Federal judges allow Missouri to enforce abortion rules
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Federal appeals court judges on Monday ruled to allow Missouri to enforce some abortion restrictions that are facing legal challenges, which Planned Parenthood says could end abortions at a Columbia clinic in weeks.
At issue is a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri health centers to block state requirements that doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 struck down similar rules in Texas.
U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in April 2017 temporarily blocked the Missouri rules. But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel on Monday ruled to end the preliminary injunction and send the legal challenge back to district court for consideration.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains General Counsel Emily Wales said there’s a two-week delay for the appeals court ruling to take effect, which gives the organization time to decide whether to ask the full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals for a review.
But if the requirements are enforced, Wales said a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia no longer will be able to provide abortions because the doctor does not have admitting privileges with a local hospital. That would leave a St. Louis Planned Parenthood site as the only abortion provider in the state.
Wales said enforcing the rules could also complicate Planned Parenthood’s efforts to offer abortions in Kansas City, Joplin and Springfield.
“These requirements do nothing to help Missouri women — and, in fact, actually hurt them,” Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO Brandon Hill said in a statement. “If these laws are allowed to take effect, women will now have to travel farther, wait longer, and use more of their own resources to access the health care they need most — if they can get care at all.”
Mary Compton, spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, said in a statement that the office appreciates the ruling and that state attorneys “will continue to vigorously defend Missouri’s commonsense regulations that protect women’s health and safety.”
According to a release from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency “will immediately begin enforcing the hospital privileges and physical plant requirements for abortion facilities.”
“In its opinion, the court noted that the good faith of state officers and the validity of their actions are presumed,” Director Randall Williams said in a statement. “As the Director of DHSS, a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist for thirty years, and a defendant in the case, my commitment and that of the department is to act in good faith to follow the law and protect the health and safety of all women in Missouri, including those seeking abortions.”
Appeals court judges wrote in their opinion that the district judge was wrong to grant the preliminary injunction that prevented Missouri from enforcing the abortion requirements.
The panel wrote that Sachs did not follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s directive in the Texas case, which the judges said requires courts to weigh the possible benefits, not just the burdens, of abortion restrictions. The judges directed the lower court to re-evaluate the admitting privileges and consider possible benefits of that requirement.
The judges also determined that the legal challenge to the hospital-like standards rule was premature because the state health department has the flexibility to offer waivers to those requirements.