Court weighs fate of sweeping Missouri abortion restrictions

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — A federal appeals court panel is weighing the fate of a sweeping Missouri abortion law, including a provision that prohibits a woman from having an abortion because the fetus has Down syndrome.

A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard arguments Thursday in the legal battle over the 2019 measure that bans abortions at or after eight weeks of pregnancy. The appeals court ruling isn’t expected for several weeks.

Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood, operator of Missouri’s lone abortion clinic, and the American Civil Liberties Union sued. A federal judge blocked the law while the legal challenge plays out, prompting the state’s appeal to the 8th Circuit.

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 Thursday centered around the provision banning abortions because the fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.

“That epidemic of abortions targeting children with Down syndrome for elimination solely because of their disability, not for any other reason … is a crisis,” Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer said.

Planned Parenthood attorney Claudia Hammerman argued that four decades of U.S. 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.

“That woman will be deprived of an abortion,” Hammerman said.

Missouri 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. The Supreme Court vacancy created by the recent death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has heightened a sense of alarm among supporters of abortion rights.

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