A judge has put on hold a case challenging Missouri’s regulation of medication abortions because two pending cases on appeal address some of the same issues.
U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips reasoned that a decision in one of the appellate cases “forms part of the facts that bear on the Court’s analysis in this case.”
Phillips acted on a motion filed by the Planned Parenthood affiliates in Kansas City and St. Louis, the two plaintiffs challenging the Missouri regulation. She said the delay would not prejudice the state since, in the meantime, it’s free to enforce the regulation.
At stake is a rule adopted last October that requires providers of medication abortions to contract with an ob-gyn with hospital admitting privileges to treat any complications arising from a medication abortion.
The state argues the regulation is necessary to ensure the health and safety of medication abortion patients.
Planned Parenthood contends the requirement is medically unnecessary since the procedure, which entails the administration of two drugs, is extremely safe. Major complications requiring hospitalization, surgery or a blood transfusion occur in only 0.3 percent of all cases; minor complications occur in about 5 percent of cases.
Planned Parenthood says the regulation has prevented its clinics in Columbia and Springfield, Missouri, from providing medication abortions and forced it to cancel some patients’ procedures.
Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said that while he was pleased with Phillips' decision to postpone the case, patients' access to medication abortions was already limited because of the regulation.
"As a result," he said, "the stay has no immediate impact on services. This decision will allow us to get all the information we can from the other cases and be thoughtful about our next steps to fight for our patients’ right to access care.”
A key issue in the case is whether a “large fraction” of women are burdened by the medication abortion regulation.
Missouri says the regulation does not affect a large fraction of women because many of them can obtain a surgical abortion instead.
Two months ago Phillips agreed with that argument, even though she found the regulation “has virtually no benefit.” But Missouri has also strictly regulated surgical abortions, and in one of the cases on appeal Missouri is trying to overturn another judge’s order blocking those regulations.
Phillips said if the state succeeds, she may have to reconsider her thinking on the Medicaid abortion regulation.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies