A decision by a federal judge to fully reinstate the operating license of Planned Parenthood’s Columbia abortion clinic has drawn sharp criticism from leaders in the Missouri Legislature. At the same time, the ruling leaves the future status of the Columbia facility in legal limbo.
Last month U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey issued a permanent injunction forbidding the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services from revoking the Columbia clinic’s operating license. DHSS officials had withdrawn the license late last year when it became clear that the clinic was no longer in compliance with state regulations governing ambulatory surgical centers.
Those requirements stipulate that physicians performing or inducing abortions must have staff privileges at a hospital within fifteen minutes travel time from the facility. Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the physician who had been performing abortions at the Columbia clinic, lost the staffing privileges she had been granted by University Hospital in Columbia, which is operated by the University of Missouri Health Care System.
The action by University Hospital’s medical board followed investigations by Senate and House legislative committees revealing collusion between University officials and Planned Parenthood managers in obtaining staff privileges for Dr. McNicholas. Missouri law flatly prohibits state institutions, state employees, and state funds from being used in any way to assist in the performance of abortions.
Judge Laughrey’s ruling, like so many decisions issued in federal courts these days, was based not on any objective analysis of the law and the constitution, but rather on her own personal opinions about life. Laughrey stated that the Department of Health and Senior Services was “hasty” in its action to revoke the license, and that their decision to do so was “likely the result of political pressure being exerted by Missouri legislators.”
Laughrey also made the outrageous unsubstantiated assertion that DHSS officials proceeded to revoke Planned Parenthood’s operating license because of fears that the Legislature would cut their budget if they did not do so. Never mind that the Department was acting to enforce health and safety standards for outpatient surgical centers that have been on the books in the State of Missouri for three decades.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said that Judge Laughrey’s decision was unsurprising. “This decision was sadly predictable. This judge has a track-record of left-leaning rulings. I am confident, if appealed, the higher court will promptly overturn this poorly reasoned opinion.”
Senator Richard is right about Judge Laughrey’s track record on the bench. As documented by Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri, Laughrey has issued three previous decisions exempting Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry from compliance with state laws. Judge Laughrey’s claim in her current ruling that the Legislature was engaged in “political intimidation” underscores the fact that her ruling had nothing to do with jurisprudence and everything to do with her own personal political sentiments.
Last December, Senator Richard had called on Attorney General Koster to appoint outside counsel to represent the State of Missouri in the case. “He declined my request and offered up a weak, timid defense of the Senate’s position,” Richard says. “Going forward, I strongly encourage the Attorney General to appeal the lower’s court’s decision as soon as possible.” That has yet to happen.
The Attorney General’s office says that while Judge Laughery issued a permanent injunction, she has failed to issue a final judgement on the declaratory judgement count in the case. Without that final judgement, the AG’s office states they are not in a position to act on an appeal. The issue may become moot, since Planned Parenthood’s license expires at the end of the month. It is unclear whether the Department of Health and Senior Services will feel compelled to renew the license due to Laughery’s chastisement.
In the meantime, pro-life legislative leaders remain displeased with Judge Laughrey’s latest pro-abortion edict. “It appears the court fails to appreciate the fundamental constitutional authority of the Legislature to speak for the citizens of Missouri and determine how their tax dollars will be spent,” says Senator Bob Onder of Lake St. Louis. “There is no question that our constituents do not want their tax dollars being used to subsidize abortions, and we have a duty to make sure that the law as written is being followed.”
Despite Judge Laughery’s politically motivated verdict, the Planned Parenthood facility in Columbia is presently unable to resume its bloody business. That’s because another provision in state law stipulates that any physician performing abortions must have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic that offers obstetrical or gynecological care. Should a doctor choose to ignore that law, they would be guilty of a misdemeanor under state law and possible loss of their medical license.
Dr. McNicholas is appealing the decision by the medical board at University Hospital to withdraw her privileges. McNicholas has no medical practice in mid-Missouri. She is a physician at Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis, and performs abortions on a routine basis at Planned Parenthood’s clinic in the city of St. Louis.