Judge Considers Planned Parenthood Challenge To New Missouri Abortion Restrictions

Oct 18, 2017

A Jackson County judge on Wednesday took under advisement Planned Parenthood’s request to block a Missouri law requiring that abortion physicians meet with their patients three days before they undergo the procedure.

The law, enacted this summer during a special session of the Missouri Legislature called by Gov. Eric Greitens, is set to take effect Oct. 24.

The two Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri and two obstetrician-gynecologists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis sued last week to have the law declared unconstitutional under the Missouri Constitution and sought a temporary restraining order blocking it.

Previously, women seeking an abortion could meet with any “qualified professional” — including a physician assistant, licensed social worker or psychologist — to discuss the procedure’s risks. The new law requires the physician performing the abortion to explain those risks and to do so at least 72 hours beforehand.

Planned Parenthood says the requirement imposes an “undue burden” on patients, who may have to schedule more than one meeting if, for whatever reason, the abortion physician can’t perform the procedure. That could be especially burdensome for women who have to travel great distances to meet with their abortion physician, Planned Parenthood attorney Diana Salgado told Judge S. Margene Burnett on Wednesday.

Combined with Missouri’s already stringent abortion restrictions, Salgado said, the law “will cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and their patients.”

Until recently, the only Planned Parenthood clinic in the state offering surgical abortions was the one in St. Louis. The Planned Parenthood clinic in midtown Kansas City only provides medication abortions. The Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia recently obtained a license to perform surgical abortions, and two other Planned Parenthood clinics, in Springfield and Joplin, are in the process of seeking abortion licenses.

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said it already struggles to provide abortion access to patients. The physicians who perform abortions at Planned Parenthood, it said, are only available for limited periods of time because they have other jobs, some of them out of state, and their schedules are set months in advance. 

The state contends the benefits of the new law outweigh any burdens it imposes.

The law provides “very significant benefits,” Missouri First Assistant Attorney General D. John Sauer told Burnett, including “continuity of care” and “responsible participation of the patient in her own medical care.”

Sauer said the abortion physician is uniquely qualified to provide the required information because it involves an assessment of the procedure’s risks in light of the patient’s medical history.

It’s “standard medical practice,” he said.

Unlike legal challenges it has mounted to other Missouri abortion restrictions, Planned Parenthood’s current challenge is rooted not in the federal Constitution but in the Missouri Constitution.

The organization says the new law violates the Missouri Constitution’s due process guarantees “by imposing significant burdens on patient care such that, for whole categories of patients, abortion care would no longer be available, and for virtually all other abortion patients, it would be either unavailable or so delayed that they would experience increased medical risk and financial costs.”

The state, however, says that the Missouri Constitution contains no right to an abortion on demand apart from the requirements of the U.S. Constitution.

“No court has ever held that the Missouri Constitution guarantees a right to abortion on demand, and this Court need not take such a dramatic step,” Missouri contends in court filings.

Burnett did not say when she intends to rule, but she’s likely to hand down her decision in the next few days because the law takes effect on Tuesday.

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