A judge will determine this week whether Missouri’s only abortion clinic can remain open as several states pass laws making the procedure more restrictive.
Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region is suing the state over the refusal by health officials to renew its license, due to concerns over ‘patient safety.’
A St. Louis judge ruled on Tuesday that testimony from non-staff doctors at Planned Parenthood, which operates the state’s single clinic in St. Louis, will not be required for the hearing.
Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer agreed to throw out subpoenas for four doctors who worked briefly at the clinic during their training.
Stelzer’s ruling set a hearing for Wednesday to consider Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from forcing the clinic to close.
A judge will determine this week whether Missouri’s only abortion clinic can remain open as several states pass laws making the procedure more restrictive. Pro-life protesters are pictured outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on Tuesday
A woman stands with her child in a stroller during a pro-life rally outside the Planned Parenthood Reproductive Health Center on Tuesday
‘I can only draw the conclusion there is confusion about what is and what isn’t before the court,’ Seltzer said, excluding the state’s recently signed abortion laws. ‘Recent Missouri law is not in front of this court.’
Missouri is demanding that doctors must submit to questions from state regulators to keep their licenses to continue performing abortions.The ruling is the latest in a legal fight over the facility’s abortion license.
The abortion debate in Missouri intensified after Gov. Michael Parson signed into law House Bill 126, which bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest.
The health department last week declined to renew the clinic’s license to perform abortion procedures, citing concerns about patient safety, including ‘failed abortions’ and legal violations.
Stelzer on Friday issued a temporary restraining order to allow the clinic to continue to perform abortions, at least until a decision is made on the injunction request.
Missouri Governor Michael Parson, (pictured), signed into law House Bill 126, which bans abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape and incest on May 24
Dr Colleen McNicholas, (pictured), board certified OBGYN and abortion provider, sits inside a testing office at the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis
The state issued subpoenas to staff doctors and former medical residents who worked at Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility, seeking their testimony about what an assistant attorney general called “grave concerns” about patient safety.
Clinic leaders said the state’s move is part of an effort by an anti-abortion administration to eliminate the procedure in Missouri.
Planned Parenthood attorney Jamie Boyer said both staff doctors were interviewed by health officials, but other doctors who worked at the clinic are no longer there and declined to speak with investigators.
According to a filing by the former residents’ attorneys, a state health official in an affidavit explained that the dispute is over ‘whether the same physician must provide informed consent and perform/induce the abortion.’
Hours before the ruling, the judge held a brief hearing on the physicians’ request to block the subpoenas.
Attorney Russell Makepeace said his two clients were doctors who as part of their residency at a hospital worked 12 days each at the clinic over a four-year period. Neither is currently involved with the clinic.
Abortion-rights supporters take part in a protest last Thursday as Judge Stelzer issued a temporary restraining order to allow the clinic to continue to perform abortions
The fight over the clinic’s license comes as lawmakers in many conservative states are passing new restrictions that take aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling
‘They really have nothing to add’ to the investigation, Makepeace told the judge.
He also said the doctors are concerned that due to Missouri’s ‘shifting interpretation’ of state statutes, they could face criminal charges for any involvement in abortions.
Assistant Attorney General John Sauer said the state has a right to hear from the doctors because of concerns about the quality of care at the clinic.
About 100 anti-abortion protesters rallied outside the clinic, lauding Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and chanting “Pro-life! Pro-woman!” At times, people driving by honked to show their support. Other drivers cursed at the protesters.
‘Pregnancy is not a disease cured by abortion,’ speaker Reagan Barklage of Students for Life of America, the group that hosted the rally, told the crowd.
The fight over the clinic’s license comes as lawmakers in many conservative states are passing new restrictions that take aim at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.
Abortion opponents, emboldened by new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, hope federal courts will uphold laws that prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable outside the womb, the dividing line the high court set in Roe.
The number of abortions performed in Missouri has declined every year for the past decade, reaching a low of 2,910 last year.
Of those, an estimated 1,210 occurred at eight weeks or less of pregnancy, according to preliminary statistics from the state health department.
