Court allows abortion law requiring 24-hour wait to take effect

Friday, May 28, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A federal appeals court panel on Thursday allowed a challenged Missouri law to take effect requiring a 24-hour wait for women seeking abortions.

The order by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis dissolved a temporary retraining order that had been in place against the law since Oct. 10 -- the day before it was originally scheduled to take effect.

The ruling means that, effectively immediately, Missouri physicians will have to wait 24 hours to perform abortions after conferring with women about such things as physical, psychological and "situational" risk factors.

"This is good news for the women and their unborn children of Missouri," said Sam Lee of Campaign Life Missouri, expressing hope that because of the one-day wait "many women will decide to carry their children to term."

An attorney for Planned Parenthood affiliates, which had challenged the law, said the ruling could force delays for women scheduled to receive abortions Friday and Saturday.

Physicians alleged to have violated the "informed consent" law can be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"It could have substantial immediate effects, initially denying abortions planned and scheduled, and delaying and encumbering other abortions that soon would be performed," said Arthur Benson, a Kansas City attorney for Planned Parenthood. He said Planned Parenthood would decide its next legal step Friday.

Holden's veto overridden

Missouri legislators enacted the law last September with a bipartisan vote overriding the veto by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden.

"Anytime you override a veto, that's very significant support. So I believe this will resound very well with the people of Missouri," said sponsoring Rep. Susan Phillips, R-Kansas City.

U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright had placed the law on hold based on claims by Planned Parenthood that the law was so vague that abortion providers wouldn't know if they were violating it and that prosecutors would enforce it arbitrarily.

A hearing on whether to impose a permanent injunction originally had been scheduled for this past Tuesday, but earlier this month, Wright canceled it. He gave Planned Parenthood 45 days to file a separate lawsuit in state court seeking to interpret part of the new abortion law. In the meantime, Wright continued the restraining order against the law.

Attorney General Jay Nixon, who is defending the law, appealed on grounds that the restraining order should be lifted while the case shifted to state court. The appeals panel agreed with Nixon.

Planned Parenthood affiliates have several options to try to again block the law's enforcement. They could ask the appeals court to reconsider, take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, or ask a state judge to issue a restraining order or injunction against the law.

When Missouri passed its law, 21 other states already had some form of a one-day "informed consent" law in effect, and five others had laws currently under litigation or enjoined by courts, according to Americans United for Life.

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