By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) - Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Wednesday said politics played no role in the state department of health's intent to close Missouri's sole abortion clinic, a move that would make it the only U.S. state with no legal abortion provider.
Five days ago, Republican Parson signed into law a measure banning abortion in Missouri after the eighth week of a woman's pregnancy, making the state one of at least eight this year to pass new restrictions. Anti-abortion activists say the measures are aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood, the national women's health provider that operates the clinic, sued the Missouri department of health on Tuesday after the department told the clinic it could not approve a license until it interviewed seven doctors that worked there. The clinic's license is due to expire on Friday.
"The state has not taken any action regarding Planned Parenthood's license in St. Louis," Parson told a Wednesday news conference. "This is not an issue about the pro-life issue at all ... They should have to meet the same standards."
Parson said the clinic had "ample time" to meet the state health department's license renewal requirements, but that the clinic had failed to do so when it applied for license renewal on May 16. If the clinic meets the state's standards before its license expiration, it can continue providing abortions, Parson said.
Planned Parenthood's lawsuit, which asks a judge to stop the state from revoking its license, said clinic officials are at an impasse with public health officials over interviews with doctors who are not employees of Planned Parenthood and have not agreed to be interviewed.
Anti-abortion activists say this year's wave of legislation is intended to prompt the newly installed 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights.
On Wednesday, Louisiana's House of Representatives was due to vote on a bill banning abortions after the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, around eight weeks into pregnancy. The bill stands out from other such bills passed this year in Georgia, Ohio and Mississippi in that it was sponsored by a Democrat and the state's Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, has indicated that he would sign it.
Several U.S. states in recent years have passed new licensing standards for abortion providers on matters ranging from the width of hallways to whether their doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Backers of the measures have described them as necessary protections to women's health while some abortion-rights campaigners say they are aimed at shutting clinics. Dozens have stopped performing abortions as a result, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 overturned a Texas law that stiffened clinic regulations on the grounds that the state could not place restrictions on abortion providers that put an undue burden on women seeking abortions. While the law was being challenged between 2013 and 2016, it forced 23 of the state's 42 clinics to close, the Texas Tribune reported.
In September, Missouri's penultimate clinic closed after a federal judge ruled in favor of a law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals and that required abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers.
Missouri is one of six U.S. states that currently have just one abortion provider, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, which tracks healthcare in the United States. The other states are North Dakota, South Dakota, Kentucky, West Virginia and Mississippi.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)