time, anti-abortion rights groups and the governor certainly have made no secret of the fact that they oppose abortion rights and would like to see abortions be more difficult or impossible to get in most cases.

MARTIN: And, Sarah, I mean, other states are doing this too - tightening laws around abortion. And it's not just random. It's not a coincidence that this is happening at the same time, is it?

MCCAMMON: Right. Just yesterday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards signed a six-week ban, similar to those we've seen in several other states. That's a little bit different because he's a Democrat. These have mostly been signed by Republican governors. But doctors who violate that law could lose their license or face prison time. And, you know, like the others, that law has not yet taken effect. But it has a provision written into it that keeps it from taking effect until a similar law in Mississippi is litigated. That one has been held up by a federal judge so far. But this is the culmination of years of activism by anti-abortion rights groups at all levels of government. And in many ways, this has been catalyzed by the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon and Jo Mannies of St. Louis Public Radio, thanks to you both.

MANNIES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jo Mannies
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.