Federal Judge Lifts Abortion Restrictions in Missouri

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – In a victory for Planned Parenthood, a federal judge ruled that doctors performing abortions in Missouri do not have to adhere to a hospital affiliation requirement, meaning many women won’t have to travel hundreds of miles to the state’s only abortion facility in St. Louis.

Although the legal tennis match between Planned Parenthood and Missouri lawmakers is sure to continue, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs granted a preliminary injunction last week against two laws affecting women’s right to have a safe and legal abortion.

Under the laws, abortion clinics were required to meet ambulatory surgical center requirements and doctors had to have admitting privileges with nearby hospitals located within 30 miles.

Judge Sachs agreed with Planned Parenthood organizations in Kansas City and St. Louis that the restrictions are medically unnecessary considering the scope of the procedures performed at their facilities.

“Laws that affect the abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion,” Sachs wrote in his ruling. “The public interest clearly favors prompt relief.”

Planned Parenthood and its allies filed simultaneous challenges to abortion restrictions in three states in December, arguing the medically unnecessary prohibitions in their laws unconstitutionally infringe on a woman’s right to end her pregnancy.

Their attorneys said the lawsuits are a follow-up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down two Texas laws that it found set impossible-to-meet standards for clinics to operate in the state.

Judge Sachs’ decision was based not only on that Supreme Court ruling, but also on the fact that a majority of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood are early-term, take under five minutes, and require no incisions and little to no anesthetics.

“In this case, because of Hellerstedt and plaintiffs shaping their claim on that controlling case, their likelihood of success is very high,” Sachs wrote. “The ability to function as abortion clinics and to perform abortions is crippled in Columbia, Springfield and Joplin, and to some extent in Kansas City, by reason of the statutory and regulatory hospital affiliation requirement for doctors.”

Planned Parenthood said it is anxious to move forward.

“We are excited to end Missouri’s shameful one-provider status, and soon be offering four more locations where women can access safe, legal abortions without facing geographical obstacles,” Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Laura A. McQuade said in a joint statement along with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region President and CEO Mary M. Kogut.

The organization is in the process of restoring abortion services to health centers in Columbia and Kansas City and hopes to be able to make progress in Springfield and Joplin, Mo., as well.

However, Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley feels that strict restrictions are needed to keep women in Missouri healthy and safe.

“This decision was wrong. I will appeal,” he said.

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