Federal Appeals Court Changes Mind And Blocks Missouri Abortion Restrictions

Oct 2, 2017

There was another twist Monday in the roller-coaster case brought by Planned Parenthood seeking to block two Missouri abortion restrictions.

After a federal appeals court last month decided to lift an injunction blocking the restrictions from taking effect, the same court has now had a change of heart.

In a one-sentence order Monday afternoon, five of the nine judges on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to leave the injunction in place after all.

No reason was given for the ruling, which leaves Planned Parenthood free to resume its quest to obtain abortion licenses at its clinics in Columbia, Joplin and Springfield, Missouri.  

Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which is based in Overland Park and operates in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, filed the case last year, along with its sister affiliate in St. Louis, after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar restrictions in Texas.

One restriction requires abortion physicians to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The other requires that abortion clinics be licensed as surgical centers.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood Great Plains Interim President and CEO Aaron Samulcek called the 8th Circuit’s order “a victory” for Missouri women.

“The last thing that should stand in the way of their access to sexual and reproductive health care is an extreme politician who doesn’t know the last thing about health care delivery,” he said. “We look forward to serving Missourians in more locations across the state and expanding access to safe, legal abortion.”

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, who represents Missouri in the lawsuit, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the 8th Circuit’s order.

“My office will continue to fight for common sense regulations that protect the health and well-being of Missouri women,” Hawley said in a statement.

The 8th Circuit’s order comes just 10 days after Planned Parenthood asked U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who handles emergency appeals from Missouri, to restore the injunction. Immediately after the 8th Circuit’s order was handed down, Planned Parenthood withdrew its request from the Supreme Court.

Planned Parenthood sued to block the restrictions, and earlier this year a federal judge in Kansas City ruled that Planned Parenthood was likely to prevail in a trial on the merits and granted its request for an injunction.

Hawley then appealed the injunction to the 8th Circuit, which initially rebuffed him before granting his request last month. Today’s order undoes that, meaning the Missouri abortion restrictions remain on hold – at least until the case goes to trial, probably sometime in 2018. 

Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.