BREAKING: Federal Court in Missouri Blocks Cascading Abortion Bans
U.S. District Court judge finds Missouri’s law likely unconstitutional on the merits, blocks major portions of abortion law one day before they were set to take effect.
ST. LOUIS — Today, a U.S. District Court judge in the Western District of Missouri granted a preliminary injunction, blocking several provisions of Missouri’s sweeping abortion bans passed earlier this year. The blocked bans, which would have made abortion illegal starting at eight weeks, would have taken effect tomorrow. This lawsuit challenges a law that created an unprecedented number of bans at once, at nearly every stage of pregnancy, which is part of a multi-layered effort by state politicians to push abortion out of reach for 1.1 million Missourians of reproductive age. The provision the court allowed to take effect, at least at this preliminary stage, blocks patients from seeking an abortion based on race, gender, or Down syndrome diagnosis. Missouri is now one of eight states that force doctors to investigate why their patients are making a deeply personal medical decision. The court indicated openness to reviewing the issue again on a renewed motion.
In May, emboldened by the Trump administration, Gov. Mike Parson signed House Bill 126, which imposes a series of draconian abortion bans and medically unnecessary restrictions designed to make it impossible for patients to access abortion. Last month, Planned Parenthood, along with partners at the ACLU and law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, took the state of Missouri to court over the clearly unconstitutional abortion bans. With only one abortion provider left in the state, access is left hanging by a thread.
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America: “Today’s decision blocks a harmful law that bans abortion before many know they’re pregnant. What little abortion access in Missouri is left will stay in place for the time being. In the meantime, we cannot ignore the part of this law that remains in place, which allows politicians to interfere with the patient-provider relationship. Let’s be very clear: these severe restrictions on abortion access do nothing to address disability rights or discrimination. They only stigmatize abortion and shame the people who seek that care. Planned Parenthood won’t cower to politicians. We will continue fighting in court and working with every person to ensure they get the health care they need and deserve.”
Statement from Dr. Colleen McNicholas, Chief Medical Officer, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region: “Abortion access has once again been protected in Missouri by the courts, but only for some. Although the judge recognized the merits of our case, he has also allowed parts of the law to go into effect. While most people seeking abortion will thankfully still be able to do so, allowing the reason ban to take effect will have a measurable impact. It requires physicians to interrogate patients and, in turn, destroys the foundation of trust essential in a health care setting. Missourians do not need or want politicians in their exam rooms. My patients deserve access to high-quality abortion care, and they deserve the space to make those decisions based on their values, life circumstances, support system, and faith, free of government scrutiny. Although we are grateful today’s ruling allows us to provide care to some Missourians, we will continue to defend the truth: EVERY reason to have an abortion is a valid reason.”
Statement from Andrew Beck, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project: “Today’s decision affirms that abortion is still a constitutional right — and we will do everything possible to keep it that way. This fight isn’t over until everyone who needs an abortion in Missouri can get one.”
Statement from Tony Rothert, Legal Director, ACLU-Missouri: “House Bill 126 is an offensive intrusion into private medical decision-making that would have jeopardized the health and well-being of Missourians in need of abortion care. This law put politicians at the center of a deeply personal decision that belongs to a pregnant person and those they trust most: their family and health care providers — not the government. We applaud the decision of the court to uphold the Constitution and stop HB 126.”
Missouri is one of 12 states to pass an abortion ban just in the first half of this year. State politicians, emboldened by President Trump, have passed a total of 26 abortion bans nationwide in 2019 alone. With Justice Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion politicians are racing to pass bills designed to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Anti-abortion politicians in Missouri have spent decades eroding reproductive health care. As a result, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is the last remaining health center in the state that still provides abortion. Gov. Parson signed this sweeping abortion ban into law while weaponizing the state’s licensing process. Parson said his goal was to make Missouri the “most pro-life state in America.”
It is not new for politicians in Missouri or elsewhere to use a combination of state laws and regulatory harassment to target abortion providers — in fact, Missouri already used similar targeting to block the only other health center in the state that provided abortions from continuing to do so in 2018. Parson’s administration forced more than 100 patients to undergo medically unnecessary pelvic exams before abruptly rescinding the requirement. That’s on top of dozens of medically unnecessary restrictions that make abortion nearly impossible to access. These restrictions include a 72-hour mandatory delay for patients accessing abortion, which forces patients to make two trips to the health center, and demanding abortion providers hold local hospital admitting privileges. This, despite the fact that support for access to abortion in America is at an all-time high — and growing.
While the state is cutting off access to abortion, maternal and reproductive health in the state is in crisis. Maternal mortality rates in Missouri are more than 50 percent higher than the national average, and a syphilis outbreak is sweeping the state. The same politicians who claim to value “life” continue to sit idly by while public health outcomes worsen.
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