A divided federal appeals court Wednesday blocked Missouri from enforcing a law limiting abortions for women who want to terminate a fetus for fear that it has Down syndrome.
The three-judge panel also blocked other provisions of the law that banned most abortions after eight weeks gestational age.
The Republican-led Legislature passed the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act” in 2019, among a wave of similar abortion restrictions enacted by conservative-leaning states in recent years.
The Missouri law makes it illegal for a physician to perform an abortion upon learning that the patient wants the procedure solely because she fears the fetus has Down syndrome.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed suit challenging the law as unconstitutional, representing abortion clinics in the St. Louis area.
A federal judge in 2019 blocked the Down syndrome rule and the broader abortion ban, though it left in place restrictions on abortions because of the fetus’s sex or race.
In Wednesday’s decision, the St. Louis-based Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel agreed with the lower court. In a 2-1 piece of the decision, the court said the part of the law protecting fetuses with the genetic disorder was a “closer call” but concluded that it threatened to violate at least some women’s constitutional rights to an abortion.
In a unanimous part of the decision, the court cited longstanding Supreme Court precedent barring states from restricting abortions before the point at which the fetus has reached the stage of viability.
“[W]hile the Down Syndrome Provision might impact fewer people than the Gestational Age Provisions, the nature of the harm—the inability to obtain an abortion before fetal viability—is at least equally significant,” wrote Circuit Judge Jane L. Kelly, a President
appointee, in the opinion.
In a dissenting opinion, Circuit Judge David R. Stras, a President
appointee, said he would uphold the Down syndrome provision, stating that plaintiffs never showed that the rule would actually prevent women from getting abortions.
‘For now, we celebrate our continued ability to provide safe, legal abortion at the last remaining clinic in Missouri.’
In response, the regional Planned Parenthood called the ruling a “critical victory” for Missouri residents.
“For now, we celebrate our continued ability to provide safe, legal abortion at the last remaining clinic in Missouri,” the head of the abortion-rights organization, Yamelsie Rodríguez, tweeted.
Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric S. Schmitt said he plans to ask the Supreme Court to review the decision.
“While we’re disappointed in the Eighth 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,” he stated.
In its briefs, the attorney general’s office wrote that the abortion of children with Down syndrome is approaching “genocidal levels.”
Federal appeals courts have consistently struck down abortion bans at such early stages of pregnancy. But appellate courts have disagreed over whether states can put restraints on abortions performed because of predicted characteristics of the fetus.
In April, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati voted 9-7 to uphold an Ohio law that similarly limited abortions targeting Down syndrome, disagreeing with other circuit court rulings on the issue.
Around a dozen states have active laws on the books restricting abortions based on one or more fetal characteristics: the sex or race of the fetus or because of a genetic anomaly, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that promotes abortion rights. Most of the laws restricting abortions based on genetic anomaly aren’t currently enforced, according to the institute.
The Supreme Court has never reviewed the constitutionality of such restraints.
The Missouri ruling comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last month to hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortions after about 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Write to Jacob Gershman at email@example.com
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Source: WSJ – US News