Missouri women also seek abortions in other states. In Kansas, about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed in 2018 were for Missouri residents, according to the state’s health department.
A video posted on Facebook shows a woman entering EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, the state’s only abortion clinic, as protesters shout at her, ‘Don’t kill your baby!’ (scenes from the video shown)
In the minute-long clip, the woman is seen as she’s escorted by five Every Saturday Morning volunteers to the front entrance of EMW Women’s Surgical Center. Some volunteers are hidden from view as the group walks closely together to keep the woman guarded
Illinois does not track the home states of women seeking abortions.
An abortion clinic is located just across the Mississippi River in Granite City, Illinois, less than 10 miles from the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis.
Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinic in the Kansas City area is in Overland Park, Kansas, just 2 miles from the state line. State figures show a handful of Missouri hospitals also perform abortions, but those are relatively rare.
The Missouri case comes days after disturbing video footage emerged of pro-life protesters harassing a woman as she entered an abortion clinic in Kenutcky, where the procedure remains lawful.
A video posted on Facebook by John Williams, who calls himself a ‘street preacher,’ shows a woman entering EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville as protesters shout at her, ‘Don’t kill your baby!’
The loud crowd is seen lining the walkway leading up to the only clinic in the state which performs abortion procedures, coming close to the woman as she walks with her head covered and with volunteer escorts surrounding her on all sides.
To the left, a large sign reads, ‘Abortion is murder,’ and as the woman walks past it with the escorts, a woman’s voice can be heard shouting, ‘Don’t kill your baby!’
As the woman nears the clinic’s front door, a man says over the loudspeaker, ‘Young lady, you don’t have to be a murderer this morning, young lady’
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently signed into law both a so-called ‘heartbeat bill’ abortion ban and a ban on abortions for specific reasons, which have now been blocked from taking effect while litigation over the bills continues.
Amber Duke, communications director for the ACLU of Kentucky which represents EMW Women’s Surgical Center in its various legal challenges against the state, told DailyMail.com of the scene in the video, ‘This is a pretty typical of Saturday. Any time that clinic is open there are protesters out front.’
In the minute-long clip, multiple protesters can be seen walking alongside a woman as she’s escorted by five Every Saturday Morning volunteers to the front entrance of EMW Women’s Surgical Center.
The protesters right by her side appear to be saying things to her, but their actual words can’t be heard over voice of a man talking through a loudspeaker.
To the left, a large sign reads, ‘Abortion is murder,’ and as the woman walks past it, a woman’s voice can be heard shouting, ‘Don’t kill your baby!’
As the woman nears the clinic’s front door, a man says over the loudspeaker, ‘Young lady, you don’t have to be a murderer this morning, young lady.’
He goes on, ‘Don’t listen to the wicked counsel of these orange-vested people, these orange-vested people who are rubbing you on the back and telling you that it’s gonna be OK. It’s not gonna be OK for your baby. It’s not gonna be OK.’
The man then continues to talk after the woman has entered the clinic, saying things that are medically inaccurate.
‘Your baby is gonna be torn limb from limb,’ he says. ‘Your baby’s head is gonna be crushed.’
He continues, ‘Your baby’s gonna be destroyed with chemicals. It’s not gonna be OK this morning, and it’s not gonna be OK for you unless you repent.’
