Last Friday, the pro-life movement received some disappointing news out of Missouri, when the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission determined that the state must renew the license of the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis. In May 2019, citing multiple health and safety violations, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services refused to renew the facility’s license.
Local pro-life activists have documented that at least 80 ambulances have been called to the St. Louis Planned Parenthood since 2009. But after the state declined to renew its license, Planned Parenthood pursued legal action and received an injunction against the policy, allowing the facility to remain open while the matter was reviewed. A hearing took place last October, and Friday’s decision allow the Planned Parenthood location to remain open and continue performing abortions.
The decision can be appealed, but it is unclear whether the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services plans to pursue that avenue.
In making its decision, the Administrative Hearing Commission considered four separate instances of misconduct on the part of Planned Parenthood. On three occasions, women returned to the facility after having obtained a failed abortion there. On another occasion, a woman was transported from the Planned Parenthood to an emergency room after experiencing substantial blood loss following a second-trimester abortion.
In his 96-page decision, administrative hearing commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi identified two violations. The first was Planned Parenthood’s failure to file a complication report after one failed abortion. The second involved a Planned Parenthood staffer who failed to realize that one woman seeking an abortion was pregnant with twins. Dandamudi indicated that this staffer exhibited “carelessness” in reviewing the ultrasound. He stated that Planned Parenthood’s failure to properly document having addressed this error with the staffer constituted another violation.
However, since this Planned Parenthood facility has performed more than 4,000 abortions since 2018, Dandamudi ruled that it was substantially compliance with the rules and is therefore “entitled to renewal of its abortion facility license.”
Multiple aspects of Dandamudi’s decision should concern pro-lifers. The state’s expert witness included Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, and Dr. Donna Harrison, executive director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG). Dandamudi acknowledged that both Williams and Harrison had provided “important testimony regarding gynecological care,” but he discounted their testimony because, unlike Planned Parenthood’s expert witnesses, they did not have extensive experience performing abortions.
This unfairly put the pro-life argument at a disadvantage. Few pro-life medical professionals have extensive experience performing abortions, and physicians who perform abortions have a vested interest in seeing abortion facilities remain open. Additionally, Dandamudi seemed unconcerned that five Planned Parenthood physicians refused to be interviewed during the state’s investigation.
Though this decision is certainly disappointing, Missouri pro-lifers should not despair. In fact, the state should serve as a model for pro-lifers in other states to follow. Pro-life activists Sam Lee and John Ryan pioneered street-level pro-life activism in front of Missouri abortion clinics in the 1970s. Groups such as the Coalition for Life and Defenders of the Unborn do admirable work maintaining a consistent prayerful presence outside the St. Louis Planned Parenthood. The Archdiocese of St. Louis was the first U.S. diocese to launch a full-time Respect Life Apostolate, and its 44th annual convention is scheduled to take place in October.
Meanwhile, pro-life candidates tend to fare well in both statewide and local elections, and Missouri is among the most active states in term of enacting legal protections for the preborn. It should come as no surprise that there is only one abortion clinic remaining in the state and that Missouri’s abortion rate is less than one-third of the national average. Overall, pro-lifers in the Show Me State and across the country would do well to stay the course.