Today, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals continued to block Missouri’s HB 126 — a sweeping abortion ban passed in 2019 — from being enforced. A lower court granted Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region (RHS) a preliminary injunction, and today, the Eighth Circuit affirmed that decision. This lawsuit challenges a law that created cascading gestational age bans at nearly every stage of pregnancy, and a ban based on a person’s reason for the abortion. This law is part of a multi-layered effort by state politicians to push abortion out of reach for 1.1 million Missourians of reproductive age.
Even under Roe v. Wade, abortion in Missouri is nearly impossible to access for people with low incomes, those who live in rural communities, and people of color who already navigate racist and discriminatory health care systems. House Bill 126, one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, would eliminate what little abortion access is left in the state. Missouri is now one of five states in the country with one abortion clinic left.
Writing for the court, Judge Jane Kelly wrote that “[b]ans on pre-viability abortions are categorically unconstitutional.” The opinion is crystal clear: An abortion ban is a ban, regardless of how many people it affects. It remains true that the state cannot ban even one person from obtaining an abortion.
Statement from Yamelsie Rodríguez, President and CEO, Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region:
“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Missourians. At a time when Gov. Parson and anti-abortion politicians continue their relentless attacks on reproductive health care, our rights often come down to one court decision at a time. For now, we celebrate our continued ability to provide safe, legal abortion at the last remaining clinic in Missouri. We know this fight is not over, especially with a direct challenge to Roe before the Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood will not back down — today is proof enough.”
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“While today we celebrate this hard-fought win for our rights, we should remember that politically motivated attacks — for years — have left Missouri with very limited access to abortion. Instead of ensuring that people have access to the care that they need, Missouri’s legislature has threatened to hold Medicaid hostage. Politicians continue to follow in Gov. Parson’s footsteps and are dismantling health care access even as we deal with a devastating pandemic. Let me be clear: Planned Parenthood will keep fighting in courts across the country to ensure our patients get the health care they need and deserve.”
Statement from Tony Rothert, legal director, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri:
“Missourians are fair and reasonable folks who understand that we are not a free people if the government can ban abortion. We share their relief that politicians’ attempt to disguise a ban by pretending it is a minor regulation did not fool the Court of Appeals. Despite being caught today, Missouri’s agenda-driven politicians are unlikely to end their dishonest crusade against reproductive health care. While we celebrate today, we are prepared to defend Missourians from the next government intrusion into private lives tomorrow.”
Politicians in Missouri have spent decades eroding access to reproductive health care. They were one of 12 states to pass an abortion ban just in the first half of 2019. As a result of years of attacking access, RHS is the last remaining health center in the state that provides abortion. This is yet another one of Gov. Mike Parson’s failed attempts to ban abortion. The same year Parson signed HB 126, his health department wrongfully withheld RHS’s abortion license. A court ruled against the administration for that unlawful act.
It is not new for politicians in Missouri or elsewhere to use a combination of state laws and regulatory harassment to target abortion providers — that’s exactly how Missouri tried to block RHS from providing abortions in 2019. Parson’s administration forced more than 100 patients to undergo medically unnecessary pelvic exams before a public outcry forced Parson to abruptly rescind the requirement. That’s on top of dozens of medically unnecessary restrictions that make abortion nearly impossible to access. These restrictions include a 72-hour mandatory delay for patients accessing abortion, which forces patients to make two trips to the health center, and requiring abortion providers to hold local hospital admitting privileges. This, despite the fact that support for access to abortion in America is at an all-time high—and growing. Eighty percent of Americans support safe and legal abortion.
While the state is cutting off access to abortion, Gov. Parson is also recklessly worsening dual public health crises — racism and COVID-19. His administration has refused to halt its attacks on health care in the middle of a pandemic, refusing to fund a voter mandated Medicaid expansion program for Missouri families with low incomes, who are struggling to access care. Despite Black people facing disproportionately higher risks of contracting COVID-19 because of systemic racist and discriminatory barriers to care, Parson never instituted a statewide mask mandate. Maternal and reproductive health in the state is also in crisis. Maternal mortality rates in Missouri are more than 50% higher than the national average, and a syphilis outbreak is sweeping the state. The same politicians who claim to value “life” continue to sit idly by while public health outcomes worsen.
RHS and RHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Colleen McNicholas are represented in this case by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, along with partners at the ACLU and law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Claudia Hammerman of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP argued the appeal on plaintiffs’ behalf.