Williams, who posted the video, is pictured on social media holding a sign that reads, ‘Mom, please don’t kill me. I love you Mom,’ showing a developing fetus in utero
THE ‘HEARTBEAT BILL’ MOVEMENT: WHICH STATES ARE BRINGING THE MEASURES
STATES THAT NOW HAVE ‘FETAL HEARTBEAT’ LAWS
- Georgia (signed into law May 7, 2019)
- Ohio (signed into law April 11, 2019, though it is being challenged)
- Alabama (on May 14, passed ban with no exceptions for rape or incest 25-6, from the moment of conception)
- Missouri (signed into law May 24)
- Louisiana has passed a bill that Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will sign
STATES WHOSE BILLS HAVE BEEN BLOCKED BY COURTS
- Arkansas (passed March 2014, blocked March 2015)
- Mississippi (signed into law March 21, 2019, blocked May 2019)
- North Dakota (passed July 2015, blocked January 2016)
- Iowa (passed May 2018, blocked January 2019)
- Kentucky (passed March 2019, blocked April 2019)
STATES THAT ARE CONSIDERING IT
- Tennessee has a bill but the Republican AG warned it will be hard to pass, driving many to vote against
- South Carolina gave near-final approval to the bill last month
- Texas wanted to bring the death penalty for women who undergo abortions
- West Virginia introduced a bill in February 2019
- Florida‘s bill failed yesterday, but anti-abortion lawmakers are expected to try again
- Minnesota proposed the bill in January 2019
- Maryland‘s failed to pass in April
- Kansas Republican lawmakers are trying and failing to override a veto that blocks a fetal heartbeat bill
- Illinois‘s bill was proposed in February
- New York‘s bill was proposed in February
As the video nears its end, a man can be seen walking with a sign that reads, ‘babies are murdered here,’ with a child in tow.
Williams, who posted the video, is pictured on social media holding a sign that reads, ‘Mom, please don’t kill me. I love you Mom,’ showing a developing fetus in utero.
In a separate photo, he’s pictured wearing a tee shirt that reads, ‘Homo sex leads to Hell. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.’
‘This is the status quo that’s been going on for years outside the clinic,’ Duke told DailyMail.com, referring to Williams’ video.
‘That video was taken on a Saturday, I believe. Those are usually the heaviest days of protest at the clinic.’
Kentucky is one of many states within recent months which has passed or is considering some of the strictest bans regarding abortion access that the country has seen since the United States Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade in 1973.
Alabama recently passed what is widely considered to be the most restrictive of such laws, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception, with no exceptions for incest or rape, regardless of the age of the victim.
While many have asked the ACLU about the possibility of these kinds of laws resulting in today’s court revisiting that landmark decision, Duke said abortion access in Kentucky has been under attack for a number of years, even with Roe firmly in place.
‘There is certainly a lot that’s happening now with some of the most extreme pieces of legislation ever being passed and considered,’ Duke said.
‘But we have our situation here in Kentucky which we’ve been in for a while. We have five active lawsuits now against the state.
‘Roe vs. Wade is in place right now, and we’re still down to one clinic here in Kentucky and we’re fighting all sorts of attempts to shut down this last clinic.’
There are many steps to get through between the latest batch of laws being passed and a challenge that could lead to the Supreme Court deciding on whether to take up the issue of reconsidering Roe vs. Wade.
Those various potential paths are outlined below.
Landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, 1973
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion nationwide but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since.
The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy.
Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment.
So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade, to protect McCorvey’s privacy.
Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court handed down the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected under the 14th Amendment.
In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental ‘right to privacy’ that protects a woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law
The landmark ruling saw abortions decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions which individual states could decide on. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimester but not the third (typically beyond 28 weeks).
Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory which would mean fewer women would become seriously – or even fatally – ill from abortions carried out by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. Moreover, the freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the equality fight for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest would be able to have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.
However, pro-lifers contended it was tantamount to murder and that every life, no matter how it was conceived, is precious. Though the decision has never been overturned, anti-abortionists have prompted hundreds of states laws since then narrowing the scope of the ruling.
One such was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.
McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)
Following the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe. McCorvey became a leading, outspoken pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working at a women’s clinic where abortions were performed.
However, she performed an unlikely U-turn in 1995, becoming a born again Christian and began traveling the country speaking out against the procedure.
In 2003, a she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling with the U.S. district court in Dallas. The motion moved through the courts until it was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court in 2005.
McCorvey died at an assisted living home in Texas in February 2017, aged 69.
‘The Heartbeat bill’
Multiple governors have signed legislation outlawing abortion if a doctor can detect a so-called ‘fetal heartbeat,’ part of a concerted effort to restrict abortion rights in states across the country.
