Federal judge blocks Missouri's restrictive abortion law

The bill, signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in May and set to go into effect Wednesday, outlaws abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, including in the case of rape or incest.
Image: Abortion rights advocates and Planned Parenthood staff hold a rally outside a clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 31, 2019.
Abortion rights advocates and Planned Parenthood staff hold a rally outside a clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 31, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Safia Samee Ali

A Missouri law that calls for one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion regulations was halted from taking effect after a federal judge said Tuesday it cannot be enforced "pending further litigation or further order of the court."

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs issued the order temporarily blocking the law until its legality is resolved in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis battled attorneys for the state to stop the abortion ban.

The bill, which was signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in May and was set to go into effect Wednesday, outlaws abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, including in the case of rape or incest.

The only exception falling under the law is if a physician deems that the pregnancy would put the mother's health at risk.

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In his order, Sachs wrote that this type of restriction would severely impact hundreds of women.

“The impact of the 20-week rule seems likely to prohibit about 100 abortions performed each year. I classify that as a significant interference with plaintiffs’ service and the rights of its prospective patients, so it should be considered quite adequate as harm to justify immediate relief from the defective provisions of House Bill 126."

Abortion rights advocates have vehemently argued against the law since it was signed saying that it would impact most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant at eight weeks — so it is ostensibly an outright ban.

“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," said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, shortly after the order was issued. "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,

Attorneys for the state argued that only women who are seeking abortions have standing to block the law since they will be the ones most affected, not the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. Sachs refuted this argument in his order saying that a provider had "standing to assert and litigate rights of anticipated future abortion patients."

Missouri is one of six states that has only one abortion clinic. The other five states are Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Missouri's last abortion clinic has faced its own set of unrelated legal battles with the state over licensing.

Missouri's health department decided not to renew the health center's abortion license as of June 1 after an inspection in March found problems, including “at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised,” forcing the clinic to shut down. The clinic refuted those claims in several legal back and forths. Planned Parenthood has argued that the licensing battle is part of a greater anti-abortion effort by the state's administration.

A judge allowed the state's sole abortion provider to continue to operate until the issue is adequately resolved in court in October.