Texas abortion provider resumes services after judge blocks near-total ban

By Julia Harte and Maria Caspani

(Reuters) – A day after a federal judge blocked Texas’ near-total abortion ban, at least one provider in the state said it had resumed services on Thursday for patients seeking to terminate pregnancies beyond the law’s limit of about six weeks.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, told reporters that since the law went into effect on Sept. 1, the provider with four clinics in Texas had put patients on a waiting list if their pregnancies had advanced beyond the legal limit.

“So those folks were able to come in and we did provide them with abortion care today,” Hagstrom Miller said during a call on with reporters.

She did not say which clinics had resumed services or how many abortions they had provided.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin on Wednesday blocked the state from enforcing the law while litigation over its legality continues. The Republican-backed measure empowers private citizens to enforce the ban, and Texas immediately appealed the ruling to the conservative-leaning Fifth Circuit Appeals Court.

The law has become a flashpoint in a national battle over abortion rights as Republican lawmakers in other states try to pass similar legislation. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a Mississippi case testing Roe v. Wade, its landmark 1973 decision that established the nationwide right to abortion access.

Drexel University law professor David Cohen said Texas clinics that resume their previous abortion services while the law is blocked will be in a “very precarious position.” A clause in the law says providers can still be sued if the law goes back into effect after being struck down by a court.

Cohen said that even if Pitman’s injunction against the law were upheld by the Supreme Court on appeal, it could still be dissolved by a subsequent decision overturning Roe v. Wade, because that decision was the basis for Pitman’s ruling.

Hagstrom Miller said the retroactive clause was concerning for many medical professionals.

“Any abortion you provide, even with an injunction, could be seen as criminal a year from now, six months from now – and you could be held accountable for every one of those. It’s pretty daunting to think about that,” she said.

Anti-abortion advocates said that if Pitman’s ruling is reversed on appeal, they will sue providers who have resumed abortion services.

“As this case develops, if there’s an opportunity for lawsuits or for enforcement in the future, that’s something that the pro-life movement is very interested in,” said John Seago, legislative director for anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.

Other Texas abortion providers acknowledged they were worried about the state’s vow to appeal the injunction to a conservative-leaning appeals court.

“Given the state’s appeal, our health centers may not have the days or even weeks it could take to navigate new patients through Texas’s onerous abortion restrictions,” the leaders of Planned Parenthood South Texas, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and Planned Parenthood Greater Texas said in a joint statement.

Molly Duane, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas clinics fighting the law, said abortion providers were in a difficult situation.

“There are independent providers across the state that are working to reopen full services and are doing so wary of the fact that the Fifth Circuit may take away this injunction at any moment,” she said.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and David Gregorio)

Abortion providers ask U.S. Supreme Court to block Texas’ six-week ban

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – Abortion rights groups filed an emergency request at the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday to block a Texas law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, which is set to take effect on Wednesday.

The groups, including Planned Parenthood and other abortion and women’s health providers, told the court that the law would “immediately and catastrophically reduce abortion access in Texas, barring care for at least 85% of Texas abortion patients” and would likely force many abortion clinics to close.

The groups challenged the law in federal court in Austin in July, contending it violates a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The law, signed on May 19, is unusual in that it gives private citizens the power to enforce it by enabling them to sue anyone who assists a woman in getting an abortion past the six-week cutoff.

The law is among of a number of “heartbeat” abortion bans enacted in Republican-led states. These laws seek to ban the procedure once the rhythmic contracting of fetal cardiac tissue can be detected, often at six weeks – sometimes before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Courts have blocked such bans as a violation of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

The state of Mississippi has asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade in a major case the justices agreed to hear over a 2018 law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The justices will hear arguments in their term that begins in October, with a ruling due by the end of June 2022.

The Texas lawsuit seeks to prevent judges, county clerks and other state entities from enforcing the law through citizen lawsuits. The plaintiffs also sued the director of an anti-abortion group that they said has threatened enforcement actions under the new law.

A federal judge rejected a bid to dismiss the case, prompting an immediate appeal to the New Orleans, Louisiana-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which halted further proceedings in the case. On Sunday, the 5th Circuit denied a request by the abortion providers to block the law pending the appeal.

The plaintiffs on Monday asked the Supreme Court to block the Texas law or allow proceedings in the lower court to continue.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York, additional reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Federal appeals court blocks Missouri ban on abortions after 8 weeks

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – A panel of federal appeals court judges blocked a Missouri law on Wednesday that banned abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, saying the provisions of the law violated the constitutional right of women to end their pregnancies.

