NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a court battle in Missouri over abortion.
Back in 2016, the Supreme Court struck down protective abortion regulations in Texas. This landmark case was Whole Woman’s Health versus Hellerstedt.
The Texas regulations required abortion centers to meet ambulatory surgical standards, and required abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: Pro-abortion activists complained that many abortion centers couldn’t meet those requirements, and so nearly half had to close. Their legal argument contended that was tantamount to denying women their legal rights.
Defenders of the law said the regulations protect women’s safety. Ruling after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the court sided with the abortion center. The 5-to-3 majority called the regulations an unconstitutional “burden” on women’s access to abortion.
EICHER: Abortionists used that victory to challenge similar regulations in Missouri. But, last week, in a ruling that surprised many, the 8th U-S Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Missouri’s law. But as WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports, the outcome shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Samuel Lee has spent decades advocating for pro-life laws in the state of Missouri.
LEE: I’ve been doing this for over 33 years here in the Missouri Legislature and my group is a Campaign for Life, Missouri.
Lee says Missouri pro-lifers don’t only care about the unborn. They care about the health of the mothers who may choose to get an abortion.
LEE: If a woman does have an abortion, we don’t want her to be harmed, and if she is harmed, we want her to get the immediate medical attention that she deserves.
That’s why for the past three decades Missouri pro-lifers have fought for regulations requiring abortion centers to offer women proper medical care.
LEE: So these laws, require that abortion clinics comply with basic common-sense health and safety regulations. Well, this is what we would expect if someone was going in for any type of elective surgery.
Two of those current regulations require abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and for abortion centers to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers.
But as they did in Texas, abortion advocates argue these regulations are unconstitutional burdens that prevent Missouri women from accessing abortion. After the 2016 Hellerstedt ruling, Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged the Missouri law.
And they won. In April 2017, a district court blocked enforcement of the law. Pro-life lobbyist Samuel Lee says that opened the door for more abortion centers to operate in the state.
LEE: So Missouri went from having this one operating abortion clinic to three clinics that were operating.
But last week, the 8th Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling, reinstating the regulations.
Why? The appeals court said Planned Parenthood didn’t present enough evidence to show the regulations pose an undue burden on Missouri abortion centers. The three-judge panel also said the lower court didn’t take the law’s possible benefits into account when it made its ruling.
Rachel Busick is a staff attorney at Americans United for Life. She says last week’s decision doesn’t ignore Supreme Court precedent. Rather, it applies it.
BUSICK: It basically said the district court did not do its job correctly under Hellerstedt. The requirement under Hellerstedt is that the court needs to weigh the benefits with the burdens. It’s a cost-benefit analysis. It’s an empirical inquiry. It’s based on the facts in that case.
Pro-abortion advocates are challenging regulatory laws in several states on the grounds of the Hellerstedt ruling. But Busick says Hellerstedt was not a blanket ruling against all abortion regulation. The Supreme Court’s ruling was tied to the specific circumstances in the state of Texas.
BUSICK: When you actually look at the opinion itself and the language, the court reiterates time and time again—based on the record, in this case, the evidence we have before us…. and so that’s what the lower courts are bound to follow.
The 8th Circuit sent the Missouri case back to the lower courts for further consideration. Samuel Lee says abortion advocates have the difficult task ahead of presenting enough evidence to back their claim of improper burden.
LEE: We’re talking about a possibility of depositions and witness testimony and gathering those statistics and, and things like that at. And again, depending on how the lower court would rule, either side could appeal that they are unhappy with that ruling. And it could get before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals again, and who knows what might happen.
In the meantime, Lee says the reinstated regulation will have an immediate effect.
LEE: It appears that the two clinics that reopened are going to be closing again, at least in terms of performing abortions.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.