By Jamie Ducharme
June 28, 2019

Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) on Friday granted Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis health center an emergency stay that will allow it to continue performing abortions at least until a licensing dispute is resolved, Planned Parenthood announced. The last-minute decision keeps Missouri’s last remaining abortion provider operational, at least temporarily.

“We are relieved to have this last-minute reprieve, which means patients can continue accessing safe, legal abortion at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis for the time being,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an OB/GYN at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic, said in a statement. “There are two things that remain unchanged in Missouri: the uncertainty our patients face, and our will to continue fighting for their right to access safe, legal abortion.”

The action is the latest in a contentious, weeks-long legal battle between Planned Parenthood and the state of Missouri.

The dispute dates back to late May, when Planned Parenthood first announced that state officials looked unlikely to renew the license required to offer abortion care at its St. Louis clinic. At that time, state officials cited care “deficiencies” that had not been corrected, and said state investigators needed to interview seven of the clinic’s doctors, including medical residents and fellows, before it could make a decision on the license renewal.

Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, argued that the license renewal process had been unlawfully intertwined with a separate investigation into complaints filed by patients at the clinic. It also argued that asking doctors to testify was inappropriate and unnecessary, and said it could not compel non-employee trainees to cooperate. Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer eventually sided with Planned Parenthood regarding the doctor interviews.

But on June 21, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) officially declined to renew Planned Parenthood’s license, citing the organization’s “unprecedented lack of cooperation, failure to meet basic standards of patient care, and refusal to comply with state law and regulations protecting women’s health and safety.”

The following Monday, Stelzer extended until June 28 a preliminary injunction that allowed Planned Parenthood to continue providing abortion care while it appealed its case to the AHC, which acts as an independent hearing body in cases involving a state agency. The AHC set an initial hearing date for Aug. 1 and assigned the case to Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, Planned Parenthood officials said during a call with reporters Thursday.

Planned Parenthood asked the AHC to issue an emergency stay before the preliminary injunction expired to avoid a gap in abortion care services, which the commission did on Friday. The stay will allow abortion care to continue at least until the hearing in August. Without it, Missouri would have become the first U.S. state in nearly 50 years to lack a legal abortion provider, despite the fact that the procedure is currently legal in Missouri and all U.S. states.

A representative from Missouri’s DHSS declined to comment on the emergency stay decision.

Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com.

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