Federal court weighs motion to lift two-year stay on Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban

(The Center Square) – Two years before Texas legislators adopted a law banning abortion at six weeks, the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill criminalizing abortions at eight weeks.

While the Texas law includes civil liabilities for those who participate in abortions after six weeks, the 2019 Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act bans abortions sought after eight weeks solely because a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening, with physicians who do so facing up to 15 years in prison.

The Texas law was challenged to the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed it to go into effect before upholding it. Missouri’s ban on abortion after eight weeks, however, has been mired in court challenges and never been implemented.

But that could change after the full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday heard the state’s second appeal challenging a federal judge’s injunction against enacting House Bill 126 while a lawsuit against it proceeds.

Before HB 126, sponsored by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, could be enacted, in June 2019 Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, the state’s only abortion provider, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the law.

The following month, U.S. Western District of Missouri Judge Howard Sachs granted Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction, stopping the law from being enacted. Similar laws have been struck down in North Dakota and Iowa, he noted.

The state appealed Sach’s ruling. On June 9, a three-judge 8th Circuit panel rejected the state’s argument and upheld the injunction. In July, the 8th U.S. Circuit announced all 18 appellate justices would review the panel’s ruling, indicating interest in HB 126’s probation on abortions solely because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer touched on that theme Tuesday before the court, claiming in some countries, abortion rates are above 90% for fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“The community of people with Down Syndrome is just one generation away from complete elimination due to the practice of eugenic abortion,” he said. “This is the crisis against which Missouri enacted its Down syndrome provision that is before the court today.”

Sauer repeated prior arguments that HB 126 doesn’t ban but regulates abortions. Opponents are “stretching really hard to shoehorn this into the ‘ban’ category, when it’s clearly a regulation,” he said.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America attorney Susan Lambiase said HB 126 is a “blunt instrument of banning abortions based on a person’s personal reasons,” which “is not permitted under the constitution.”

The court deliberations come as a Senate committee created to work with Pro-Life activists meets for the third time Thursday in Jefferson City.

The 10-member Senate Interim Medicaid Accountability & Taxpayer Protection Committee was established by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Carthage, after the Senate adjourned in late June from special session without considering a House-adopted bill defunding Medicaid providers that directly, or through affiliates, provide abortion services.

That measure, HB 2, would have defunded Planned Parenthood, which is affiliated with Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis.

The committee was established after the special session to assuage Pro-Life conservatives with the stated aim to “take definitive action” in advancing proposals outlined in HB 2.

In July, chair Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, said a 2016 federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) memo allows states to “take certain actions” against a provider with questionable capacity to deliver services in a “safe, legal and ethical manner.”

In August, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region Chair Linda Raclin told the panel lawmakers don’t have the authority to defund providers for political reasons without risking billions in federal health care allocations.

Featured image by Joe Mueller | The Center Square

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