Update: Missouri Judge Refuses to Halt New Abortion Law

Oct 24, 2017 at 10:47 am
Over the summer, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens urged legislators to pass tough abortion restrictions . - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
Over the summer, Missouri Governor Eric Greitens urged legislators to pass tough abortion restrictions .

Update, October 24

On Monday, a Jackson County judge shot down the latest attempt by Missouri Planned Parenthood affiliates to stop a new abortion law from going into effect. The law, passed during a special legislative session, now obligates abortion doctors to provide patients "informed consent" materials 72 hours prior to the procedure. As noted below, Planned Parenthood officials worry that the new burden will stretch the resources of those few abortion doctors working in Missouri.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood Great Plains spokeswoman Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, a spokeswoman said, "We will continue providing abortion services, however, some patients could face delays up to a few weeks." She added that the group's suit aiming to permanently block the law remains ongoing.

Our original story from October 11 continues below:

Missouri's newest abortion restrictions go into effect in less than two weeks, but thanks to a new lawsuit, the state will first have to fight two Planned Parenthood groups and the ACLU of Missouri before it can further squeeze abortion clinics and doctors.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court, takes aim at some of the major provisions of a controversial bill passed in July during a special legislative session called by Governor Eric Greitens.

The new law seeks to add to the burdens already imposed by the state's 72-hour waiting period. Currently, women are required to receive state-defined "informed consent" information about abortion three days before undergoing the procedure — information that includes statements such as "life begins at conception" and that an abortion "will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being."

The new law would shift the responsibility for presenting that information from any "qualified health professional" to the abortion doctors themselves.

This might seem like a small tweak to the process, but the requirement would buckle the already-strained schedules of those few doctors performing abortions in Missouri.

"You're looking at a handful of doctors, maybe three to five in the entire state," says Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains. "Now they’re having to take two trips in 72 hours to the same health center."

The upshot, according to the lawsuit, is that the law would break the state's landscape of abortion services, ensuring that "for whole categories of patients, abortion care would no longer be available, and for virtually all other abortion patients, it would be either unavailable or so delayed that they would experience increased medical risk and financial costs."

The last points bear emphasis. The law would restrict a doctor's ability to make abortion appointments, thus forcing patients to endure an estimated delay of two to four weeks, according to the lawsuit.

And why? Just to have a doctor present the exact same information to patients that the state already requires women to receive.

"The extreme delays caused by the Act will result in some women losing access to medication abortion, which allows patients to end a pregnancy at the earliest stages without undergoing a surgical procedure," the lawsuit notes. "Other women will be prevented from obtaining an abortion in the state altogether."

Planned Parenthood and Missouri have already faced off in the courtroom over previous restrictions. Last week, a federal appeals court refused the state's request to block new abortion licenses. Just yesterday the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia announced that it had received its license and would begin taking appointments on October 16.

And this isn't the only court challenge to Missouri's abortion laws and "informed consent" standards. In an entirely separate lawsuit, a Satanic Temple member identified only as "Mary Doe" argues that the laws violate her sincere religious beliefs in science and bodily autonomy. After spending years tied up in appeals, a state appeals court ruled last week that the argument has merit on constitutional grounds. The case now moves to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]