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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Missouri From Enforcing Broad Abortion Law

Abortion rights activists on Thursday gathered near the Gateway Arch to protest the potential closure of Missouri's only abortion provider. They marched to the Wainwright State Office Building, where some activists went inside. May 30, 2019
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Abortion rights activists in St. Louis have repeatedly marched in support of Missouri's only abortion provider. Planned Parenthood officials are hailing the decision of a federal appeals court panel to block the state from prohibiting abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy or because the fetus has Down syndrome.

A panel of federal appeals court judges in St. Louis has blocked a 2019 Missouri law that banned most abortions at eight weeks or because a fetus has Down syndrome.

The three-judge panel from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a federal judge’s decision last year that blocked the state from enforcing the law, known as HB 126.

Planned Parenthood and Reproductive Health Services, the only remaining clinic that provides abortions in the state,filed the suit after the Republican-controlled legislature passed the measure. The suit, which names Republican Gov. Mike Parson and the state of Missouri as defendants, claims that the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Missourians,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, in a statement. “At a time when Gov. Parson and anti-abortion politicians continue their relentless attacks on reproductive health care, our rights often come down to one court decision at a time.”

A district court judge had earlier determinedthe law going into effect would harm the clinic, its providers and its patients.

Lawyers from the state argued the law doesn’t ban abortions, but rather regulates them.

The panel of judges disagreed. “There is nothing an individual in Missouri could lawfully do to obtain an abortion at or after the applicable gestational age cut-off,” they wrote, citing a similar earlier case.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the state plans to fight the decision.

“My son Stephen has shown me the inherent beauty and dignity in all life, especially those with special needs,” Schmitt said. “While we’re disappointed in the 8th Circuit’s decision, 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.”

A similar Mississippi law prohibiting abortions based on gestational age is being considered by the Supreme Court, which has let many decisions striking down such bans stand in recent years.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @Petit_Smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.