The law is among more than a dozen gestational age abortion bans that have been passed in recent years by Republican-led legislatures and challenged for their violation of the United States Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which said women have a right to abortion before the fetus is viable, between 24 and 28 weeks.

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City had temporarily halted the Missouri law just days before it was due to go into effect in August 2019, saying it would negatively impact the rights of Missouri women. The decision on Wednesday by a three-judge panel in the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Sachs’ ruling.

“Bans on pre-viability abortions are categorically unconstitutional,” Judge Jane Kelly wrote in the opinion.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents declaring it immoral on religious grounds and abortion rights advocates saying the option is necessary to ensure women’s bodily autonomy.

Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties union filed the lawsuit challenging the 2019 ban, which only made exceptions for abortions after eight weeks in cases where there are medical emergencies. The law also banned women from seeking abortions because the fetus had Down’s Syndrome.

“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Missourians,” said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, in a statement.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement that he was “disappointed” in the Eighth Circuit’s decision.

“We plan to seek review in the Supreme Court,” he said. “I have never and will never stop fighting to ensure that all life is protected.”

Last month, the Supreme Court signaled its willingness to weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade when it agreed to review a Mississippi law that would ban abortions before the fetus is able to live outside the womb. A decision in that case is expected in 2022.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

South Carolina passes abortion ban, Planned Parenthood sues

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster on Thursday signed into law a ban on almost all abortions in the state and the women’s health group Planned Parenthood followed with a lawsuit, arguing the measure was unconstitutional.

As one of the most restrictive abortion bans, the so-called “fetal heartbeat” law bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks and before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious belief to declare it immoral, and proponents declaring it a women’s health and privacy issue, among other arguments.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the constitution protected a pregnant women’s right to an abortion.

Various states have passed restrictions on abortions including those similar to South Carolina and most are still tied up in the courts. A law passed in Iowa in 2018 was overturned by a state judge in 2019.

“It is undisputed that such cardiac activity is detectable well in advance of the fetus becoming viable,” District Court Judge Michael Huppert wrote in his decision.

A fetus that is viable outside the womb, usually at 24 weeks, is widely considered the threshold in the United States to prohibit abortion.

McMaster, a Republican, said at a signing ceremony that is has been his priority to sign an abortion ban into law. The South Carolina law does allow abortions under some circumstances including rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

McMaster said just before he signed the law, “There’s a lot of happy hearts beating across South Carolina right now.”

And in a nod to an expected legal fight, McMaster told people at the signing: “Our battles are not yet over, but I believe the dawn of victory is upon us.”

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic filed a lawsuit in federal court shortly afterwards on the grounds the ban is unconstitutional, citing previous successful challenges to similar laws in other states, the group said in a statement.

“This ban blatantly defies nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent protecting a person’s right to end a pregnancy,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center of Reproductive Rights said in a statement.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Grant McCool)

U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs Planned Parenthood defunding case

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away South Carolina’s bid to cut off public funding to Planned Parenthood, the latest case involving a conservative state seeking to deprive the women’s healthcare and abortion provider of government money.

The justices declined to hear South Carolina’s appeal of a lower court ruling that prevented the state from blocking funding under the Medicaid program to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the organization’s regional affiliate.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic operates clinics in Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, where it provides physical exams, cancer and other health screenings, as well as abortions. Each year the clinics serve hundreds of patients who receive Medicaid, a government health insurance program for low-income Americans.

Numerous Republican-governed states have pursued direct and indirect restrictions involving abortion. Planned Parenthood often is targeted by anti-abortion activists. Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the United States and also receives millions of dollars in public funding for other healthcare services.

Planned Parenthood and Medicaid patient Julie Edwards sued the state’s Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 after officials ended the organization’s participation in the state Medicaid program.

The state took the action after Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, issued executive orders declaring that any abortion provider would be unqualified to provide family planning services and cutting off state funding to them. The state’s action forced Planned Parenthood to turn away Medicaid patients seeking healthcare services, according to a court filing.

South Carolina already did not provide Medicaid reimbursements for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life was in danger, as required by federal law.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the state’s decision in 2019, saying that by ending Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid agreement for reasons unrelated to professional competency, the state violated Edwards’ right under the federal Medicaid Act to receive medical assistance from any institution that is “qualified to perform the service.”

