HomeoldMissouri AG Hawley aggressively defends two pro-life state laws

Missouri AG Hawley aggressively defends two pro-life state laws

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There’s been a flurry of activity since last Friday, when the full 8th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily stayed an order requiring the state of Missouri to license more abortion clinics. What follows is an overview of the many actions, reactions and responses to the reactions from the state, Planned Parenthood and the Supreme Court.

Here’s the background.

Citing the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt [critiqued here], U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs last April struck down two Missouri laws – one requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, the other requiring abortion clinics to meet the requirements of ambulatory surgical centres. Two weeks later, he issued an order directing that applications for abortion clinic licenses be processed ‘promptly, in light of patient needs, and without effective influence from anti-abortion groups’.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services had no choice but to grant a licence to the Midtown Kansas City health centre, which would provide chemical (RU-486) abortions. However, the effect of the appeals court’s temporary stay was to temporarily halt the abortion industry’s plans to begin providing abortions elsewhere – in Columbia, Springfield and Joplin.

Which brings us to Planned Parenthood’s appeal to the Supreme Court to reinstate Judge Sach’s lower court order blocking the state from enforcing the requirements. Their argument was simple:

Missouri’s two abortion requirements are “virtually identical” to the Texas regulations that the Supreme Court struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerste

The appeal was referred to the most recent appointee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, as he had been assigned to the U.S. Eighth Circuit, which encompasses Missouri.

According to the News-Leader

That gives Gorsuch the power to grant or deny requests from Missouri for stays and injunctions.

If Gorsuch accepts Planned Parenthood’s request and overturns the appeals court ruling, the organisation would appear to be free to continue its abortion expansion. If not, Planned Parenthood could appeal to the Supreme Court.

Judge Gorsuch asked the state of Missouri to respond this week, which Attorney General Josh Hawley did on Thursday in a 45-page brief.

Hawley said in a statement, “Missouri’s flexible, common-sense regulations promote women’s health and safety, and I will vigorously defend them,” adding, “Today, my office is doing just that before the United States Supreme Court.

There has been a confusing series of steps that are procedurally important but not essential to the heart of the story. But before we summarise Hawley’s explanation of how and why Missouri’s laws differ from those struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, it’s important to remember: “The appellate ruling did not stop the Kansas City clinic from offering abortions and does not prevent the St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic from continuing to perform abortions,” as the News-Leader’s Will Schmitt noted. “But it has thrown plans [to perform chemical abortions] for the Springfield, Joplin and Columbia clinics into limbo.”

According to Schmitt

Hawley’s office argues that the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services allows prospective abortion providers to apply for a waiver from the surgical centre requirement. The state says no waiver requests have ever been denied, citing a previous settlement that allowed facilities in Kansas City and Columbia to obtain abortion licences.

Texas and its regulations, by contrast, are “rigid” and “inflexible,” Missouri claims.

In addition, Planned Parenthood lacked standing because it had not exhausted all administrative attempts with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to be licensed as an ambulatory surgical centre, the state of Missouri argued.

But most interestingly – ingeniously, actually – Hawley turned Sach’s argument on its head. Hawley’s office presented testimony after testimony about the particular risks to women of abortions performed in Missouri.

Judge Sachs (who is no longer involved in the case) said that even considering the health risks that abortion poses to women violated the rulings in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.

Not so, says Hawley. Lost in most of the commentary on Hellerstedt is that lower courts are supposed to make fact-intensive inquiries into the safety of abortion procedures, not in general, but in a particular state. What is happening on the ground?

Note the exquisite timing. Earlier this week we reported on an Arkansas case.

In July, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis overturned a preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker. It prevented Arkansas from enforcing its law requiring abortion clinics that provide chemical abortifacients to have a contract with another doctor with admitting privileges at a local hospital who agrees to treat any complications. This decision was upheld by the full 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals just this week.

Note that in vacating Judge Baker’s injunction and remanding the case to her for further proceedings, the three-judge panel said that Judge Baker had failed to make “factual findings estimating the number of women burdened by the law”.

“Factual findings,” not pro-abortion propaganda and talking points.

Kudos to Attorney General Hawley’s office and to any court that refuses to mindlessly accept pro-abortion dogma.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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