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Health

Missouri, Kansas Abortion Limits Face Certain Challenge After High Court Strikes Down Texas Law

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Updated: 11:58 a.m.

Missouri’s highly restrictive abortion laws are certain to face a court challenge now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down similar restrictions in Texas.

The high court on Monday, by a 5-3 vote, ruled that a 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion under the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Like Missouri’s laws, the Texas law mandated that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals and required abortion clinics to physically upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory  surgical centers.

Texas said the law aimed to protect women’s health. Critics said it was intended to shut down abortion clinics by imposing unnecessary, burdensome and costly requirements. Since the law was enacted, the number of clinics providing abortions in Texas, a state with a population of 27 million, has dropped to 19 from a high of 41.

Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the majority opinion, said the burdens imposed by the requirements exceeded any benefits they conferred.

“Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access … and each violates the Federal Constitution,” he wrote.

Joining Breyer were Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said the court's decision was "historic."

"This is a monumental day for reproductive rights, reproductive health access," she said during a telephone conference call with reporters. "It is historic not only by the vote itself but by the content of the decision, which is broad and sweeping in nature."

"It is an emotional day that we are finally here," she said. "This is easily the most important decision facing reproductive health access in more than 20 years."

Like Texas, Missouri has some of the most onerous abortion provider restrictions in the nation. There is only one surgical abortion provider now in the state, Planned Parenthood’s clinic in St. Louis, compared with more than two dozen 35 years ago.

Missouri was the first state to require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Among other things, the state specifies height and width requirements for procedure rooms and corridors.

And in 2005, Missouri became the first state to require doctors providing abortion services to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Missouri also requires that women wait 72 hours between visiting a doctor and having an abortion procedure.

Kansas also has highly restrictive abortion measures, including air temperature, locker room and janitorial closet requirements.

Restrictions like these are often referred to as “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” or TRAP laws. Supporters claim they’re intended to protect women’s health and safety, but critics point out that abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, with fewer than one-half of 1 percent of procedures resulting in serious complications.

Missouri’s and Kansas’ restrictions have already been challenged in court. In May, a federal judge ruled that Missouri’s attempt to revoke the abortion license of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, Missouri, violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey found that Missouri health officials had yielded to political pressure and treated the clinic, which is operated by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, differently than other ambulatory surgical centers.

And in Kansas, the state is defending a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood challenging the legality of Kansas’ attempt to cut off its Medicaid reimbursements. The judge overseeing that case has said she will issue her decision before July 7, the date the state has said it will terminate Planned Parenthood’s participation in the Medicaid program.

Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.

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