Federal judge blocks Missouri's restrictive abortion law

 nbcnews.com  08/27/2019 17:14:36 

A Missouri law that calls for one the nations most restrictive abortion regulations was halted from taking effect after a federal judge said Tuesday the law cannot be enforced "pending further litigation or further order of the court."

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs issued an order temporarily blocking the law until its legality is resolved in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis battled attorneys for the state to stop the abortion ban.

The bill, which was signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in May and was set to go into effect Wednesday, outlaws abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy, including in the case of rape or incest.

The only exception falling under the law is if a physician deems that the pregnancy would put the mother's health at risk.

In his order, Judge Sachs wrote that this type of restriction would severely impact hundreds of women.

The impact of the 20-week rule seems likely to prohibit about 100 abortions performed each year. I classify that as a significant interference with plaintiffs service and the rights of its prospective patients, so it should be considered quite adequate as harm to justify immediate relief from the defective provisions of House Bill 126."

Pro-abortion advocates have vehemently argued against the law since it was signed saying that it would impact most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant at eight weeks so it is ostensibly an outright ban.

Attorneys argued that the law would severely limit access to abortion and prevent the "vast majority of patients from obtaining the constitutionally protected medical care they seek.

"As a physician, I can tell you that Missourians believe that legislators and Governor Parson have no place in our exam room," said Colleen McNicholas, the medical director for Planned Parenthood in St. Louis after court arguments, according to the Associated Press.

Attorneys for the state argued that only women who are seeking abortions have standing to block the law since they will be most effected, not the ACLU or Planned Parenthood. Judge Sachs refuted this argument in his order saying that a provider had "standing to assert and litigate rights of anticipated future abortion patients."

Missouri is one of six states that has only one abortion clinic. The other five states are Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

The state's last abortion clinic has faced its own set of unrelated legal battles with the state over licensing.

Missouri's health department decided not to renew the health center's abortion license as of June 1 after an inspection in March found problems, including at least one incident in which patient safety was gravely compromised, forcing the clinic to shut down. The clinic refuted those claims in several legal back and forths. Planned Parenthood has argued that the licensing battle is part of a greater anti-abortion effort by the state's administration.

A judge allowed the state's sole abortion provider to continue to operate until the issue is adequately resolved in court in October.

Safia Samee Ali writes for NBC News, based in Chicago.

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