Planned Parenthood sues to block new abortion law

Saturday, October 4, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Planned Parenthood affiliates asked a federal court Friday to block a new Missouri law that would require women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours after consulting a physician.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against enforcing the so-called "informed consent" law, which is set to take effect Oct. 11, on claims it contains unconstitutionally vague and broad language.

Senior U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright scheduled a conference call hearing Wednesday on whether to grant a preliminary injunction.

The legislature enacted the measure Sept. 11 by overriding a veto of Democratic Gov. Bob Holden.

Under the law, a physician must wait 24 hours to perform an abortion after conferring with a woman about "the indicators and contra-indicators and risk factors, including any physical, psychological or situational factors."

A physicians must evaluate women for whether any of those factors would "predispose the patient to or increase the risk of experiencing one or more adverse physical, emotional or other health reactions to the proposed procedure ... in either the short or long term."

After the consultation, the physician and woman each must sign a form stating the woman consented to an abortion without coercion.

The lawsuit complains that there is no definition for terms such as "situational factors" or "indicators" or "contra-indicators." And it alleges the law does not adequately explain what is meant by the evaluation requirement.

The law allows violating physicians to be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Because of the vagueness, doctors could be subject to prosecution every time they provide an abortion, the lawsuit contends.

"They have passed a law that is unsound, unsafe and most of all, unnecessary, at the expense of all Missouri women," said Paula Gianino, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

The lawsuit cites due process protections in the U.S. Constitution that have been interpreted to prohibit laws so vague that people of common intelligence must guess at their meaning.

Similar to Pennsylvania law

Anti-abortion groups modeled Missouri's law after a Pennsylvania law upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992. But the Missouri law does use some different language, said Sam Lee, a lobbyist for Campaign Life Missouri.

"There is a broad set of circumstances that can vary from patient to patient, and that's exactly why the bill did not specify factors," he said.

For example, Lee said the "situational factors" required to be discussed could include anything from a woman's medical condition to her situation at home, such as whether she is married, already has other children or is a minor herself.

Lee said that even if Wright temporarily blocks the law from taking effect, he expects it ultimately will be upheld.

Dorinda Bordlee, a New Orleans attorney for the legal firm Americans United for Life, also has said any court challenge to Missouri's law probably will fail because the law is generally patterned after ones upheld in other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Twenty-one states have some form of a one-day "informed consent" law in effect, and five others have laws currently under litigation or enjoined by courts, according to Americans United for Life.

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