A recent federal appellate court ruling could bring an end to surgical and chemical-induced abortions at Planned Parenthood in Columbia, at least for now.
A panel of judges from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Sept. 10 reversed a lower court ruling that prevented the state from enforcing two sets of regulations affecting abortion-providers.
The appellate judges directed the lower court to gather evidence and weigh the health benefits of the regulations against the burdens they place on women seeking abortions before issuing a new ruling.
This process could take months.
Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services has stated it will resume enforcing the regulations immediately.
The regulations, part of a state law passed 11 years ago, will likely force Planned Parenthood to stop performing abortions in Columbia, leaving Planned Parenthood in St. Louis as the state’s sole abortion provider.
“This is a good ruling, giving new life to the common-sense abortion regulations that were put in place in 2007,” stated Deacon Tyler McClay, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC), public-policy agency for the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses.
Deacon McClay predicted that in the short term, the appellate court’s action will result in abortion clinics ceasing operations while preventing the expansion of abortion to Planned Parenthood locations in Kansas City, Springfield and Joplin.
“In the long term,” said Deacon McClay, “it will require the federal trial court to hear evidence about the benefits and burdens imposed by those regulations — something the trial court failed to do in the first instance.”
The MCC was one of several pro-life groups that helped get the regulations passed into law 11 years ago.
One requires all facilities where surgical abortions are performed to comply with state regulations for ambulatory surgery centers.
The other requires anyone who performs or induces abortions in the state to be a physician with clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortions take place.
State lawmakers maintain that the regulations are necessary to protect the health and safety of women who seek abortions, in the same way they help safeguard the safety and wellbeing of all people obtaining outpatient surgical procedures in the state.
Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates the Columbia clinic, and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri sued the state in federal court over these regulations in 2016, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar regulations in Texas in its Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.
Federal Judge Howard R. Sachs of Kansas City issued an injunction against Missouri enforcing these regulations, based on the outcome of the Hellerstedt decision, while taking little testimony to determine whether the health and safety benefits the regulations provide outweigh any burdens they cause.
Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley appealed Judge Sach’s decision to a panel of appellate judges of the Eighth Circuit.
The judges ruled that under the Hellerstedt decision, the trial court was remiss in not soliciting and taking proper evidence into consideration.
The appellate judges lifted Judge Sach’s injunction and instructed the lower court to hold evidentiary hearings and gather testimony before issuing a new ruling.
That process, according to Deacon Sam Lee, director of Campaign Life Missouri, could take several months to complete.
Planned Parenthood does have the option to petition for a review of the decision by all 11 judges of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals or by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the regulations are in full force in Missouri. Planned Parenthood has stated that because of them, it probably will have to stop performing abortions in Columbia.
The Planned Parenthood building in Columbia does not comply with the state’s physical regulations for an ambulatory surgery center, and the physician who travels there several days a month to perform abortions does not have surgical or clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of that building.
Deacon Lee, a deacon of the St. Louis archdiocese and a registered lobbyist focusing on pro-life issues in the state, said the regulations make perfect sense and are important safeguards.
“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,” he told the Kansas City Star Sept. 10.
Deacon Lee also asserted that the facts in the Missouri case are different from those that led to the ruling on the Texas law.
He noted that ambulances have been summoned to Planned Parenthood’s Reproductive Health Services in St. Louis for medical emergencies at least 65 times since 2009.
“If a woman is injured, she has a right to get emergency medical treatment,” he told The Catholic Missourian. “She should not be abandoned by the doctor or the clinic. That has always been the reason for these laws.”