Subscribe for 99¢
Administration pauses enforcement of abortion restriction

FILE - In this June 28, 2019 file photo, Ashlyn Myers of the Coalition for Life St. Louis, waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member in St. Louis, Mo. The Trump administration has told federally-funded family planning clinics it may be willing to delay enforcement of a controversial rule that bars them from referring women for abortions. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

JEFFERSON CITY — Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region has sued the state of Missouri in an attempt to block an anti-abortion law set to take effect at the end of next month.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Jefferson City, seeks a temporary restraining order and an injunction barring the state from enforcing provisions of the law that ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies. 

The new law takes effect Aug. 28.

GOP sponsors of the law, approved in May, weaved provisions into the legislation that would ban most abortions at 14 weeks if the eight-week ban were struck down. It would ban most abortions at 18 weeks if the 14-week ban were struck down, and it would ban most abortions at 20 weeks if the 18-week ban were struck down.

They also included a provision that forbids abortions if the woman receives a “prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening” that shows her fetus might have Down syndrome.

The abortion rights group wants the court to strike all of those provisions.

Planned Parenthood says the provisions "directly violate long-standing Supreme Court precedent and are the latest efforts in  Missouri’s unrelenting campaign to deny patients the health care they seek and to which they are entitled."

Spokesmen for Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, both Republicans, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We want every person to know that these abortion bans in our state are not in effect yet," Dr. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic, said in a statement. "Planned Parenthood’s doors are open. Abortion remains safe and legal. We will not back down from this fight. Gov. Parson, we’ll see you in court."

Planned Parenthood is being represented by the Kansas City-based Arthur Benson law firm, and the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, as well as the ACLU. 

A hearing date has yet to be set.

Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic is the only abortion provider in the state.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood continues its legal fight against the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, which has attempted to shut down abortion service at the St. Louis clinic amid a licensing dispute.

On June 21, the DHSS denied Planned Parenthood’s application to continue abortion services at its clinic on Forest Park Avenue, citing a series of deficiencies there.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer moved the case to the state Administrative Hearing Commission, a state panel that mediates bureaucratic disputes. The commission has allowed Planned Parenthood to continue abortions until the commission settles the dispute, likely this fall.

Meanwhile, the ACLU has also proposed challenging the law at the ballot box, but the group must turn in approximately 100,000 signatures by Aug. 28 in order to stop the law from taking effect and force a referendum. The clock is ticking.

The ACLU has accused Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, of dragging out the process of approving the measure for signature collection, making it impossible to launch a successful signature-gathering campaign by the deadline.

Ashcroft has said he is following the timeline outlined in state law.

The battle over Missouri's abortion law is similar to disputes in other conservative states.

GOP opponents of abortion, emboldened by a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, want the court to reconsider the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the 1973 case that established a nationwide right to an abortion.

Political Fix e-newsletter

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Jack Suntrup covers state government and politics for the Post-Dispatch.