Abortion Ruling Could Limit Access in Missouri

by | September 11, 2018

By Andy Marso and Tony Rizzo

A federal appeals court ruling Monday could limit abortion services throughout Missouri, including at a clinic in Kansas City.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a lower court judge's injunction against Missouri laws requiring clinics that provide abortions to be set up as ambulatory surgical centers and doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

Planned Parenthood's affiliates in Missouri said the decision "could impact services within weeks" by forcing the groups to suspend abortion services in Columbia, delaying plans to expand into Joplin and Springfield and jeopardizing the Kansas City clinic's efforts to regain its license, which expired last month after its doctor left in March.

"These requirements do nothing to help Missouri women, and in fact actually hurt them," said Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which serves the Kansas City area. "If these laws are allowed to take effect, women will now have to travel farther, wait longer and use more of their own resources to access the health care they need most, if they can get care at all."

But Samuel Lee, who lobbies for abortion restrictions in Jefferson City, said the state never got the chance to make its case that the surgical center and admitting privileges requirements are beneficial to women's health.

The three-judge appeals court panel ordered the injunction request be sent back to the lower court, which it instructed to "at the very least, weigh the state's asserted benefits against the burdens associated with the requirement."

"We're very happy that the court of appeals reversed the lower court decision and we think when the district court looks at it again, they will uphold the law because it protects the health and safety of women who are seeking abortions in Missouri without imposing an undue burden on them," Lee said.

Planned Parenthood officials said the Missouri requirements are "virtually identical" to a Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court found caused an unconstitutional burden on women's right to an abortion in the 2016 case Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

But Lee said there was a key distinction in the Missouri laws: They allowed the state's Department for Health and Senior Services to grant waivers to some clinics, allowing them to get out of the ambulatory surgical center requirements.

The appeals court judges ruled that there was "not sufficient information at this point" to determine how the state would use those waivers, so the courts couldn't rule on the merits of Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction.

Planned Parenthood officials said they're considering asking the full appeals court to review the three-judge panel's decision.

Meanwhile, Lee said Monday's ruling was a win for women.

"I just think this is important to protect the health and safety of women that these laws and regulations stay in place," Lee said, "and it's obvious that the attorney general of Missouri agrees with that because they've been aggressively defending the law."

(c)2018 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)