Abortion wait law takes effect

Judge continues to bar part of law that places requirements on physicians
Thursday, December 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:05 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A federal judge allowed Missouri’s 24-hour abortion waiting period to take effect Wednesday but continued to bar a part of the 2003 law that mandated what abortion physicians must discuss with their patients.

The revised preliminary injunction by Judge Scott O. Wright was praised as a partial victory by abortion opponents, who hope that a day’s delay will discourage some women from having abortions.

The law, enacted when legislators overrode a veto by then-Gov. Bob Holden, requires physicians to wait 24 hours after conferring with women before performing abortions. It requires consultation to cover such things as “the indicators and contraindicators” and the “physical, psychological and situational” risk factors associated with abortions.

Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged the law in both federal and state courts, claiming the consultation requirements are unconstitutionally vague and place physicians under the threat of prosecution for something they may not understand.

Wednesday’s ruling attempts to carry out the directives of a decision two weeks ago by a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis that determined Wright’s June 2004 injunction went beyond what was necessary. His latest order continues to impose an injunction against almost all the language in the law.

But Wright said physicians, except in medical emergencies, must inform patients 24 hours before an abortion “of truthful, non-misleading information of the nature of the proposed procedure” and of the risks patients might consider when deciding whether to have abortions. The judge said physicians also must obtain patients’ written consent — a requirement in place in Missouri even before the 2003 law.

The revised order attempts to align Missouri with a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a Pennsylvania requirement for a 24-hour abortion waiting period after an informational session with women.

Abortion opponents de- scribed Missouri’s 24-hour informational wait as a reflection period.

“Now that at least part of Missouri’s informed consent law is now in effect, women seeking abortions will receive at least some of the important information they need to make an informed choice,” said Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri. “Our hope is that the lives of many unborn children will be saved and that the lives of many women will no longer be shattered by a rash, uninformed decision to have an abortion without some knowledge of its consequences.”

Officials at Planned Parenthood organizations that operate abortion clinics in St. Louis and Columbia said their attorneys were reviewing the ruling and its implications but would have no further comment Wednesday.

Attorney General Jay Nixon’s office, which defended the law, also had no comment.

Gov. Matt Blunt, who supports the waiting period law, “believes that it will have a positive impact on a culture that values human life,” said spokesman Spence Jackson.

Wright’s revised injunction comes as the Missouri Supreme Court is considering a separate challenge from Planned Parenthood that the law is illegally vague under the state constitution. In compliance with the appeals panel’s directive, Wright set his new injunction to expire 10 days after a final judgment from the state Supreme Court.

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