Battle over medication abortion continues in Missouri courts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Planned Parenthood and the state's Attorney General's office continue to battle in federal court over new regulations of medication-induced abortions enacted this year during a special session of the Missouri Legislature.

The law has effectively left Kansas City and St. Louis as the only two Missouri cities where the procedure is legally available, while blocking medication abortions at clinics in Joplin, Springfield and Columbia. Several lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn the law.

Planned Parenthood groups based in Kansas City and St. Louis are seeking a preliminary injunction to block the law. The Missouri Attorney General's office is representing the state. Both sides presented testimony at hearings earlier this month and filed additional briefs in the case this week, the Kansas City Star reported.

Medication abortion requires women to take two pills, one at the clinic and the other 24-48 hours later, usually at home.

Opponents said the regulations are unnecessary and impose an unnecessary burden on women seeking the legal procedure. Supporters said the new regulations ensure women will get proper medical care in case of emergencies. Planned Parenthood said its efforts to provide medication abortions at its clinics in Columbia, Springfield and Joplin have been thwarted by the new regulations.

"Medication abortions are incredibly safe, with less than 1 percent of patients experiencing major complications," the Planned Parenthood groups said in a statement to the Star. "These stringent requirements are not imposed on any other medical service in the state, including medications and surgeries with far higher complication rates."

However, the state argues in a court filing that the law promotes women's health and safety in several ways and the benefits "outweigh any minimal burdens to access."

One part of the law requires clinics to compile a "complication plan" that meets state Department of Health and Human Services requirements. The regulations also require providers to obtain written contracts with two ob-gyns who have local hospital admitting privileges and who agree to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to treat complications from medication abortion.

Planned Parenthood said it contacted every ob-gyn in the Columbia, Springfield and Joplin areas to provide the procedure in those areas, but none were willing to enter into an agreement. That means women seeking the procedure must travel hundreds of miles - twice within three days - to receive medication abortions.

"In the rare event that a medication abortion patient has a complication that requires follow-up care, such complications occur after the patient has left the health center and returned home," the organization said.

However, state Solicitor General John Sauer argued the preliminary injunction should be denied and the lawsuit dismissed. He contended Planned Parenthood had failed to make a good-faith effort to comply with the regulation and could not prove it caused a significant obstacle to most women seeking medication abortions.

"Plaintiffs' evidence rests on the assumption that all women will travel hundreds of miles to obtain a medication abortion instead of obtaining a safer surgical abortion nearby," the state said in a brief filed Monday.

Once the court rules on the preliminary injunction, more appeals are likely. And the lawsuit isn't scheduled for trial until March 2019.

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