Planned Parenthood challenges new Mo. abortion law

Monday, August 20, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Planned Parenthood sued Monday seeking to strike down a new Missouri law that it claims could eliminate abortion services in large parts of the state by subjecting clinics to stringent state oversight.

The federal lawsuit asks a judge for an injunction preventing the law from taking effect Aug. 28 and seeks a ruling that it infringes on a constitutional right to abortion.

If the law takes effect, Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri claims it will be forced to halt abortions at its Columbia and Kansas City offices -- either permanently or while costly and "medically unnecessary" renovations are made.

That would leave the St. Louis area as the only place in Missouri with functioning abortion facilities, the lawsuit said, although Planned Parenthood also operates an abortion clinic just across the state line in Kansas.

Missouri's anti-abortion majority in the Legislature contends the law is necessary to ensure the health and safety of women seeking abortions. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt also declared, when signing the law, that abortion clinics should shut down if they can't -- or don't want -- to meet the stricter state licensing requirements.

"This onerous legislation has nothing to do with protecting women's health and safety," Planned Parenthood Chief Executive Officer Peter Brownlie said Monday. "This is a blatant attempt to close down clinics and deny women their right to health care."

Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, a lead sponsor of the legislation, cast doubt on Planned Parenthood's claims of financial hardship and forced clinic closures.

But Scott acknowledged: "Certainly, abortion is our target here and we're trying to save the lives of our children. We feel it's a fair way to regulate them like other procedures."

Missouri already requires abortion facilities to be licensed, setting forth specific standards for their staff, operations and buildings. But because of the definition of an abortion facility -- requiring abortions to generate half its revenues or patients -- a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic is the only facility in Missouri actually regulated as an abortion clinic.

The new law pulls more clinics under the state's umbrella by requiring any facility that performs more than five first-trimester abortions a month, or any second- or third-trimester abortions, to meet the licensure requirements for an "ambulatory surgical center."

Among other things, the lawsuit notes, outpatient surgery centers must have halls at least 6 feet wide and doors at least 44 inches wide; separate male and female changing rooms for personnel; and a recovery room with space for at least four beds with 3 feet of clearance around each.

Last month, Planned Parenthood estimated it could cost up to $2 million to renovate its Columbia clinic. But Monday, spokeswoman Michelle Trupiano said that figure actually is around $600,000, based on more specific architectural plans.

Even so, the renovations would be expensive, burdensome and medically unnecessary because, the lawsuit argues, "abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures."

The Columbia clinic performs first-trimester surgical abortions, as well as medically induced abortions. The Kansas City office only offers medical abortions.

Planned Parenthood contends that because both facilities already exist, they should be exempt from meeting the new physical requirements under Department of Health and Senior Services rules, based on the typical practice of "grandfathering" other existing facilities under other rule changes.

A health department spokeswoman had no immediate comment about the lawsuit.

Besides the health department, the lawsuit also names as defendants Attorney General Jay Nixon and the prosecutors in Boone and Jackson counties where the Planned Parenthood clinics are located.

Scott cast doubt on whether Nixon -- an abortion-rights supporter and Democrat running for governor -- would aggressively defend the law. He suggested lawmakers might try to seek their own legal representation.

A Nixon spokesman declined to comment about the lawsuit.

The abortion regulatory provision was part of a larger bill that also bars people affiliated with abortion providers from teaching or supplying materials for sex education courses in public schools, and allows schools to offer abstinence-only programs.

Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said her affiliate was "seriously considering" filing a separate lawsuit in state court challenging the sex education provisions. That lawsuit would be filed before Aug. 28, she said.

Case is Planned Parenthood v. Jane Drummond, 07-4164-CV-C.

Bill is HB1055.

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