In 2015, while he was serving as an associate circuit judge for Missouri’s Macon County, Philip Prewitt was reprimanded by the state’s Supreme Court over his public support of an anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center. Now, if the state of Missouri gets its wish, Prewitt may get to decide whether the state’s last abortion clinic will stay open.
At the beginning of June, Prewitt was appointed by Republican Governor Mike Parson to the state’s Administrative Hearing Commission, an arbitration panel that, as the Associated Press put it, “handles disputes between state agencies and businesses or individuals.”
Prewitt was appointed by Parson, who had signed a draconian abortion ban into law just weeks earlier, in the midst of the state’s efforts to shutter the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis. For months, the state’s health department had refused to renew the clinic’s abortion license, and in May, Planned Parenthood sued the state in order to remain open. On June 10, Circuit Court Judge Michael Steltzer ruled that the state’s health department would need to make a decision by June 21 on whether to renew the clinic’s license.
Now, lawyers for the state are arguing that the commission should be the ones to decide the fate of the clinic. And it’s pretty clear where Prewitt stands on abortion rights. From the Associated Press:
Prewitt has weighed in on abortion previously. He ran as a Republican for a state representative seat in 2000 and received a $250 campaign donation from Missouri Right to Life PAC. When he was serving as an associate judge in 2014, he supported Ray of Hope on his Facebook page.
“I am happy to be supporting Ray of Hope Pregnancy Center again at their fundraising dinner,” the post read. “Even if you didn’t attend, consider donating to this wonderful organization.”
There are a lot of “maybes” in this situation—it’s unclear whether the state will succeed in its efforts to have the panel intervene. And if they do succeed, the case may not be assigned to Prewitt. As the Associated Press reported, it could go to any one of the four commissioners who serve on the panel.
The battle over Missouri’s last abortion clinic highlights how administrative decisions—by a state’s health department, by panels like Prewitt’s commission—have as big of an impact on abortion rights as the passage of anti-abortion legislation and regulations. Whether or not an abortion clinic should remain open should not be left to the arbitrary decision of an ideologue who has made his anti-abortion views known. Getting a fair hearing for clinics shouldn’t feel like rolling the dice.