KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Planned Parenthood pressed a federal judge Tuesday to block abortion-restricting Missouri rules similar to Texas ones struck down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, while an attorney for Missouri countered that undoing the Missouri regulations could endanger women.
U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs deferred a ruling until at least next month after hearing arguments over the preliminary injunction request by Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri health centers.
The November lawsuit came five months after the nation’s high court struck down similar Texas rules that sharply reduced the number of abortion clinics there. Like the Texas rules, Missouri requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery. The Supreme Court, in its 5-3 ruling, rejected Texas’ arguments that its 2013 law and follow-up regulations were needed to safeguard women’s health.
Partly as a result of those laws, only one licensed abortion clinic remains in Missouri — a Planned Parenthood center in St. Louis, which the organization says requires a drive of hundreds of miles for some women to access. The state has 1.2 million women of reproductive age, Planned Parenthood has said, adding that its health centers in Kansas City, Columbia, Joplin, Springfield would provide abortions if the restrictions were scrapped.
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Kansas City’s Planned Parenthood center has offered medication-induced abortions and would resume doing so if Sachs deems the Missouri regulations in question unconstitutional, Melissa Cohen, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, told the judge.
Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic stopped offering the procedure — a non-surgical type, induced with a pill — in 2015 after its only doctor performing medication-induced abortions lost needed privileges with University of Missouri Health Care. That left the St. Louis clinic as the agency’s only abortion provider.
Cohen told Sachs on Tuesday that last year’s Supreme Court ruling involving Texas “does bind this court,” arguing that in Missouri’s cases “it’s clear these restrictions are not merely based on medical necessity.”
John Sauer countered for the state that Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit seeks a “regulatory blackout” that could endanger women by essentially enabling unsavory abortion providers to crop up.
Sauer also argued that the Texas case decided last year and the Missouri one differ, insisting that the Texas filings were less complete and persuasive than those now before Sachs.
“The breadth of relief that is sought in this case is completely inappropriate,” Sauer said.
Cohen disagreed, saying Planned Parenthood wants just the Missouri provisions involving admitting provider privileges at nearby hospitals and hospital-like standards to be invalidated, not other oversight involving such things as minors seeking abortions.
Defendants in the Missouri lawsuit include Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services director, Missouri’s attorney general and elected prosecutors in Boone, Jackson, Jasper and Greene counties — all homes to a Planned Parenthood clinic.