Planned Parenthood scored a victory in Missouri on Friday in a ruling that allowed the state's only abortion provider to keep its doors open.
In a 97-page decision, a state administrative commission said the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services wrongfully denied the reproductive health organization a license renewal for a St. Louis clinic in 2019.
"Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care," Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi wrote.
"In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license," Dandamudi explained, adding that the organization has "substantially complied with pertinent statutes and regulations."
After exhaustive analysis, Rao said "the Department has failed to raise an affirmative defense sufficient to justify this denial."
Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, called the ruling a vindication for the organization and its patients.
"But the reality is, abortion has essentially become a right in name only in Missouri," she added in a statement.
She continued: "Missouri's medically unnecessary requirements, two in-person trips to the health center at least 72 hours apart, a ban on using telehealth for an abortion and a needless invasive pelvic exam for medication abortion still make it extraordinarily difficult for people to access care in Missouri."
As NPR's Sarah McCammon reported, abortion procedures in the state have come to a virtual halt:
"A new analysis provided to NPR by Planned Parenthood suggests that already very few abortions are being performed in Missouri. It shows that the vast majority of patients in Missouri seeking abortions have begun crossing state lines to obtain it — many of them traveling to a new Planned Parenthood clinic in Fairview Heights, Ill., near St. Louis, that opened in October."
Meanwhile, anti-abortion rights groups are dismayed by Rao's findings.
"In a challenging time when we are all concerned about protecting the health and safety of our families, friends, co-workers and communities, a single commissioner makes a ruling to allow the killing of innocent little lives by an uncaring abortion industry business," said Susan Klein, executive director of Missouri Right to Life. "Apparently protecting the health and safety of women and unborn children is not a priority for him or them."
Klein said the organization would review the details of Rao's decision in the coming week and urged the state's attorney general to intervene on their behalf.
It is unclear if that office intends to step in to reverse the license renewal.