Federal Judge To Hear Arguments on Missouri Law re Abortion Clinics
Posted Aug 26 2008 4:26pm
U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith on Monday is scheduled to hear arguments in a case concerning the constitutionality of a new Missouri law ( SB 370 ) that would upgrade facilities in the state that perform some abortions, the Kansas City Star reports ( Kansas City Star , 9/10).
The law designates facilities performing second- or third-trimester abortions or more than five first-trimester abortions each month as "ambulatory surgical centers," which are subject to increased regulation from the state Department of Health and Senior Services . It also requires that hallways at the facilities be at least six feet wide and doors at least 44 inches wide. The clinics must also have separate male and female changing rooms for staff and a recovery room with space for a minimum of four beds with three feet of clearance around each bed. The health department has said the law requires that three clinics in the state be licensed.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri last month filed a lawsuit that asks a federal court to block enforcement of the law. The suit alleges that the new regulations are unnecessary and are not meant to improve safety, but rather to interfere with a woman's constitutional right to abortion. PPKM in the suit also is asking that its Columbia and Kansas City clinics be exempt from the law because they were open before the law was passed. Smith last month issued a temporary restraining order blocking implementation of the law, which was scheduled to take effect Aug. 28. Smith last week ruled that physician Allen Palmer -- who operates the Women's Care Gynecology clinic in Bridgeton, Mo. -- can join the lawsuit ( Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report , 9/5). According to the City Star , Monday's hearing could lead to a preliminary injunction against the law ( Kansas City Star , 9/10).
Planned Parenthood argues that the law is burdensome because standards required under it would drive abortion providers out of business and make abortions less accessible to women in the state, the Los Angeles Times reports. The law is "ludicrous," PPKM President and CEO Peter Brownlie said, adding, "There's a desperate quality to it." Michelle Trupiano, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, asked, "How is expanding the doorway size [in the clinics] going to improve women's health?"
Supporters of the law argue that women seeking abortions should receive treatment in modern facilities with doors wide enough to accommodate gurneys and paramedics in case of emergencies. "We're applying the same standards of health care to abortion clinics as we are to other medical facilities," Pam Fichter, development director of Missouri Right to Life , said.
Although Smith is "bound" by a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits states from putting an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions during the first trimester, there is "a lot of room for judicial interpretation," according to the Times . Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond , said, "What may be an undue burden for one judge may not be for another," adding, "It's a very flexible standard" (Simon, Los Angeles Times , 9/10).