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Judge should have weighed more evidence before staying abortion restrictions, appeals court says

Judge should have weighed more evidence before staying abortion restrictions, appeals court says

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ST. LOUIS • A federal appeals court here on Monday said a lower court should have weighed more evidence before temporarily blocking a law that can restrict some Missouri abortions.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs didn’t have enough information about the abortion law’s effects to make a decision.

Sachs, they said, should have balanced the burdens on abortion access of the law against the benefits it provided.

The issue stems from a 2007 law that added most abortion providers to what is defined as an “ambulatory surgery center,” thus imposing two restrictions on abortion providers. Their doctors must have privileges at a nearby licensed hospital and the clinic must meet certain design and layout requirements.

In 2010, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains settled a suit over the 2007 law, winning a modification of the requirements for the clinic in Columbia, Mo., and a waiver for the facility in Kansas City.

After a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Texas case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, that turned on the burdens versus benefits issue, Comprehensive Health sued to block both restrictions of the 2007 law.

They were joined by Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and a gynecologist who wanted to provide abortions at Comprehensive Health facilities in Missouri, the court’s opinion said.

Sachs, who has since been replaced on the case, issued his preliminary injunction in April 2017.

The appeals court said Sachs failed to weigh anything relative to the hospital privileges requirements. And the judges said no facilities would be closed because of the design and layout regulations.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood said Sachs’ injunction stays in effect while the group weighs a request to have the entire appeals court consider the case.

They said the ruling could halt abortions in Columbia, limiting Missouri to a single clinic in St. Louis. The group also said that it could threaten the resumption of services in Kansas City, where state officials allowed the license to expire, and an expansion to Springfield and Joplin.

Asked about the ruling in an email, Mary Compton, spokeswoman for Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, responded, “We appreciate the court’s ruling. We will continue to vigorously defend Missouri’s commonsense regulations that protect women’s health and safety.”

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