With hours to go before the expiration of a state license that allows a Planned Parenthood health center in Missouri to perform abortions, clinics in neighboring states say they're preparing for an influx of additional patients.
"No one knows what's gonna happen in the next day or two, but we have to be ready for this clinic to be closed, and for patients to have nowhere else to go," said Dr. Erin King, who runs a health center in Illinois across the river from the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis.
King said her facility, the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Ill., has been hiring additional doctors and medical support staff for more than a year in preparation for the possibility that abortion could be restricted in Missouri. Illinois is one of several states considering legislation to expand abortion rights as states including Missouri work in the opposite direction, passing laws banning the procedure in the early stages of pregnancy.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson last week signed a law criminalizing most abortions after eight weeks. That law has yet to take effect, but the dispute between Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services over regulatory enforcement is threatening to shut down abortion services at Missouri's last remaining clinic.
Parson said this week that Missouri health regulators have safety concerns about the clinic. Planned Parenthood officials say they've done all they can to comply, and accuse the state of arbitrarily enforcing regulations for political reasons. The two sides have been unable to reach an agreement, and Planned Parenthood has filed a lawsuit asking for a restraining order to prevent the center from being forced to stop offering the procedure.
Providers such as King in neighboring states say they're watching the situation and expect to take additional patients from Missouri.
"[This] is happening much more quickly than any of us anticipated, so we're really scrambling" to communicate with patients and open up additional appointments for abortions in the coming days, King said.
Michele Landeau of Gateway Women's Access Fund, which helps Missouri women pay for abortions, said her organization is looking at ways to connect patients with clinics outside the state and help arrange for transportation, childcare and other needs.
"People are confused, and they're scared, and it's pretty chaotic-feeling right now," Landeau said.
Abortion providers in other neighboring states said they're expecting additional patients from Missouri and are planning accordingly.
"We will do our very best to serve any women from Missouri that need to see us," said Rebecca Terrell of CHOICES health center in Memphis, Tenn. "It may be that we have to add hours; we may have to open on a Saturday; we may have to make some changes, but we will make sure that everybody gets seen."
In Wichita, Kan., Julie Burkhart of the Trust Women clinic said she would expect to see more patients from central, southern and western Missouri if the St. Louis facility stops providing abortions. She said her facility might look at expanding its hours, but it would take time to hire, train and license new staff members.
Abortion-rights opponents have praised Missouri regulators' scrutiny of the St. Louis clinic.
In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion-rights Susan B. Anthony List, said ending abortion services there "would be good news for health and safety."
If the St. Louis clinic loses its license, some hospitals in the state could still offer the procedure, primarily for medical emergencies, Planned Parenthood officials say.