By Brendan O'Brien
(Reuters) - The only abortion clinic in Missouri can stay open after a St. Louis judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday saying the state must make an "official" decision on the facility's license before it can be reviewed, a court document showed.
Women's healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood sued Missouri two weeks ago after state health officials refused to renew the license of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
Court documents show state health officials said they did not renew because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over "potential deficient practices."
If the facility's license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.
The injunction issued by State Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer said Missouri must make a final decision by June 21 on whether or not to renew the clinic's license to perform abortions, which was due to expire on May 31, before the decision can be reviewed.
The state must make an 'official action' in order for Planned Parenthood to be entitled to review, Stelzer wrote, and scheduled a status hearing for the same day.
He also wrote the state's Administrative Hearing Commission and not the circuit court has exclusive jurisdiction and authority to rule on any decision denying the clinic's license.
Planned Parenthood welcomed the ruling.
"Though the looming threat to safe, legal abortion is far from gone, we’ll keep up the fight to protect abortion access in Missouri and across the country. To our patients across the country, we’ve got your back — our doors are open," it said on Twitter.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. A string of states have passed legislation restricting abortion in recent months.
The legal battle began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.
Anti-abortion activists have said they hope to prompt the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws such as Missouri's, which are assured of facing court challenges.
(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)