Missouri's last abortion clinic wins last-minute reprieve

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image captionAbortion protestors march through downtown St Louis during a rally on 30 May

A judge has temporarily blocked Missouri from becoming the first US state not to have an abortion clinic in nearly half a century.

Planned Parenthood won a court order to keep the state's only abortion clinic open, on the day it was due to close.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has refused to renew its operating licence, alleging "deficient practices".

Nine US states have passed anti-abortion legislation this year.

On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer said the Missouri abortion clinic's licence could remain in effect while Planned Parenthood seeks a preliminary injunction against the state.

A ruling on that matter is expected next Tuesday.

Earlier this week, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released a statement citing "ongoing concerns" about the clinic in the wake of its annual inspection.

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image captionA supporter of Planned Parenthood stands near an anti-abortion demonstrators as they hold a protest outside Missouri's last clinic

These concerns included violations of Missouri law and "failed surgical abortions in which patients remained pregnant", according to state officials.

Planned Parenthood dismissed the charges as politically motivated.

"Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over," said Dr Leana Wen, president of the reproductive health organisation.

If Planned Parenthood ultimately loses the case, Missouri could become the first state not to have a legal abortion clinic since 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled that US women have the right to choose an abortion.

The legal battle comes days after Missouri enacted a bill to outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, making no exceptions for rape or incest.

On Thursday, Louisiana approved legislation banning pregnancy terminations after a foetal heartbeat is detected. Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi have passed similar bills.

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image captionMissouri recently enacted a bill to outlaw nearly all abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy

Meanwhile, Alabama has passed an outright ban on abortion in nearly all cases. None of these laws are yet to take effect, however, and they face a barrage of legal challenges.

This recent batch of laws is backed by anti-abortion activists who have been emboldened by President Donald Trump's appointment of two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court.

"Pro-life" campaigners hope that the highest court in the land will ultimately overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling.

Missouri is already among US states that have limited access to abortion with such rules as requiring women seeking abortions to undergo counselling and wait 72 hours before the procedure.

Other, liberal states have taken steps to bolster protections for women seeking abortions.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in Illinois passed a bill that would repeal its restrictions on certain late-term abortions. The legislation is expected to pass the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

California, Vermont, Maine and Nevada have taken steps to protect abortion rights in case Roe v Wade is ever overturned.

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