Judge Says No To Missouri’s Request To Stay Order Blocking Abortion Restrictions

May 18, 2017

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs has refused to stay his preliminary injunction blocking two of Missouri's abortion restrictions.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

This story was updated at 3:12 p.m. to include a statement from Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. 

A federal judge has denied Missouri’s request to stay his order blocking two statewide abortion restrictions, making clear he takes a dim view of the state’s arguments.

In a three-page ruling on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs rejected out of hand Missouri’s claim that the restrictions protect abortion patients’ health.

“The converse is demonstrably true,” Sachs wrote.

Sachs said that women seeking abortions in central and southwest Missouri currently have three options: They can go to a distant clinic; they can attempt to self-abort or seek an abortion from a non-professional; or they can submit to an unwanted birth.

“The absence of a nearby professional abortion clinic provides no safety advantage for any of the three groups,” Sachs wrote.

“It is hard to believe that the State Defendants would urge desperate women who reject the birthing option to avoid a clinic and seek the ‘safety’ of self-abortion or back-alley abortions, but they offer no logic or argument to the contrary,” he continued. “They are asking the courts to maintain these unsafe options pending litigation.”

Sachs last month entered a preliminary injunction blocking Missouri’s restrictions that require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and abortion clinics to be outfitted like ambulatory surgical centers.

Sachs said he was bound by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down similar abortion restrictions in Texas.

“The abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion,” Sachs wrote then of the abortion restrictions. “The public interest clearly favors prompt relief.”

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has appealed the preliminary injunction to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. It will probably be months before the court rules.

In a statement Thursday, Hawley said, "We respectfully disagree with the district court's decision to deny a stay pending appeal of this order. We anticipate promptly seeking a stay of the order from the Eighth Circuit."

The abortion restrictions were challenged by Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates women’s health clinics in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri.

Currently, the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis is the only provider of surgical abortions in the state. But following Sachs’ ruling, the two Planned Parenthood affiliates said they planned to move quickly to provide abortion services in midtown Kansas City, Columbia, Springfield and Joplin.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said that Sachs’ denial of the state’s motion for a stay “just really reasserts the strength of our case.”

“He is very clear on the fact that actually not reopening these centers is what is putting women's health in the state of Missouri at risk,” she said.

McQuade said hopes to start providing abortion services at its midtown Kansas City and Columbia locations as early as July but no later than August.

“We have already provided written information to the state that they requested back in the late summer, early fall, when we did the initial inspections,” McQuade said. “And we are working to schedule the inspections that will allow the state to issue the license. So we have already initiated contact and are in a dialogue with the Department of Health and Senior Services.”

Jesse Lawder, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said his organization was preparing to submit license applications to the state for its Joplin and Springfield clinics.  

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