Missouri reviews 8-week abortion ban as laws are challenged nationwide

ST.LOUIS- A federal appeals court in St. Louis is re-examining a case over a law that would block abortions after eight weeks, the latest in a series of abortion and legislation cases that have come to the fore in in the weeks since Texas passed the country’s most restrictive abortion law.

The case examines a 2019 bill enacted by Gov. Mike Parson that would make abortions illegal after eight weeks, including in cases of incest and rape, with the only exception if the pregnancy is harmful to the person’s health. in danger. The law would also ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome. Planned Parenthood, which operates Missouri’s only abortion clinic, sued Parson, and U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs barred the bill from ” enter into force one day before its entry into force. The ruling was upheld in June this year by a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeal, but in July the court announced it would reconsider it, this time with a full tribunal.

The court’s return to the law comes as a Republican state announced plans to draft a bill that would mimic recently passed legislation in Texas, banning abortions as early as six weeks.

“As a longtime pro-life activist, I will do whatever I can, and I will stand alongside the other architects of the pro-life bill to make sure that we absolutely use every possible legal avenue possible to end abortion in Missouri, ”State Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman wrote on her Facebook page.

In states like Missouri, where public opposition to abortion is stronger than it is nationally, the issue has long been at the center of debate – in the legislature and the courts. Fifty-nine percent of adults polled by Pew this spring said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; in 2019, when the bill in question was first introduced, 50% of Missourians opposed abortion, compared to 39% of people nationwide.

Of note, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals resumed the hearing of the eight-week ban in the first place, said Sara Banesh, associate professor and chair of the University of Wisconsin’s department of political science. Milwaukee, in particular a month after the three-judge panel reaffirmed its original ruling. Federal courts have repeatedly acted to block bans on pre-viability abortion because they violate protections offered by Roe v. Wade. The decision to hear this case, along with others by the Supreme Court and other federal circuit courts, “suggests that there is a radical change underway”, whatever the decision of those courts, has Banesh said.

Challenges to the right to legally access abortion have unfolded in several states, with the United States Supreme Court agreeing to hear a case over a 15-week Mississippi ban in May. The state has since reframed his case to specifically challenge the legality of Roe v. Wade. The House of Representatives passed a law on Friday that would guarantee the right to abortion – a mostly symbolic gesture, as it is unlikely to be passed by the Senate, but which, if codified, would make it more difficult for state legislatures and courts at all levels to implement restrictions.

Part of what sets the Missouri case apart from its predecessors is that the law would ban abortions for specific diagnoses – in this case, Down syndrome.
Laws similarly focused on specific diagnoses have also been introduced in Arizona, South Dakota, and North Carolina. A federal judge blocked the law from coming into force in North Carolina earlier this year and this week a federal judge heard oral arguments on an abortion law in Arizona, to determine whether the two sides of the proposed rule – a ban on abortions tied to certain diagnoses or abnormalities and a new definition of fertilized fetuses, embryos and ova as people beginning at the time of conception – can take effect on September 29.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer, representing the state, made arguments specifically focused on this provision, saying “the Down’s syndrome community is a generation away from complete elimination.” While data from the National Down Syndrome Society shows that approximately 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States, there is not much official data on the number of prenatal diagnoses that lead to abortion. .

Planned Parenthood Federation of America attorney Susan Lambiase argued that letting the law take effect would be a blatant violation of legal precedent.

“To do anything other than assert the inferior decision of this tribunal, one would have to ignore the Supreme Court’s precedent and overturn the law controlling this circuit by systematically interpreting that precedent,” she said, adding that physicians at reproductive health services in St. Louis will most likely avoid abortion based solely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Anti-abortion activists, including Missouri Right to Life, have forbidden the proposed eight-week ban as a “common sense law that saves lives,” in large part because of its focus on Down syndrome. “Killing these babies just because of a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome is discriminatory,” he said in a statement after Tuesday’s hearing.

A judge also asked the two sides whether the proposed Down syndrome provision was, in their opinion, a ban or a regulation, something that would affect how legal precedent is enforced, Banesh said. Sauer said it was a regulation and it was an anti-discrimination provision. Lambiase, however, called it a ban.

“For any woman in this circumstance, it’s a ban,” she said, “It’s an absolute ban for anyone in the category.”

Missouri is one of five states in the country with a single abortion clinic. This is not his first legal battle.

The clinic in 2019 sued the state health department after being denied a license renewal, and later a circuit court judge allowed an injunction to continue allowing abortions to continue. .

“We are ready for… any outcome of this hearing or whatever the legislature may throw at us next year,” said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood for the St. Louis and South region. western Missouri.

But Tuesday’s hearing could, in some ways, open up new horizons in the national discourse, Banesh said.

“I think the Missouri regulations are an interesting advancement in the area of ​​abortion regulation because we haven’t seen a lot of cases explaining why women might want to choose to terminate their pregnancies. I think when you open that door and say that there are certain reasons that are illegitimate or problematic from a state’s point of view, that will in itself also limit the protection of that right to privacy for women ” , she said.


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