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Planned Parenthood President Reacts To Potential End Of Abortion Services In Missouri

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Missouri could soon be the only state in the U.S. without a clinic providing abortions. Planned Parenthood said today that later this week, the Missouri Health Department will force the Planned Parenthood health center in St. Louis to stop performing abortions unless a court intervenes. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit today to prevent the center from closing. Right now that St. Louis center is the only clinic in Missouri where women can receive abortions. Leana Wen is the president of Planned Parenthood, and she joins us now from St. Louis.

Dr. Wen, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LEANA WEN: Thank you - glad to be with you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this change hinges on a license that expires on Friday, which your organization says Missouri is unlikely to renew. The clinic has been operating for almost 90 years in St. Louis. What has changed in the renewal process?

WEN: Well, I want to first say that this is a public health crisis - that if the court does not grant us a restraining order, Missouri will go dark. And more than 1.1 million women of reproductive age will be living in a state where they cannot access essential health care - the first time since 1974 that safe, legal abortion is inaccessible to people in an entire state.

SHAPIRO: So explain for our listeners what has happened that the state has refused or you expect will refuse to renew this license.

WEN: The state of Missouri has enacted regulation upon regulation that have no basis in medicine, like forcing a 72-hour waiting period on patients and even requiring multiple medically unnecessary and invasive pelvic exams - all requirements that the National Academy of Medicine, that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said are - have - they have no basis in medicine whatsoever.

SHAPIRO: And in this case, it seems that the renewal of the license hinges on a question of whether people who perform abortions will be interviewed by state officials. Is that right?

WEN: The state of Missouri is requesting that seven physicians who have worked in our health centers be subject to interrogation. And they're specifically saying that our doctors, if they consent to this interrogation, they would be threatened with losing their medical license and even face criminal prosecution. And this has a chilling effect for medical professionals all across the country. It follows a trend that we're seeing to criminalize doctors and to prevent us from taking care of patients.

SHAPIRO: If medical officials at the clinic are complying with all regulations, why not agree to answer questions?

WEN: We have complied with every single regulation that politicians have thrown our way, but the goalpost keeps on changing. And this most recent goalpost is potentially subjecting physicians and training residents, fellows to criminal prosecution, which is not theoretical. Last week, the Missouri governor just signed into law an extreme abortion ban that also includes putting doctors in jail for up to 15 years for performing abortion care.

SHAPIRO: You're in St. Louis today, but I also want to ask you about a major development here in Washington. The Supreme Court let stand an Indiana law mandating that aborted fetuses be buried or cremated. And the court declined to take up the part of a law that bans abortions based on testing that finds abnormalities. What do you see as the implications of this ruling?

WEN: Well, we're very concerned about this Supreme Court ruling because once again, it stigmatizes abortion care. And I'm also deeply concerned about the fact that there are 15 cases that are one step away from the Supreme Court. And if any of them are taken up, then one in three women of reproductive age in this country would be living in states where abortion is banned, criminalized and outlawed. Although, as we're seeing in Missouri, just having abortion being safe and legal is not enough if there literally is no health center that can provide this care.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, speaking with us from St. Louis, Mo., thank you so much.

WEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.