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The winding road of abortion law

Unraveling the past, present and possible future of abortion in Missouri
Wednesday, December 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:32 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Trying to navigate Missouri’s abortion laws is like driving a road with many twists, turns and lengthy detours through the state’s judicial system.

Even as existing laws are being further defined by the courts, new bills that would restrict abortions in Missouri are on the horizon for the 2006 legislative session.

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt has made abortion legislation a high priority for his administration. Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson said the governor will “continue to seek pro-life laws, to sign pro-life acts and to establish pro-life policies.” And he “will continue to stand fast against pro-abortion attacks in the courts.”

Blunt signed a modified abortion bill into law on Sept. 15 after a special session that included three restrictive provisions regarding abortions for minors and new legal requirements for physicians who perform abortions.

Other Missouri laws that have been in and out of state and federal courts include the 24-hour waiting period, the informed-consent requirement and a ban on partial-birth abortions.

Opponents of abortion laws, including Planned Parenthood affiliates in Missouri, have taken the state to court to overturn abortion legislation. Traci Gleason, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood for Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the state has three Planned Parenthood clinics where abortions are performed: Columbia, St. Louis and Kansas City.

The Kansas City clinic in early December began offering non-surgical medical abortion services for women in the first trimester of pregnancy, said Peter Brownlie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Here is a guide to recent abortion legislation in Missouri, what the laws say and where the laws stand in court.

Abortion provider guidelines

What is the law? It prohibits anyone who is not a licensed physician from performing abortions. Violations are classified as a Class B felony. A modification of this law includes a provision that a physician must have clinical privileges at a hospital that offers obstetrician and gynecological care within 30 miles of where the abortion is performed. Violation of this provision is considered a Class A misdemeanor.

When was it passed? Sept. 15

What’s happening with it? The law is now in effect. The Springfield Healthcare Center sued the state on the day Blunt signed the bill, arguing it violates the U.S. Constitution on the grounds that it imposes unnecessary burdens on women who seek abortions in Springfield or southwest Missouri and that it violates the due process rights of the center by delegating to the state the licensing authority of private hospitals. The complaint also asserts that the law would force the center to cease offering abortions. The center provided about 1,500 abortions a year, according to the lawsuit, but it has since closed.

U.S. District Judge Laughrey issued a temporary restraining order Sept. 16 to block enforcement of the law. That order was lifted, and a Nov. 7 hearing was canceled after the clinic closed and the judge dismissed the lawsuit.

Assisting a minor

What is the law? It prohibits the intentional assistance or aid of a minor to obtain an abortion without required informed consent from a parent or guardian or an unemancipated minor. If a person is found to have assisted a minor, that person is civilly liable and may be sued by the minor and the person required to give the informed consent, such as a parent. Damages can include attorneys fees, court costs and emotional and punitive damages.

When was it passed? Sept. 15.

What’s happening with it? A lawsuit was filed Sept. 15 on behalf of five Planned Parenthood affiliates and the Missouri Religion Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The primary argument against the law is that it violates the First Amendment rights of health-care professionals, clergy or anyone who might counsel or give abortion information to a minor. The suit also alleges that the statute is vague, that it provides inadequate guidelines for what is allowed or prohibited in conversations with minors, and that it applies to people outside Missouri, violating the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause and due process rights.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles Atwell ruled that the law is constitutional but issued an injunction to block enforcement of it pending six conditions that narrow the construction of the statute. The plaintiffs have filed a notice of appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. The injunction will remain in place pending a high-court ruling.

24-hour waiting period and informed consent notice

What is the law? It requires that a licensed physician discuss with the patient the facts and risks regarding abortions 24 hours before the procedure is performed and evaluate the patient’s overall physical and mental health. The patient must then sign a written statement that she has discussed the required factors with her doctor and is giving consent to undergo the abortion at least 24 hours prior beforehand. The law includes an exemption for medical emergencies that seriously threaten the health or life of a pregnant woman.

