Court Gives Missouri Green Light for Abortion Safety Reforms

Ruling lifts injunction against law requiring abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges

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• September 11, 2018 1:20 pm


Missouri can move forward with abortion safety reforms after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction against state law requiring abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges.

On Monday, the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling that blocked Missouri from enforcing a 2007 state law that requires all abortion facilities to maintain partnerships with nearby hospitals. The three-member panel said the District Court "committed an error of law" by granting a preliminary injunction after local Planned Parenthood affiliates filed the suit.

"The preliminary injunction in this case was entered based on less than adequate information and an insufficient regard for the relevant standard," the unanimous ruling says.

Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains had argued that the safety measures could shut down its clinic in Columbia, leaving the nation's top abortion provider with only one location in Missouri.

"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," Planned Parenthood Great Plains President Brandon Hill told the Kansas City Star.

The Great Plains Planned Parenthood affiliate did not respond to Washington Free Beacon requests for comment on the ruling or whether an appeal is planned.

Monday's ruling represented a major win for Attorney General Josh Hawley, the Republican Senate nominee challenging incumbent Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill. Attorney General spokeswoman Mary Compton called the safety measures "commonsense regulations" aimed at protecting women in the state.

"We appreciate the court's ruling. We will continue to vigorously defend Missouri's commonsense regulations that protect women's health and safety," Compton said in a statement.

Abortion supporters had hoped the Supreme Court's 5-4 Hellerstedt ruling striking down similar safety reforms in Texas in 2016 would help Planned Parenthood prevail in Missouri. The appellate court, however, said the district court failed to establish factual findings that led the Supreme Court to reach its conclusion.

"Perhaps there was a unique problem Missouri was responding to…Such a problem may require a different response than what was needed in Texas, and the Hospital Relationship Requirement may be appropriate given ‘[Missouri's] legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient,'" the appellate court ruled. "Given no such inquiry was made—and no findings ascertained—we remand for the district court to do that which Hellerstedt instructed: ‘consider the evidence in the record… [and] weigh the asserted benefits against the burdens.'"

Pro-life organizations hailed the ruling as a victory for safety regulations, as well as for returning lawmaking powers to elected officials, rather than the judiciary. Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said that policymakers have an obligation to protect patients and called on abortion supporters to support these reforms.

"The 8th Circuit is correct to hold that states have the power, if not the obligation, to enforce minimum safety regulations on abortion providers," Schilling told the Washington Free Beacon. This isn't an undue burden; it's an overdue safety measure that's needed to protect women. Anyone who claims to support ‘safe and legal' abortion should also support these basic health standards."

Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins said the ruling demonstrated a proper approach to "the balance of powers."

"The courts were right to respect efforts to protect women from abortion vendors who have made no plan for emergencies. Legislators have every right to protect women and their preborn infants from disreputable abortionists," she said in a statement. "Surely the one area of agreement on the abortion issue—whether pro-life or pro-abortion—should be health and safety regulations that protect women."

The case will return to the district court, though Planned Parenthood still has the ability to petition for an en banc appeal asking every member of the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals to review the injunction.

Planned Parenthood spokesman Dawn Laguens called the law "medically unnecessary" and would impose "real barriers" for the abortion industry. She said the Supreme Court decision in Texas should have applied in Missouri, which reinforced Planned Parenthood's opposition to Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

"Look no further than Missouri to see what kind of harm courts can inflict on women's rights and freedoms," she said in a statement. "The constitutional right to access abortion is already at risk in this country. Confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court would tip it over the edge."

UPDATE 2:35 P.M.: This article has been updated with a statement from Planned Parenthood's national office.

Published under: Abortion, Missouri, Planned Parenthood