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Judge Blocks Missouri From Enforcing Its ‘Down Syndrome Abortion’ Ban

A volunteer with Coalition for Life St. Louis protests outside the Planned Parenthood clinic.
A volunteer with Coalition for Life St. Louis protests outside the Planned Parenthood clinic.

A federal judge on Friday blocked a part of Missouri’s newly enacted abortion law banning “Down syndrome abortions” of non-viable fetuses.

Senior U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs had previously blocked the state’s ban of most pre-viability abortions. But he asked for further evidence of the number of women who would be affected by the Down syndrome prohibition.   

The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, which sued to overturn the law, submitted evidence that the Down syndrome ban would affect a small number of women.

That, Sachs ruled, was sufficient to issue an injunction blocking the ban from taking effect while the state appeals.

Last month, Sachs blocked the law’s gestational ban, which prohibits abortions at eight, 14, 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. Under the law, if the eight-week ban is struck down by a court, the 14-week ban takes effect and so on with the other bans. The law also has a “non-discrimination” section that prohibits abortions on the basis of race, sex or Down syndrome.

If the law were allowed to take effect, it would ban the overwhelming majority of pre-viability abortions in Missouri. Abortion providers would face from five to 15 years in prison and the loss of their medical license if they violate any of the gestational age bans.

“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,” Sachs ruled in August.

Missouri has appealed Sachs’ ruling to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The state had asked him to pause his injunction during the appeal but Sachs declined.  

The Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis is the state's only remaining abortion provider. 

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies .

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