A panel of federal appeals judges ruled that Missouri cannot enforce the 2019 state law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Services of Planned Parenthood for the St. Louis Region, said the decision was a “critical victory for Missourians.”
The three judges on St. Louis’ 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the lawsuit in September of 2020 before announcing their decision Wednesday. Reproductive Health Services, operator of the St. Louis abortion clinic, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit.
The abortion law, which also would have barred women from seeking abortions after a Down syndrome diagnosis for the fetus, had been blocked by a federal judge while the legal battle was taking place.
“For now, we celebrate our continued ability to provide safe, legal abortion at the last remaining clinic in Missouri,” Rodriguez said in a statement.
For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.
Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement that his son, Stephen, who has a rare genetic condition, autism and epilepsy, “has shown me the inherent beauty and dignity in all life, especially those with special needs. While we’re disappointed in the 8th Circuit’s decision, their decision does provide an avenue for this case to be heard by the Supreme Court, and we plan to seek review in the Supreme Court.”
U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs said at the time of his ruling last year that Planned Parenthood and the ACLU would likely succeed in their lawsuit alleging that the law is unconstitutional. Similar laws have been struck down in North Dakota and Iowa.
Most of the discussion at the hearing in September centered around the provision banning abortions because the fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer cited an “epidemic of abortions targeting children with Down syndrome for elimination solely because of their disability.”
Planned Parenthood attorney Claudia Hammerman argued at the time that four decades of Supreme Court precedent “make it clear that this is unconstitutional.” She said doctors won’t take the risk of losing their medical license for aborting a fetus with Down syndrome, regardless of whether the condition was the reason the woman sought the procedure.
Several states in 2021 have approved legislation seeking to prohibit abortions based solely on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Governors in Arizona and South Dakota recently signed such bills into law, and similar measures are pending in North Carolina and Texas. Meanwhile, a federal appellate court said Ohio could begin to implement a 2017 law that has been on hold.
Missouri also is among several conservative states in recent years that have passed abortion restrictions in hopes that the increasingly conservative Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.
Last month, the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to take on a case about whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb. Experts say the case could dramatically alter nearly 50 years of rulings on abortion rights. Three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump were part of a conservative majority in agreeing to hear the case.