Federal appeals court upholds injunction blocking Missouri eight-week abortion ban

Attorney General Eric Schmitt says he plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case

By: - June 9, 2021 10:31 am
People hold up signs that read "Protect safe, legal abortion."

After restrictions on abortion left Missouri with one in-state abortion clinic in St. Louis, residents turned to neighboring states for abortion services (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s decision to block a Missouri law criminalizing abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Almost immediately after the ruling, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood, operator of Missouri’s lone abortion clinic, filed a lawsuit challenging the law shortly after it was enacted in 2019.  A federal judge issued an injunction blocking the law from being enforced while the legal challenge plays out, prompting the state to appeal to the 8th Circuit.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Wednesday said the lower court was right in issuing an injunction.  

The state argued that the law doesn’t ban pre-viability abortions, but merely regulates them. But the appeals court said that argument didn’t hold water. 

There is nothing an individual can do under Missouri’s law to obtain an abortion after the eight-week cutoff, Wednesday’s ruling said. That makes the law a ban, and thus “categorically unconstitutional.” 

Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, celebrated Wednesday’s ruling. 

“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Missourians,” she said in a statement. “At a time when Missouri politicians, at the behest of Gov. Parson and anti-abortion ideologues, continue their relentless attacks on reproductive health care, our rights often come down to one court decision at a time. For now, we celebrate our continued ability to provide safe, legal abortion at the last remaining clinic in Missouri.”

Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said in an email statement that his son Stephen — who has epilepsy, is on the autism spectrum, and is non-verbal — has “shown me the inherent beauty and dignity in all life, especially those with special needs.

“While we’re disappointed in the 8th Circuit’s decision,” he continued, “their decision does provide an avenue for this case to be heard by the Supreme Court, and we plan to seek review in the Supreme Court. I have never and will never stop fighting to ensure that all life is protected.”

The Missouri law, known as HB 126 or the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, says physicians that perform abortions after the eight-week gestational period could face five to 15 years in prison. Women who terminate their pregnancies would not be prosecuted.

The wide-ranging law also criminalizes abortions if they are being sought solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.

Missouri already has some of the strictest abortion restrictions in the country. 

State law requires that doctors must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals before they can perform abortions. Because of that requirement, the St. Louis Planned Parenthood facility is the only one in Missouri that is licensed to perform abortions.

A woman seeking an abortion must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from following through. The doctor performing the abortion, not social workers or nurse practitioners, must provide the counseling. She must then wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided.

The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortions is prohibited.

The legal battle in Missouri is playing out as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that many believe could undermine the constitutional right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade.

The case focuses on a Mississippi law that seeks to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It is seen by both sides as the first real challenge to the precedent set by Roe v. Wade under the new six-justice conservative majority on the court.

This story will be updated. 

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.