Missouri appeals judge's blocking of abortion restrictions

Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (May 19, 2017) — Missouri is asking a federal appellate court to put on hold a judge's order blocking abortion-restricting rules in the state, arguing the judge "categorically refused even to consider the state's evidence justifying its regulations."

The state's challenge Thursday to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came a day after U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs refused to delay enforcing the preliminary injunction he issued last month in favor of Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri health centers.

The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery — restrictions Planned Parenthood protested as "medically unnecessary."

Only one licensed abortion clinic remains in the state — a Planned Parenthood center in St. Louis — partly as a result of Missouri's restrictions. The organization has said Planned Parenthood health centers in Kansas City, Columbia, Joplin and Springfield would provide abortions if the restrictions were scrapped.

Sachs has said he was bound by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Texas case and that the state has been denying abortion rights "on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion." He added that relief sought by Planned Parenthood "should be prompt, given the needs of women seeking abortions and the need for available clinics to serve their needs."

In his three-page ruling Wednesday, Sachs said abortion-seeking women in central and southwestern Missouri are limited to driving to a distant clinic, trying to abort the fetus themselves or with the help of a non-professional, or have an unwanted birth.

Sachs dismissed the state's insistence that it is protecting abortion patients' health in the litigation, writing that "the converse is demonstrably true."

"It is hard to believe that the state defendants would urge desperate women who reject the birthing option to avoid a clinic and seek the 'safety' of self-abortion or back-alley abortions, but they offer no logic or argument to the contrary," Sachs wrote. "They are asking the courts to maintain these unsafe options pending litigation."

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley's office fired back Thursday, pressing to the 8th Circuit that Planned Parenthood, with the "sweeping" injunction, intends to offer abortions at sites "that do not satisfy the state's health-and-safety standards, posing an imminent threat to women's health and safety."

"The district court refused even to consider this evidence. This was plainly erroneous," Thursday's appeal read. By granting the injunction, "the district court ruled that it could not and would not consider the state's evidence."

Planned Parenthood has said that 1.2 million women of reproductive age live in Missouri. The agency's Kansas City center has offered medication-induced abortions and has said it would resume doing so if Missouri regulations in question were deemed unconstitutional.

Its Columbia center stopped offering the procedure — a nonsurgical type, induced with a pill — in 2015 after its only doctor performing medication-induced abortions lost needed privileges with University of Missouri Health Care.

Spokespeople for the regional Planned Parenthood affiliates told The Associated Press on Friday that the agencies have applied for licenses for their clinics in Kansas City and Columbia. They're hoping to offer abortion services there by this summer and are preparing to submit related applications to the state for the Joplin and Springfield sites.

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