By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Missouri’s only abortion clinic on Friday won its legal fight to stay open, as an independent arbiter found the state’s health department was unjustified in denying the clinic’s application to renew its license.

The Midwestern state’s health officials last year declined to renew the license of the St. Louis clinic, operated by women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood, on the grounds that it failed to meet their safety standards. They threatened to close the clinic and make Missouri the only U.S. state without legal abortion services.

The arbiter, Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi, overruled the state on Friday after finding the Planned Parenthood clinic “provides safe and legal abortion care.”

“In over 4,000 abortions provided since 2018, the Department has only identified two causes to deny its license,” Dandamudi wrote. “We find that Planned Parenthood has demonstrated it meets the requirements for renewal of its abortion facility license.”

A spokeswoman for Missouri’s Republican Governor Mike Parson said in an email the governor’s office would review the decision and consult with the state attorney general’s office on next steps.

Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Today’s decision is a hard-fought victory for Planned Parenthood patients – and for people across Missouri,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States. Opponents cite religious beliefs to declare it immoral, while abortion-rights activists say the procedure is legally protected and bans on it rob women of control over their bodies and futures.

Planned Parenthood sued the health department in June 2019 for its refusal to renew the St. Louis clinic’s license. A state court judge referred the case to the Administrative Hearing Commission, which heard both sides in October.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Franklin Paul, Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and David Gregorio)