Missouri's 8-week abortion ban was blocked, but anti-abortion laws are still going into effect
St. Louis – Beginning Wednesday, women seeking an abortion in Missouri will be subjected to a handful of new state regulations intended to dissuade them from obtaining the procedure. Among other restrictions, doctors will be prohibited from terminating a pregnancy based on the presence of Down syndrome.
A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a part of Missouri’s new sweeping anti-abortion legislation that would ban the procedure after eight weeks among other restrictions. However, other pieces of the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act” are scheduled to go into effect.
Doctors at Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, the last remaining abortion clinic in the state, will need to adhere to a so-called “reason” ban, a law that prohibits women from terminating pregnancies based solely on race, sex or a “prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome.”
Dr. Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, said the “reason” ban would have a “measurable impact,” requiring her to “interrogate patients.” A spokesperson for the organization said Planned Parenthood will comply with the new state law.
“Missourians do not need or want politicians in their exam rooms,” McNicholas said in a statement provided to CBS News on Tuesday. “My patients deserve access to high-quality abortion care, and they deserve the space to make those decisions based on their values, life circumstances, support system, and faith, free of government scrutiny.”
In late July, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Paul Weiss LLP — the law firm that successfully fought to legalize gay marriage — challenged most of Missouri’s new anti-abortion law, arguing it was in violation of Supreme Court precedent that protects access to the procedure.
In a written decision published Tuesday afternoon, Judge Howard Sachs, a Carter appointee, declined to offer a preliminary injunction against the the “reason” ban because there was an “absence of any information from [Planned Parenthood]” on the frequency of discrimination-based abortions, making it difficult for him to assess the law’s interference of “abortion rights of real-life women.”
Critics of such bans say they force doctors to illegally scrutinize a woman’s reason for seeking the procedure and, in the case of gender-based abortion bans, push professionals to unfairly scrutinize Asian-American women, even though no data exists to suggest the practice happens in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization.
“Abortion opponents have used these bans to not only make abortion less accessible, but have tried to use these kinds of bans as a wedge issue to divide the progressive community by targeting African Americans, Asians, immigrants and those with disabilities,” said Elizabeth Nash, a senior state policy researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights and health research group, in a telephone interview with CBS News on Friday.
Eight other states prohibit abortion for reasons of sex selection, though none ban other gender selection methods, like sperm sorting or genetic diagnostics.
Besides Missouri, one other state, Arizona, bans race-based abortion and only North Dakota prohibits the procedure based on the potential presence of fetal anomaly. Missouri will be the first state to successfully prohibit abortion based specifically on Down syndrome, according to Guttmacher.
On Tuesday afternoon, Missouri’s office of the attorney general praised the judge’s decision.
“As the father of a child with special needs, Attorney General Schmitt is particularly sensitive to suggestions that an unborn child who will have special needs is any lesser of a human being, and we’re glad that provisions relating to that issue were left in place in the judge’s ruling today,” said Chris Nuelle, spokesperson for the Missouri Attorney General.
The abortion clinic will also be forced to provide new literature to women seeking abortions out of state, a common practice among women in Missouri looking to avoid some of the state’s anti-abortion regulations. Since 2017, clinics in Missouri have not been allowed to provide medical abortions, a pill-based termination method used for patients up until 10 weeks of pregnancy. When Missouri women request the procedure, call centers for Planned Parenthood refer patients to their Illinois location about 30 minutes away, a location that’s seen a skyrocketing number of patients since the change.
Now, those call centers will be required by state law to ask women seeking an abortion outside of Missouri if they’d like to receive four separate pieces of anti-abortion literature: a brochure titled “Alternatives to Abortion,” a list of pregnancy resource centers, and a list of ultrasound providers. Call centers will also be required to offer the state’s “Informed Consent Booklet,” a 26-page book on pregnancy, which begins with the quote, “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
All are written by the state and designed to discourage a woman from seeking an abortion. If the patient accepts, Planned Parenthood will be forced to send those items in the mail at its own expense, said a spokesperson for the organization.
As of Tuesday night, the exact protocol for how that process would work was still being decided.
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