Federal appeals court blocks Missouri abortion restrictions
© WikiMedia (James McNellis)
Federal appeals court blocks Missouri abortion restrictions

The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on Wednesday affirmed a lower court decision to block enforcement of a Missouri law that would place tight restrictions on access to abortion.

House Bill 126, the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,” includes a gestational age provision and a Down syndrome provision. The first bans abortion after eight weeks, with an exception in the case of a medical emergency but not in cases of rape or incest. The second bans abortions sought solely to end a pregnancy due to a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Health care providers who violate these provisions can be subject to civil penalties and, in the case of the gestational age provision, criminal prosecution.

Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region filed suit on behalf of themselves and their patients requesting a preliminary injunction against both provisions, and the district court agreed. Missouri appealed, arguing that Planned Parenthood lacks standing, and that these provisions do not ban abortion but merely regulate pre-viability abortions; while bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional, regulations are not as long as they do not pose a substantial obstacle. The state argued that because they still allow pre-viability abortions before eight weeks, the regulation does not constitute a categorical ban. Regarding the Down syndrome provision, the state argued that the word “solely” in the statute operates in a regulatory way, permitting a pre-viability abortion when a Down syndrome diagnosis is only part of the reason for the abortion.

Because the provisions target the conduct of physicians, the Eighth Circuit found that Planned Parenthood has standing to bring this issue. It also rejected the state’s regulatory argument, holding that, unlike regulations requiring waiting periods or informed consent, Missouri’s law completely blocks someone from obtaining an abortion after the eight-week cut-off, which is an unconstitutional ban. The court similarly found that the Down syndrome provision constitutes an undue burden because it “would prevent certain patients from getting a pre-viability abortion at all. That is a ban, not a regulation.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said that he “will never stop fighting to ensure that all life is protected” and that his office intends to appeal the Eighth Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court.