Under the ban doctors will be prosecuted for flouting the rules.
Abortion-rights supporters see the ‘heartbeat bills’ as virtual bans because ‘fetal heartbeats’ can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not be aware they are pregnant.
Anti-abortion campaigners have intensified their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, hopeful they can convince the right-leaning court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.
Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted ‘heartbeat laws’ recently, and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Other states have similar legislation pending.
Similar laws has also been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky, though they have been blocked by courts from going into effect as legal challenges have been brought against them.
WILL REPUBLICANS GET TO CHALLENGE ROE V. WADE AT SUPREME COURT?
The growing list of ‘heartbeat’ abortion bans are designed openly to get the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, with many Republicans gambling that a 5-4 conservative bench would overturn it.
But is that the case? Here is how the case may – or may not – reach the Supreme Court.
ROUND ONE: LITIGATE IN STATE COURTS
The outcome does not matter too much in legal terms because the aim is to get to:
ROUND TWO: PRO-CHOICE CHALLENGE
Each of the laws passed by the states is going to be challenged in the local federal court by pro-choice groups, with Planned Parenthood and the ACLU litigating some already and getting ready for more. The heartbeat bills are fairly clearly incompatible with Roe v. Wade so it is likely a federal judge would first grant an injunction against them to keep them from being enacted, and order a full-scale hearing. This could be the pro-life movement’s first chance to ask for a Supreme Court hearing, by appealing the injunction rather than waiting for a full trial in a federal court. Or they could wait for a trial – but either way the next stage is:
ROUND TWO: FEDERAL APPEALS COURT
All federal cases can be appealed to the next level – a federal appeals court. The country is divided into 12 geographical circuits and some swing liberal, some conservative. The best bet for the pro-life group to force a Supreme Court hearing is to get an appeal into a liberal circuit, where judges are likely to vote down a heartbeat bill. Cases are heard by three judges and can be appealed to the entire bench of the circuit. Missouri is in the liberal-leaning Eighth Circuit, so if its bill becomes law, look here for a challenge which would come from the state or its pro-life supporters going to the next stage:
ROUND THREE: PETITION THE SUPREME COURT – AND GET JOHN ROBERTS ON SIDE
Anyone involved in a federal appeals case can petition the Supreme Court to ask for review of the outcome. But the tricky part for the pro-life movement is that the Supreme Court is not compelled to take up a petition. So assuming a heartbeat bill has been blocked by an appeals court, the pro-life petitioners have to find a way to get a majority of the justices to agree to hear their appeal. That means getting Chief Justice John Roberts – the swing vote – to agree to hear the case. But he has made clear since his confirmation hearing that he wants a court respected by all sides and seen as above politics. So it is an uphill task to persuade him not to do the simple thing: keep the hypothetical block on the heartbeat bill in place without a hearing, ending the process without a public and divisive airing of the issues. Exactly that scenario has already happened in North Dakota, whose restrictive laws got struck down by the liberal Eighth Circuit. The Roberts court simply declined to intervene. But assuming a pro-life lobbyist or state, or group of states, succeeds in getting Roberts to agree to a hearing, the next challenge is:
ROUND FOUR: WHAT EXACTLY WILL THE JUSTICES REVIEW?
Just because the justices have taken up the case a pro-life lobby group want to push doesn’t mean their dream of a full-scale Roe v. Wade challenge is anywhere near complete. The justices can look as widely or narrowly at the issue as they want, so could consider a detail in the case rather than looking at abortion in full. Roberts has been a ‘gradualist’ before, on issues such as gay marriage, so he might guide the court to consider far narrower issues. Examples could include allowing states to make licensing of abortion clinics more difficult, or restricting reasons for having an abortion, such as banning Down Syndrome diagnosis as a reason for termination. Pro-choice groups fear the most likely outcome of the heartbeat bills is not sweeping new abortion bans, but Roberts leading the conservatives to allow more restrictions to stay in place state-by-state without Roe v. Wade being overturned.