Judge Says New Missouri Requirement Does Not Impose ‘Undue Burden’ On Abortion Patients

Oct 23, 2017

A Jackson County judge on Monday declined to block a Missouri law requiring abortion physicians to meet with their patients three days before the procedure.

In rejecting a challenge to the law by Missouri’s two Planned Parenthood affiliates, Jackson County Circuit Judge S. Margene Burnett found that the requirement did not impose an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

The law, SB5, was enacted this summer after Gov. Eric Greitens called the Legislature into special session.

Missouri already required a 72-hour waiting period before a woman could obtain an abortion. But the informed consent scheme only required that counsel come from “qualified professionals,” which could include psychologists, social workers or physician assistants.

Under the new law, the doctor performing the abortion must be the one providing the information about the procedure's medical risks.

The Planned Parenthood affiliates claimed the law violates the Missouri Constitution by imposing an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. They noted that if the counseling abortion physician ended up not being able to perform the procedure, the woman would have to undergo a second counseling session before she could obtain an abortion.

In her ruling Monday, Burnett described the same-physician requirement as “at best a moderate modification of the informed consent restraints already in place” and denied Planned Parenthood’s motion for a temporary restraining order.

She also rejected Planned Parenthood’s claim that, when combined with the effect of other abortion restrictions enacted by the Missouri Legislature, the new law burdens abortion patients because there are so few abortion providers in the state.

Burnett said the scarcity of abortion physicians was not of the state’s making and the law “would not place a substantial obstacle in a woman’s decision to obtain an abortion.”

Aaron Samulcek, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, one of the affiliates that challenged the law, said his organization would continue to fight what he called a medically unnecessary requirement.

“The harsh reality of today’s court ruling is that this law will force some women to wait weeks for an abortion, travel hundreds of miles, or lose access altogether,” Samulcek said in a statement. 

Bonyen Lee Gilmore, spokesman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, told KCUR that abortion access “isn’t being stripped away in one fell swoop, it’s being stripped away one seemingly ‘moderate’ restriction at a time.

“When you put those all together, and context is everything in this world, you end in a place where women can’t access abortion,” she said.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, whose office defended the law in court, said he was pleased with Burnett's ruling. 

Referring to the law, he said, "SB5 enacts sensible regulations that protect the health of women in Missouri and we will continue to vigorously defend these."

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor for KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.