Federal judge blocks Missouri law restricting abortion

The Missouri law would have prohibited abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy

Activists hold up signs at an abortion-rights rally at Supreme Court to protest new state bans on abortion services May 21, 2019. A federal district judge temporarily blocked a Missouri law that would prohibit abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy from taking effect. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A federal district judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a Missouri law that would prohibit abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy from taking effect on Wednesday as originally planned.

“The various sections specifying prohibitions on abortions at various weeks prior to viability cannot be allowed to go into effect on August 28, as scheduled,” U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs of the Western District of Missouri wrote in a court filing.

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Sachs explained the law’s limits on abortion access based on the duration of a pregnancy — beginning at eight weeks and increasing up to 20 weeks depending on which limits are upheld by courts — are unlikely to be considered constitutional based on prior judicial decisions.

“However formulated, the legislation on its face conflicts with the Supreme Court ruling that neither legislative nor judicial limits on abortion can be measured by specified weeks of development of a fetus; instead, ‘viability’ is the sole test for a State’s authority to prohibit abortions where there is no maternal health issue,” he wrote.

“It is thus highly likely that the listed weekly time limits on abortions will be ruled invalid in the final judgment in this case,” he added.

Missouri’s law was signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parsons in May and prohibits abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, except for cases when the woman’s life is in danger. It does not exempt abortions in cases of rape and incest. Under the law, abortion providers could face up to 15 years in prison if they violate the ban.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union brought the lawsuit challenging the law and both issued statements praising Tuesday's ruling.

Sachs will allow a portion of the rule to take effect that would prohibit patients from seeking an abortion based on race, gender or a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

Planned Parenthood said that part of the law would harm relationships between doctors and patients because it would require physicians to ask questions about why a patient is seeking an abortion.

"These severe restrictions on abortion access do nothing to address disability rights or discrimination," Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement. "They only stigmatize abortion and shame the people who seek that care."

Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, said the ruling would motivate anti-abortion voters next year.

"Rulings like these will motivate voters in 2020 because the courts should not be able to ignore the legislative process," she said in a statement.

Sachs’ decision follows similar moves by federal judges in other states that have passed legislation meant to limit abortion, including in Ohio and Arkansas. Several states have enacted legislation meant to limit access to abortion, which advocates hope could eventually lead to a Supreme Court reconsideration of Roe v. Wade.

Missouri has moved closer to being the first state to not provide abortions, after announcing in June it would not renew the license for a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic, although the clinic continues to perform abortions under a preliminary injunction.


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