JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday ruled in favor of a Columbia, Missouri, Planned Parenthood clinic after the state last year tried to revoke its abortion license, a move the judge found likely was due in part to "political pressure."
U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey in a Wednesday ruling said the Department of Health and Senior Services treated the clinic "more harshly" than other ambulatory surgical centers.
The agency's actions "likely were the result of political pressure being exerted by Missouri legislators and the Department's perception that if it did not act in accordance with the legislature's desires, its budget would be cut," Laughrey said in the ruling.
She went on to say that "disparate treatment" of the clinic "cannot be justified by political pressure or public opposition." She ordered that the license cannot be revoked before its expiration in June.
The clinic had already stopped performing abortions because it could not meet a separate state requirement. But it did not want to lose the license because of the expense and hassle to reapply.
Laughrey cited the only other time the department tried to revoke a license for an ambulatory surgical center, during which the clinic had time to submit a plan of action and attempt to come back into compliance before the state finally took action.
The attorney general's office, which represents the state, did not immediately comment Wednesday.
The legal fight over the Columbia clinic came after the department warned it would revoke its license when its only doctor performing medication-induced abortions lost needed privileges with University of Missouri Health Care in December. Without a physician with those privileges, the clinic stopped performing abortions.
DHSS said it would take away the license the same day the doctor lost privileges.
Lawyers for the state had argued that Planned Parenthood knew in advance that employing a physician with certain hospital privileges is necessary to be in compliance with state regulations and that the clinic had time to remedy the situation.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Laura McQuade said in a statement that the judgment confirms that the state "unfairly targeted Planned Parenthood and its staff for providing safe, legal abortion."
Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who is the Senate Appropriations chairman and oversees how much state money goes to those agencies, led the committee investigating. He's also running for attorney general.
Schaefer in a statement said he makes "no apology for my role in uncovering that tax dollars were being used to enable abortions in Missouri." He had argued that the University of Missouri wrongly helped facilitate abortions by giving the Planned Parenthood doctor privileges needed for the clinic to get a license.