When was it passed? This bill was initially vetoed by former Gov. Bob Holden in July 2003, but the legislator overrode the veto in September of that year. The law was set to take effect in October 2003, but several injunctions blocked its enforcement.

What’s happening with it now? The initial lawsuit was filed in federal court in October 2003 and then in Missouri state court in June 2004 on behalf of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region Inc. and Comprehensive Health Services of Kansas and Mid-Missouri. Their primary argument is that the law violates physicians’ due process rights under the U.S. and state constitutions. Planned Parenthood also argued the law is vague and does not provide informational guidelines for what a doctor must tell patients.

Judge Scott O. Wright, of the senior federal circuit for the Western District of Missouri, issued an order Dec. 1 to reinstate the 24-hour waiting period but held part of the law concerning the informed consent requirements. The case was reviewed by the Missouri Supreme Court on Nov. 8 and awaits a ruling.

Partial-birth abortion

What is the law? Known as the Missouri Infants Protection Act, the law made it a Class A felony to perform late-term or partial-birth abortions, usually after 20 weeks or five months of pregnancy.

When was it passed? The law took effect Sept. 16, 1999, but was ruled unconstitutional by Wright. He cited the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Stenberg v. Carhart, which said the law makes an exception for the health of the mother only if she is threatened with death.

What’s happening with it now? Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region filed its lawsuit immediately after the law took effect. The lawsuit alleges the law was unconstitutional based on Roe v. Wade and three other U.S. Supreme Court rulings that upheld two exceptions in late-term abortions: risk of death and risk of serious health complications.

On Nov. 28, a three-judge ruling in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision that the act was unconstitutional on the basis that the statute does not include an exemption for the health of the mother when the possibility of death is not a factor. The Eighth Circuit Court also said the state lacked any new medical evidence that abortions are never necessary to preserve a mother’s health since the ruling of the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court case. The Missouri Attorney General’s office is within the window to appeal the case to the Missouri Supreme Court but has yet to determine whether it will do so.

Bills proposed for the 2006 session

SB 562: Sponsored by Sen. Chuck Gross, the bill introduces the Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act, which states that a doctor is required to talk with a woman seeking an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy about information regarding an unborn child’s capacity to feel pain during an abortion and to offer the woman the option of giving an anesthestic to the unborn child.

SB 608: Sponsored by Sen. Jason Crowell, the bill would require that emergency contraceptives, such as the morning-after pill known as Plan B, be available only by prescription.

SB 609: Sponsored by Crowell, the bill seeks to protect pharmacists who choose not to associate with services involving a drug they feel is used for abortions.

SB 702: Sponsored by Crowell, the bill would prohibit the use of public money for health and social programs, including counseling that subsidizes abortion services.

SB 703: Sponsored by Crowell, the bill would provide a tax credit for monetary contributions to a tax-exempt pregnancy resource center that offers person-to-person counseling but does not give abortion information or referrals.

Sources

Missouri Revised Statutes, Chapter 188, Regulation of Abortions; Missouri Office of the Attorney General; U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Central Division, Case No. 05-4296-CV-C-NKL, 9/15/2005; complaint filed on behalf of Springfield Healthcare Center, Inc., v. Jeremiah W. Nixon, Attorney General of Missouri in his official capacity, and Darrell L. Moore, prosecuting attorney for Greene County; Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri; attorneys Eve Gartner and Mimi Liu for Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Circuit Court of Jackson County at Kansas City, Case No. 0516-CV25949, 11/18/2005; judgment issued by Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles Atwell on Planned Parenthood, et al v. Jeremiah W. Nixon, et al; Missouri Revised Statutes, 565.300, Infant’s Protection Act; Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, President and CEO Paula Gianino; opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, Case No. 04-2909, 11/28/2005; Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, Inc. v. Jeremiah W. Nixon, Attorney General of Missouri; Missouri State Senate 2006 Senate Bills.


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