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Planned Parenthood: ‘It’s simply not true’ Mo. abortion clinic breaks rules

Missouri is part of a recent wave of state laws that would ban abortion almost entirely, sometimes without exceptions for rape and incest. The state is also making news on abortion for trying to deny its one remaining abortion provider, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, its license on grounds of alleged violations. William Brangham talks to Planned Parenthood’s president, Dr. Leana Wen.

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  • William Brangham:

    In the ever-escalating battle over abortion, Missouri is one of the central battlegrounds. That's due in part to a new law that is among the toughest in the country, if it were to be enacted. It's also because the state is trying to close off access to abortion as early as tomorrow.

    The legal battle playing out in Missouri is over this one Planned Parenthood clinic in Saint Louis. It's the only abortion clinic left in the state. The clinic's annual license, which it needs to perform abortions, expires Friday. But the state is fighting to withhold that license, which,, if successful, would make Missouri the first state in 45 years to not offer the procedure.

  • Gov. Mike Parson:

    Planned Parenthood has been actively and knowingly violating state law on numerous occasions.

  • William Brangham:

    Missouri's Republican Governor Mike Parson alleges that state health inspectors have found that the clinic violated state regulations around abortion, like requiring pelvic exams and counseling, before performing any abortion procedures.

    Parson insists the move is about protecting women's safety and is not a political move.

  • Gov. Mike Parson:

    If you support abortion or not, Planned Parenthood should be able to meet the basic standards of health care under the law.

  • William Brangham:

    But Planned Parenthood said it has addressed the state's complaints. Joined by abortion rights supporters in Saint Louis today, Planned Parenthood argued the state is constantly changing its regulations in an effort to end all abortion services in the state for more than one million women.

  • M’evie Mead:

    The high-quality health care provider that Planned Parenthood is has bent over backwards to try and comply with, frankly, medically unnecessary and medically inappropriate rules by the state, only to have them change.

  • William Brangham:

    Missouri's move comes less than two weeks after Governor Parson signed a law that bans abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, joining a recent wave of six other states, including Louisiana just last night, that have passed similar historic abortion restrictions.

    The Missouri law, which would go into effect in August, also makes performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It has no exception for rape or incest. Planned Parenthood says that law is why several providers at the clinic have been unwilling to cooperate with state investigators.

    We get two views now on the abortion battle in Missouri and elsewhere in the country.

    We begin with Dr. Leana Wen. She's the president of Planned Parenthood. I spoke with her earlier this evening.

    Dr. Wen, thank you very much for being here.

    The state of Missouri argues that the Planned Parenthood clinic in Saint Louis has not been complying with state health regulations and that it should lose its license because of that. How do you respond to that?

  • Dr. Leana Wen:

    It's simply not true.

    Actually, what's happened is that, over the last decade, the state has layered on restriction upon restriction, things that have no basis in medicine or science, things like forced 72-hour waiting period, mandating that hallways have to be extra wide, even forcing, most recently, for women to undergo multiple invasive pelvic exams for no medical reason.

    The National Academy of Medicine had said that these types of regulations are burdensome, that they just impede medical care, and have no basis in medicine.

    And this most recent attack by the state comes less than a week after the governor of Missouri signed into law one of the most restrictive regulations, one of the most restrictive laws banning abortion care in the country, jailing doctors for up to 15 years for providing care, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

    And there's no other way to describe what's happening here than the weaponization and the politicization of the licensing process, with one goal in mind, to end safe, legal abortion care in Missouri.

  • William Brangham:

    And, as you know, Missouri is just one of many states that is trying out different versions of this law.

    And as I'm sure you also know, these other states are having a great deal of success. The legislatures are passing these. Governors for the most part are signing them.

  • Dr. Leana Wen:

    This is a public health crisis. It's a state of emergency for women's health care all across the country.

    There are at least six states now that have banned abortions from the time that women could even know that they're pregnant. Multiple states have laws that they have just passed to criminalize doctors, including in Alabama, to put doctors in jail for up to 99 years for providing care to our patients, even allowing the state in Alabama and Georgia and Missouri to investigate women for having miscarriages.

    It's an unprecedented time for women across America. And women are paying attention. We are outraged, and Planned Parenthood is leading the fight to fight back with everything that we have, because our health and our rights are on the line.

  • William Brangham:

    Some of the advocates cats of these laws are very open arguing that we are — we're pushing these restrictions, one, because they vehemently disagree with abortion, but also they would like to trigger a legal fight for this to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they hope they will be victorious.

    Would you and would Planned Parenthood welcome a review of the Supreme Court on Roe v. Wade?

  • Dr. Leana Wen:

    Well, first, I want to say that what the consequence of these laws will be is to directly endanger women's lives.

    Missouri could very well be the first state in the country to have no health center that can provide abortion care in almost 50 years, which means that 1.1 million Missouri women of reproductive age will no longer be able to access essential health care in their states.

    Banning abortion is not going to stop abortion, but it will stop safe, legal abortions. And the consequence could be women's lives. Now, we are very concerned about the challenge to Roe, because if Roe is overturned or further eroded, that means that one in three women of reproductive age in this country, 25 million women, could be living in states where abortion is banned, criminalized and outlawed.

    And the consequence will be an impact on women's health and lives and futures.

  • William Brangham:

    Some of these legislative moves do come from, albeit it's a minority of voters, according to most polls, but what do you say to that minority of people in the United States who believe that, no matter when an abortion occurs, that it is tantamount to taking a life?

    How do you respond to that argument that they make?

  • Dr. Leana Wen:

    You are entitled to your own opinion, but please do not impose it on other people.

    I'm a physician. And I have treated women, patients, families who have been in very challenging circumstances. And these women need our compassion and support. The last thing that they need is for politicians to be telling them what they should be doing with their personal health.

    This is a point of view that the majority of Americans agree with. Actually, support for Roe v. Wade is at 73 percent, higher than it's ever been. There's not one state in the country where the majority of people support overturning Roe.

    The American people stand with us, and they are understanding that abortion care is part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care, which is health care.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, thank you very much.

  • Dr. Leana Wen:

    Thank you.

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