In appealing to the Supreme Court, the state’s health department said Medicaid recipients do not have a right to challenge a state’s determination that a specific provider is not qualified to provide certain medical services.

The Supreme Court in 2018 rejected similar appeals by Louisiana and Kansas seeking to terminate Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding. At that time, three conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – said the court should have heard the states’ appeals.

President Donald Trump has asked the Senate to confirm his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite among religious conservatives, before the Nov. 3 election. Barrett was picked to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supporter of abortion rights who died on Sept. 18.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Jan Wolfe; editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

Trump ‘gag rule’ on abortion referral can be enforced, U.S. appeals court rules

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A sharply divided federal appeals court on Monday said the Trump administration may enforce a rule labeled by critics as a “gag rule” that could deprive abortion providers of federal funding for family planning.

In a 7-4 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling last June by a unanimous three-judge panel to lift injunctions won by California, Oregon and Washington against the rule, which deprives clinics that provide abortion referrals of Title X family planning funds.

The rule was meant to help President Donald Trump fulfill a 2016 campaign pledge to end federal support for Planned Parenthood, which received about $60 million annually, or one-fifth, of Title X funds.

Planned Parenthood left the program last August rather than comply with the rule, which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the “troubling” decision helps Trump “roll back women’s access to reproductive healthcare.”

Planned Parenthood’s acting president Alexis McGill Johnson called on Congress to overturn the rule, which she said created “egregious barriers” to healthcare for low-income people.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman said the decision properly upholds HHS’ prohibition on using taxpayer money to “subsidize abortion” through Title X.

Writing for Monday’s majority, Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta said HHS was owed “broad deference” and acted reasonably, not arbitrarily or capriciously, in adopting a “less restrictive” rule than the one blessed by the Supreme Court in 1988.

“There is no ‘gag’ on abortion counseling,” Ikuta wrote, saying the rule allows healthcare providers to discuss, though not to encourage, abortion.

The appeals court returned the cases to federal district courts for further proceedings. A federal judge in Baltimore on Feb. 14 blocked the rule’s enforcement in Maryland.

Circuit Judge Richard Paez dissented, saying the rule would deprive people of cancer screening, HIV testing and other needed healthcare, and undermine Congress’ intent that patients be able to communicate openly with healthcare providers.

“The consequences will be borne by the millions of women who turn to Title X-funded clinics for lifesaving care and the very contraceptive services that have caused rates of unintended pregnancy – and abortion – to plummet,” he wrote. “I strongly dissent.”

All seven judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, including two by Trump. The dissenters were appointed by Democratic presidents.

The cases in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals include California v Azar et al, No. 19-15974; Oregon et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35386; and Washington et al v Azar et al, No. 19-35394.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Sonya Hepinstall)

Missouri cites ‘serious concerns’ about safety in seeking to shut abortion clinic

Missouri cites ‘serious concerns’ about safety in seeking to shut abortion clinic
By Robert Langellier

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Reuters) – The fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic was at stake on Monday, as a state arbiter heard arguments from Planned Parenthood and state officials who have threatened to close it and make Missouri the sole U.S. state without legal abortion services.

Planned Parenthood, the women’s healthcare and abortion provider that operates the facility, sued the state health department in June for its refusal to renew the St. Louis clinic’s license. The state court judge presiding over the case referred the matter to the Administrative Hearing Commission, an independent arbiter.

The hearing, which is expected to last several days, began on Monday with opening statements from both sides and testimony from state witness Donna Harrison, a doctor and director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer said on Monday that the state has “very serious concerns about the safety of patients” at the clinic after at least four patients had failed abortions there.

Planned Parenthood has argued that the clinic should remain open to guarantee the constitutional right of the 1 million women of child-bearing age in Missouri to receive an abortion.

Missouri health officials earlier this year declined to renew the clinic’s license on the grounds that it failed to meet their standards, which included mandatory interviews with several physicians involved in what the health department said were multiple life-threatening abortions at the clinic.

Planned Parenthood officials have said they do not directly employ all the clinic’s staff and cannot force them to give interviews. The organization has said the state’s effort to close the clinic is politically motivated, which the state denies.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious beliefs to declare it immoral, while abortion-rights activists say the procedure is legally protected and that bans rob women of control over their bodies and futures.

Missouri is one of 12 states to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

Last week, Planned Parenthood opened an abortion clinic just 13 miles (21 km) from the St. Louis clinic in Fairview Heights, Illinois, capable of treating up to 11,000 patients per year.

