Judge blocks Missouri's abortion-restricting rulesApril 20, 2017 12:09am

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A federal judge followed through on his promise Wednesday and blocked abortion-restricting rules in Missouri, saying he's bound by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling and that the state is denying abortion rights "on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion."

Missouri's attorney general swiftly pledged an appeal, calling the ruling "wrong."

U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs' preliminary injunction came roughly two weeks after he announced in a memo that he would take the action, which was sought by Planned Parenthood affiliates with Missouri health centers. Planned Parenthood last November sued to challenge requirements that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that clinics meet hospital-like standards for outpatient surgery.

Only one licensed abortion clinic remains in the state — a Planned Parenthood center in St. Louis — partly as a result of Missouri's restrictions. The organization has said Planned Parenthood health centers in Kansas City, Columbia, Joplin and Springfield would provide abortions if the restrictions were scrapped.

The nation's high court last June threw out similar Texas rules that sharply reduced the number of abortion clinics there. The Supreme Court, in its 5-3 ruling, rejected Texas' claims that its 2013 law and follow-up regulations were needed to safeguard women's health.

In his 17-page decision Wednesday, Sachs cited that high court ruling and his conclusion that such relief sought by Planned Parenthood "should be prompt, given the needs of women seeking abortions and the need for available clinics to serve their needs."

"Without the guidance of a favorable ruling here it seems inevitable that the establishment of new clinics would be unduly delayed," Sachs added. Given the state's restrictions, "the abortion rights of Missouri women, guaranteed by constitutional rulings, are being denied on a daily basis, in irreparable fashion. The public interest clearly favors prompt relief."

Planned Parenthood's top regional officials called the injunction "resounding affirmation we've long awaited — that medically unnecessary restrictions" were "thought up by extremists in Jefferson City." Wednesday's move also allows for expanded abortion access statewide as those affiliates behind the lawsuit "fight to permanently overturn these ideologically motivated restrictions," Planned Parenthood said.

"Together, we are excited to end Missouri's shameful one-provider status, and soon be offering four more locations where women can access safe, legal abortion without facing geographical obstacles," Planned Parenthood Great Plains President and CEO, Laura McQuade, and her counterpart in the St. Louis region, Mary Kogut, said in a joint statement.

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, whose office defended the state in the lawsuit, countered that "this decision is wrong," and "I will appeal."

"Missouri has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure the health and safety of women undergoing medical procedures in state licensed medical facilities," he said in an emailed statement.

The organization has said that 1.2 million women of reproductive age live in Missouri.

Planned Parenthood's Kansas City center has offered medication-induced abortions and has said it would resume doing so if Sachs deemed the Missouri regulations in question unconstitutional.

Its Columbia center stopped offering the procedure — a nonsurgical type, induced with a pill — in 2015 after its only doctor performing medication-induced abortions lost needed privileges with University of Missouri Health Care. That left the St. Louis clinic as Planned Parenthood's only abortion provider.

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