A federal judge has temporarily halted a key provision of a new Missouri abortion law that was to take effect Aug. 28.
U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs issued a preliminary injunction blocking a ban on abortions at eight weeks and beyond, through the point of viability. A lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri challenged several provisions the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act.
“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,” Sachs wrote in his ruling.
Missouri law prohibits abortions after viability, which is determined by a physician. Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, the only remaining abortion clinic in Missouri, limits abortions up to 21 weeks and six days.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office said that it is currently reviewing the judge’s order and deciding on next steps.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said that the judge’s decision “does not change the truth that life begins at conception. All of us are responsible for protecting life, from conception to natural death. I urge those in positions of federal, state and local decision-making power to put politics aside, to consider the truth that all life has dignity, and to make decisions that will save the lives of the most innocent and vulnerable in our communities — the unborn.”
He also previously acknowledged that the Archdiocese of St. Louis “is committed to providing support, services and life-sustaining education to women during and after pregnancy, especially those who may feel frightened, alone or contemplating abortion.”
Sachs did not block a provision of the law that bans abortions of all babies, viable and non-viable, for reasons based on race, sex or Down syndrome diagnosis. Planned Parenthood said it would continue to fight that part of the law.
“The record here suggests that the proposed prohibition of certain controversial abortions affects only a small number of non-viable fetus abortions,” Sachs wrote. “Opening up the subject for legislation could, however, logically reach more common reasons for early abortions, such as the prospective illegitimacy of babies born to unmarried girls and women. Illegitimacy being a frequently disfavored status, perhaps it may be treated as comparable to health issues or disfavored sex or race characteristics. While there is no known legislation to protect the prospectively illegitimate, such legislation for non-viable fetuses could be legally evaluated similarly to the issues here. We are thus dealing with a potentially large problem, numerically as well as intrinsically important.”
“The most challenging and novel of the issues in this case is the State’s attempt to prohibit all abortions (including those of non-viable fetuses) for special reasons that are deemed contrary to public policy,” Sachs wrote. “The State would prohibit a pregnant woman’s favoritism of males, for instance, or apparently healthy prospective infants while choosing to abort fetuses with disfavored characteristics. For present purposes I assume that almost everyone in our culture would be appalled by a pregnant woman’s abortion of a fetus identified as female because the woman or the family preferred that she give birth to a boy. The legal issue is whether the public, through legislation, has a right to intervene and prohibit such a discriminatory or ‘selective’ abortion of a fetus before viability.”
“As the father of a child with special needs, Attorney General Schmitt is particularly sensitive to suggestions that an unborn child who will have special needs is any lesser of a human being, and we’re glad that provisions relating to that issue were left in place in the judge’s ruling today,” spokesman Chris Nuelle said in a statement.
Sachs also noted that the ban on abortions after eight weeks would have prohibited more than two-thirds of patients at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis from obtaining abortions, and about half of all reported abortions in Missouri. The impact of a 20-week ban would prohibit about 100 abortions performed each year at Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.
“Although we are grateful today’s ruling allows us to provide care to some Missourians, we will continue to defend the truth: EVERY reason to have an abortion is a valid reason,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.
There are several other provisions of the law that went into effect Aug. 28. They include:
• enactment of the “Right to Life of the Unborn Child Act,” which would ban all abortions in Missouri if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, or a federal Human Life Amendment is adopted or a federal Human Life bill is enacted;
• an increase on medical malpractice insurance requirements for those who perform or induce abortions and additional insurance requirements for doctors who induce abortions using chemicals or drugs;
• recognition that “almighty God is the author of life” and that Missouri is a “sanctuary of life” that protects pregnant women and unborn children.
• an expansion of the tax credit program for pregnancy resource centers. The program will now allow 70 percent of a donation to be tax-credit eligible; there will be “no limit imposed on the cumulative amount of tax credits that may be claimed by all taxpayers contributing to pregnancy resource centers,” beginning Jan. 1, 2021.
The bill has an exception in cases where the mother is at risk of death or serious physical harm. However, there is no exception for cases of rape or incest. A provision requiring a second custodial parent to be notified when a minor is seeking an abortion (with certain exceptions) already went into effect in May.
To learn more about resources offered to women facing an unplanned pregnancy in the St. Louis area, read: bit.ly/2L16H3K.