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Planned Parenthood wins attorney fees in Missouri lawsuit

The state will need to pay thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood for the legal work done in a lawsuit against the state.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey decided that the Missouri Department of Health and Social Services would pay $156,630.68 in attorneys fees. That will come from the Legal Expense Fund, according to Nanci Gonder of the Attorney General’s Office, which battled with Planned Parenthood Great Plains, then called Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, in court. Gonder said the department was reviewing the decision when asked about a possible appeal. The state has until the end of August to file a notice of appeal.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains sued the state in 2015, embroiled in controversy with the state legislature and the University of Missouri with regards to its ambulatory surgical center license and “refer and follow” privileges for a doctor to perform abortions at its Columbia clinic. Judge Laughrey ruled in May that the state could not revoke its ASC license, after doing so last year when UM Health took away such privileges for Dr. Colleen McNicholas. So far, the Columbia facility has neither a doctor nor a license to perform abortions, but is seeking both, according to PPGP spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore.

Dr. McNicholas will meet with UM Health this week, Lee-Gilmore said, in another attempt to gain such privileges, appealing her rejection. That will help PPGP obtain a surgical center license from DHSS. UM Health public relations manager Mary Jenkins said the Executive Committee of the Medical Staff denied her application on February 22, but could not say when an appeal would be heard.

The Missouri laws requiring such privileges and licenses will come under further scrutiny in the coming months, in part from a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking similar rules down in Texas. The 5-3 ruling called the rules a “substantial obstacle” to women seeking an abortion, and violate the Constitution. Lee-Gilmore said PPGP’s legal team has looked into several avenues of action, and will bring something forward in the coming months.

“To invalidate these unconstitutional and medically unnecessary laws that place an undue burden on patients seeking safe and legal abortion in Missouri,” Lee-Gilmore told ABC 17 News.

Bonnie Lee with Team PLAY, an anti-abortion group, said she disagrees with Judge Laughrey’s decision for the state to pay attorneys fees to PPGP. State law makes it illegal for Missouri to use any public money “for the purpose of performing or assisting an abortion, not necessary to save the life of the mother, or for the purpose of encouraging or counseling a woman to have an abortion not necessary to save her life.” It’s unclear whether attorneys fees constitute as such, but Lee said the licensing and admitting privileges laws should stay in place.

“Those women should be safe,” Lee told ABC 17 News. “And just like any other clinic that does surgical procedures, those women should know that it meets basic safety requirements.”

While the Columbia facility remains open for other reproductive services, it cannot perform abortions. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility is the only in the state providing abortions, with PPGP providing that service in Overland Park and Wichita, Kan. Lee said Missouri’s laws stand a good chance at surviving any court battle, after a state committee claimed numerous medical concerns at Planned Parenthood’s current operations in the state.

“Even if that is the choice that they make, they can do so knowing that they will be cared about,” Lee said.

The latest version of the Missouri budget came with an amendment to end Medicaid reimbursements for healthcare providers assisting in abortions. Gov. Nixon said that would require federal approval, and anticipated any change would happen in 2017.

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