“While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois,” Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s southwest regional chapter, said in a statement.

(Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Berkrot and Richard Chang)

Planned Parenthood to open large secretly built Illinois clinic as Missouri readies abortion ban

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood is set to open a large facility in western Illinois this month that will provide abortion access for women in Missouri as officials there aim to shutter the state’s sole abortion clinic, the organization said on Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood has been secretly building the 18,000-square-foot clinic in Fairview Heights since August 2018, using shell companies to avoid attention and protests, CBS first reported.

The new healthcare center will provide abortion and other health services to women in western Illinois and eastern Missouri, and is located just 13 miles from Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic. Missouri has declined to renew that facility’s license, citing its failure to meet state health department standards.

“While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois,” Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s southwest regional chapter, said in a statement. “The new health center is a testament to the needs of the greater bi-state region and our commitment to provide, protect and expand access to healthcare, no matter what.”

A federal judge has allowed the Missouri clinic to stay open pending the decision of a state arbiter, who will weigh Planned Parenthood’s case against the state health department. If officials in Missouri succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious belief to declare it immoral.

Missouri is one of 12 states to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

A U.S. federal judge in August temporarily blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency.

Illinois has moved to protect women’s right to abortion as other states have tried to overturn it. The state passed the Reproductive Health Act in June to preserve the legality of abortion even if Roe v. Wade should be overturned. It has refused funding from the Title X family planning program because of President Donald Trump’s “gag rule,” which withholds federal funds from health providers who perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Federal judge blocks restrictive Missouri abortion law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant/File Photo

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks except in cases of medical emergency.

The law was set to take effect on Wednesday, but U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City ruled that the state not enforce it, pending litigation or further order of the court, according to a court document.

The ban, like others by U.S. states this year, was written in the knowledge it would likely be struck down but with the hope it would prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to review its landmark 1973 decision protecting abortion rights.

“While federal courts should generally be very cautious before delaying the effect of State laws, the sense of caution may be mitigated when the legislation seems designed, as here, as a protest against Supreme Court decisions,” the judge wrote.

“The hostility to, and refusal to comply with, the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence is most obviously demonstrated in the attempt to push ‘viability’ protection downward in various weekly stages to 8 weeks.”

Women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Missouri last month over the law, which also bans abortions sought on the grounds of the fetus’ race, sex or disability and makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in violation of the law.

Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinic and the ACLU have argued the law will cause “significant and irreparable constitutional, medical, emotional” harm to patients in that state, who may not even know they are pregnant at eight weeks, according to court documents.

The law declares Missouri to be a “sanctuary of life” that protects “pregnant women and their unborn children.” It does not make exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and it includes a provision that would trigger a statewide abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion is one of the most divisive political issues in the United States. Several conservative states have passed restrictive laws on abortion in 2019 to try to make the Supreme Court revisit the constitutional issue.

Missouri has been at the center of the nation’s escalating abortion debate, as Planned Parenthood is fighting a state health department decision not to renew the license of the provider’s clinic in St. Louis, the only abortion clinic in the state.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. abortion rights groups sue over Missouri law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Prominent U.S. abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit late on Tuesday in an effort to stop a new Missouri law that bans almost all terminations of pregnancies after eight weeks.

The new law was signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson in May and is set to go into effect on Aug. 28.

The 31-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri contends that the legislation is unconstitutional. It asks for an injunction to stop the law from being enacted next month until the complaint is resolved.

“Without this relief, the bans will have a devastating effect on patients seeking access to abortion in the state,” lawyers wrote in the complaint.

The law is one of the most restrictive in the nation and activists contend it effectively forbids most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant yet at eight weeks.

In a perennially divisive moral and political fight, similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other U.S. states as Republican-controlled legislatures flex their muscles.

Efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, have been emboldened by two appointments by President Donald Trump giving conservatives a solid majority on the court.

Neither representatives for the Missouri governor’s office, nor lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, were immediately available for comment early Wednesday.

Parson said in May the new law would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”

The legislation allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies, and provides no exceptions for victims or rape or incest.

Plaintiffs in the Missouri complaint said the law conflicts with more than four decades of binding precedent, would prohibit “the vast majority of pre-viability abortions”, and denied patients healthcare they were entitled to.

Planned Parenthood is engaged in separate litigation with the state to keep a St. Louis clinic open. If Missouri officials succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)