Judge strikes down Missouri law banning type of abortion

Sunday, July 11, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- A federal judge has declared Missouri's 5-year-old law banning a type of late-term abortion unconstitutional because it lacks an exception for protection of a pregnant woman's health.

Senior U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright, in his ruling Friday, said the 1999 Missouri Infant's Protection Act fails to meet requirements set out by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2000 decision.

In that case, the nation's highest court wrote that a similar Nebraska law violated the U.S. Constitution because it lacked "any exception for the preservation of the ... health of the mother."

Likewise, the Missouri Court of Appeals has ruled that Missouri's statute banning what critics call "partial birth abortion" fails to provide an exception for a mother's health, Wright said.

Wright granted summary judgment to Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region Inc. and forbade the state from enforcing the law, which has been fought in numerous court proceedings and has been suspended from taking effect since it was passed.

At issue is the procedure that doctors call "intact dilation and extraction," which is generally performed in the second or third trimester. The fetus is partially removed from the womb and its skull is punctured or crushed.

Missouri's 1999 law, enacted after the legislature overrode a veto by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan, made the procedure a felony.

Paula Gianino, president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, called Wright's ruling a victory for women and their health.

"We are relieved and grateful that the court was able to see through this dangerous and deceptive bill," Gianino told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a story in Saturday's edition.

Patty Skain, executive director for Missouri Right to Life, said Saturday the organization was not surprised by Wright's ruling but was disappointed that the judge did not find there was no medical reason for the procedure.

"We believe this is a procedure that should not be taking place," Skain said.

Wright, agreeing with Planned Parenthood, said the law did not account for instances when the "banned procedure is the most appropriate procedure to preserve the health of a pregnant woman."

Skain said she expected Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon to appeal Wright's decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Scott Holste, a spokesman for Nixon, said Saturday that the attorney general's staff was reviewing the matter. He declined to comment further.

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