June 4 (UPI) -- A judge could decide Tuesday whether Missouri's last abortion clinic remains open or shuts down during a legal battle in a state that recently banned abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy.
The judge could grant a preliminary injunction to keep the clinic open while the legal battle plays out in court or order it to shut down. If the Planned Parenthood facility closes, Missouri would become the first state without an abortion clinic.
Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer opened Tuesday's hearing with arguments on motions by Planned Parenthood seeking to clarify the reason for the hearing -- a licensing issue, not the legality of abortion in the state.
"The recent changes to the law in Missouri are not in front of this court," he said.
Stelzer delayed hearing arguments on the merits of the case, though it was unclear if they would come later Tuesday.
Planned Parenthood's St. Louis location remained open with a large blue banner that reads "Still here" despite threats that the facility could be forced to close because state regulators won't issue a license for the clinic. Planned Parenthood sued last month, alleging that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services stipulated that doctors "consent to inappropriate interrogation, bordering on harassment."
Doctors who don't work at the West End abortion clinic, but who work out of a nearby hospital and treat some patients at the clinic, have refused subpoenas to answer investigators' questions regarding a probe into a recent patient complaint. The investigation is what's holding up the relicensing of the clinic.
The lawsuit said the conduct of the regulators violates the Constitution.
Stelzer issued an order last week temporarily keeping the clinic's license from expiring. Stelzer said "immediate and irreparable injury" would occur if the state's only Planned Parenthood facility shut down. That order expires Tuesday.
"While we celebrate this temporary victory, we cannot forget that too many people are already forced to delay or entirely forgo care here in Missouri," said Dr. David Eisenberg, a medical director with Planned Parenthood's St. Louis region.
Missouri joined Alabama, Louisiana and other states that have passed new abortion restrictions in recent months as a challenge to the Roe vs. Wade court decision legalizing the procedure.