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Missouri abortion restrictions threatened by Supreme Court ruling

Missouri abortion restrictions threatened by Supreme Court ruling

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Legal experts say the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to strike down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics will strengthen expected challenges to similar laws in Missouri.

Laws that require abortion clinics to meet standards for surgical centers and for their doctors to have hospital privileges are based on a flawed premise of protecting women’s health but actually limit their access to the procedure, the court ruled.

“The laws struck down in Texas and the ones here in Missouri do not make abortion any safer,” said Dr. David Eisenberg, medical director of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

“The women who come to me who have a pregnancy that they are not ready to carry or a pregnancy that is super desired, but they are given devastating information about a lethal anomaly, they don’t have any idea the political calculus that is being made on their backs in Jefferson City,” Eisenberg said.

In several states, including Missouri, which was the first state to enact both regulations, “the chances of those laws remaining in effect are pretty slim,” said Jessica Pieklo, a legal analyst for Rewire, a reproductive rights nonprofit group.

Still, Monday’s ruling dealt only with the Texas laws, so legal challenges will be necessary in other states and could take years to resolve. A spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said his office is reviewing the case.

“In terms of knocking down the dominoes state by state that have identical or nearly identical laws, that is not a thing that can happen yet,” Pieklo said.

Abortion opponents said they were disappointed in the ruling and will fight any challenge to the current laws.

“The Missouri Catholic Conference will continue its efforts to ensure that women in crisis pregnancies have access to agencies that offer alternatives to abortion,” the group said in a statement.

Abortions in Missouri have declined from a high of 19,482 in 1985 to 5,416 in 2013, the latest data available from the state health department. An additional 3,324 Missouri women sought abortions in 2013 in other states, including Kansas, Illinois and Tennessee, where the laws are less strict.

Planned Parenthood in St. Louis has the only abortion clinic in Missouri, down from 29 clinics statewide in 1982. The organization’s clinic in Columbia stopped providing medication-induced abortions last fall when the University of Missouri revoked the credentials of Dr. Colleen McNicholas. A hearing to review McNicholas’ privileges at MU is set for July 15.

Planned Parenthood plans to launch a fight to block the Missouri requirements on clinics and hospital privileges and resume providing abortions in Columbia, said Laura McQuade, CEO of the organization in Kansas and mid-Missouri.

“We are looking at all avenues to invalidate those two restrictions in the state of Missouri,” she said.

Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Missouri, said a federal court battle over admitting privileges in Columbia would be a likely path to challenge the state’s abortion restrictions.

“In Missouri, it will take costly litigation to strike down provisions, even those that are clearly unconstitutional,” Rothert said.

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