Clinic Challenges Missouri Regulation Aimed at Abortion Pills

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – For the second time this month, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s abortion law, claiming in its latest complaint that a required complication plan for providers of medication abortion is unconstitutional.

The regulation at issue affects clinics’ ability to offer abortion pills and is already causing irreparable harm to their patients, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

The Planned Parenthood entities, represented by attorney Arthur Benson in Kansas City, Missouri, are challenging the constitutionality of the new emergency regulation imposed by Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services. Their complaint was filed in Jefferson City federal court against various state officials.

“The Complication Plan Regulation, as it is being enforced by DHSS, requires providers of medication abortion (and medication abortion only) to have a written agreement with a board-certified or board-eligible obstetrician-gynecologist…or group of ob-gyns who has agreed to be ‘on call and available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week’ to ‘personally treat all complications’ from medication abortion,” the lawsuit states. “And, DHSS is further requiring that this ob-gyn also have hospital admitting privileges near the facility where the woman obtains the medication abortion.” (Parentheses in original.)

Planned Parenthood says the new regulation is unconstitutional and unnecessary because emergency care is rarely ever needed, as abortions induced by pills are non-surgical.

Regardless, in addition to an on-call doctor, abortion providers are also required to have hospital admitting privileges, even though patients are able to remain in the comfort of their homes during a medication abortion.

“Medication abortion is only available early in a woman’s pregnancy and involves a combination of two pills: mifepristone and misoprostol. The woman takes the first medication in the health center and then 24–48 hours later, takes the second medication at a location of her choosing, most often at her home, after which she expels the contents of the pregnancy similar to a miscarriage,” the complaint explains.

Planned Parenthood says its licensed facility in Columbia, Missouri, has already had to cancel several non-surgical abortions because of the complication-plan regulation, which it claims will also affect clinics in Joplin and Springfield.

“Therefore, as a result of the Complication Plan Regulation, all women who do not live near Kansas City or St. Louis will have to travel farther to access medication abortion; some will be delayed beyond the point when medication abortion is available, which will increase the risk to their health; and some will be unable to access abortion at all,” according to the lawsuit.

In a case out of Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that similar regulations do not offer medical benefits “sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.”

Planned Parenthood says that in the rare event that complications from medical abortions occur, patients would likely seek help from the closest hospital rather than travel farther to a hospital where a physician has admitting privileges.

It also claims the requirement for complication plans “is the latest in a series of medically unnecessary requirements imposed by the state, which will, without basis, limit women’s access to an extremely safe procedure using medications alone.”

However, Missouri officials stand by the new regulations.

Missouri Attorney General Joshua Hawley said in a statement, “The Missouri Complications Plan Requirement for medication abortions is a commonsense regulation that ensures women have access to adequate care in medical emergencies. My office will continue to vigorously defend these regulations.”

Planned Parenthood Great Plains Interim President and CEO Aaron Samulcek, however said the regulation “flies in the face of our patients’ constitutional rights to safe, legal abortion services without undue burden.”

“Enough is enough. We will not sit on the sidelines while ideologues play regulatory games on the backs of Missouri women. The state’s treatment of Missouri women seeking sexual and reproductive health care is a disgrace and quickly turning into a national embarrassment,” Samulcek said in a statement.

Planned Parenthood filed another lawsuit against Missouri officials on Oct. 10, arguing a new provision requiring the same doctor to perform the abortion and discuss state-mandated medical information with patients will cause significant delays to women seeking care.

Jackson County Circuit Judge S. Margene Burnett declined to block the same-physician regulation, finding that it does not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions.

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