Court blocks Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban

Natalia Bratslavsky/Shutterstock

Washington D.C., Jun 10, 2021 / 10:30 am (CNA).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a 2019 Missouri pro-life law from going into effect.

The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s injunction on the Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act, which set up tiers of abortion restrictions at various stages of pregnancy.

Sue Liebel, state policy director for the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said she was “disappointed” at the decision, “especially with a landmark U.S. Supreme court case already pending.” The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the fall on Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, a case some legal experts say could be a landmark abortion ruling.

“Missouri lawmakers acted on the will of the people when they enacted some of the nation’s strongest protections for the unborn and their mothers in 2019,” Liebel stated.

The Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act was signed into law in 2019. Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region sued over the law, and a district court judge in August 2019 blocked it from going into effect.

The law set up several tiers of abortion restrictions at various stages in pregnancy – at eight, 14, 18, and 20 weeks of pregnancy – designed to be able to withstand judicial scrutiny. Judge Howard Sachs halted all the tiers from going into effect, ruling that they were unconstitutional pre-viability abortion bans; the abortion providers were likely to succeed on the merits of their case against the law, he said in his decision to grant a preliminary injunction.

Judge Sachs initially allowed one part of the law to go into effect – a ban on “discrimination” abortions conducted for the sole reason of the baby’s race, sex, or a Down Syndrome diagnosis. The district court later blocked that provision as well, after Reproductive Health Services brought additional evidence claiming harm done to clients by the law.

In the Eighth Circuit ruling on Wednesday, a three-judge panel considered whether or not to uphold the preliminary injunction placed on the law by the district court. The state failed to make its case to overcome the injunction, the court ruled.

“Missouri has failed to demonstrate that its policy priorities outweigh (1) the public interest in access to pre-viability abortions, or (2) the significant interference with RHS’s business and the harm to pregnant individuals who might seek a pre-viability abortion before final judgment in this case,” Judge Jane Kelly of the Eighth Circuit court wrote in the majority opinion.

The law’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks would have resulted in around 100 fewer abortions each year in the state, she wrote, and the eight-week abortion ban would have restricted around half of abortions in the state – estimates that the state “does not dispute.”

“The district court concluded that this was ‘a significant interference with plaintiffs’ service and the rights of its prospective patients,’” she wrote, “and Missouri offers nothing to counter that conclusion.”

Judge David Stras, concurring in part and dissenting in part from the majority opinion, argued that he would have allowed the restriction on “discrimination” abortion to go into effect.

“Women remain free to terminate their pregnancies for nondiscriminatory reasons,” Stras wrote, arguing that the provision was an abortion regulation and not a ban.

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