Missouri Abortion Restrictions Allowed to Stand During Trial, Rules Judge

by | June 14, 2018

By Andy Marso

A federal judge's ruling Tuesday means that medication abortions in Missouri will still be unavailable at Planned Parenthood locations in Columbia and Springfield.

Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains had asked Judge Beth Phillips to place on hold a new state registration restricting the procedure while Phillips hears a lawsuit the group filed in October.

Phillips denied that request for an injunction Tuesday, despite writing that the regulation in question "has virtually no benefit."

The suit will move forward, but in the meantime Planned Parenthood will be able to offer medication abortions only in Kansas City and St. Louis.

Medication abortions usually occur early in pregnancy. It's a two-step procedure in which one drug is administered at the clinic and the second is often taken at home one or two days later.

The new law requires the abortion provider to have a contract with an obstetrician/gynecologist with admitting privileges at a local hospital available at all hours of the day.

The attorneys defending the law argued that will make for a safer procedure, but Phillips appeared skeptical. She wrote that major complications requiring hospitalization occur in only about 0.3 percent of medication abortions and those complications almost always occur after the patient has left the clinic and gone home.

But Phillips said that to grant the injunction, she would have to find that the regulation caused an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions. With surgical abortions still available in Columbia and medication abortions available in other parts of the state, Phillips decided the plaintiffs hadn't shown that.

"A state regulation that increases the distance a woman must travel or the expense of the procedure will not, alone, constitute an undue burden," Phillips wrote. "... It is not enough for the regulation to make it more difficult for women to obtain an abortion; instead, it must be a substantial burden on their ability to obtain an abortion."

Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, and Mary Kogut, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, released a statement Tuesday saying they found Phillips' decision "extremely troubling" but still think they will prevail in the lawsuit.

"Politicians and state regulators, ignoring medical evidence, continue to impose arbitrary restrictions that harm the women they purportedly serve," the statement read. "... We are confident this unnecessary regulation will ultimately be overturned."

But Samuel Lee, a Catholic deacon from St. Louis and lobbyist for Campaign Life Missouri, said he and others who pushed for the new regulation believe it's on firm legal ground.

"We're confident that the law will be upheld," Lee said, "and despite Judge Phillips' position that this law may not have had as much benefit to women as the state of Missouri says, we believe this law is a great benefit to women who are injured or potentially injured by drug-induced abortions."

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