COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Planned Parenthood cannot resume abortions at a clinic in central Missouri after a federal judge ruled that state restrictions were not "undue" burdens on women seeking abortions.
Current Missouri law requires clinics that provide abortions to have physicians with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The Columbia clinic has been unable to secure a physician with those privileges after a panel of medical staff at University of Missouri Health Care decided to stop offering the privileges in 2015 during a Republican-led legislative investigation on abortion in the state.
The clinic filed a motion in December asking for an exemption from that requirement so the Columbia clinic could resume abortions. St. Louis has the only clinic able to offer abortions in the state.
U.S. Western District Court Judge Brian Wimes ruled Friday that the admitting privileges did not affect enough women to constitute an undue burden, The Columbia Missourian reported.
Wimes also wrote that requiring women to drive farther to obtain an abortion was not enough of a burden to rule in Planned Parenthood's favor. The judge said the organization didn't provide evidence of trying to find doctors with the necessary hospital privileges in Columbia, or evidence of fewer doctors, longer wait times, and increased crowding at the St. Louis clinic.
"Finally," he continued, "the record does not provide a basis in evidence to approximate the number of women who will forego or postpone surgical abortion incidental to the inoperability of the Columbia Facility."
Dr. Brandon Hill, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement Monday that the state requirement for a physician with admitting privileges is "virtually identical" to a law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2016. He said the Columbia clinic hadn't found a qualified physician because of political pressure.
"Let's call this what it is -- politicians ignoring medical evidence to push sexual and reproductive health care out of reach for people across Missouri," Hill said. "Abortion is incredibly safe, yet politicians continue to pursue restrictions that defy medical experts and make abortion as inaccessible as possible. Missourians deserve better."
The organization and the state have been in a legal fight over the restrictions since November 2016, when Planned Parenthood challenged the requirements for ambulatory surgical center licensing and admitting privileges to local hospitals for doctors. If filed its latest injunction in December when the licensing process for the Columbia clinic was completed but abortion services were still not permitted because of the admitting privileges requirement.
The Columbia clinic was damaged by an arson fire earlier this year. The FBI is investigating the fire as a possible hate crime . The clinic reopened to provide other reproductive health services on Feb. 19.