Judge blocks Missouri law that would have punished doctors for providing abortions after eight weeks

Fact: Many women do not realize that they are pregnant during that time period

By Matthew Rozsa

Published August 27, 2019 3:59PM (EDT)


A federal judge has blocked a controversial Missouri law that would have punished doctors for providing abortions after eight weeks into a pregnancy, even though many women do not realize that they are pregnant during that time period.

"The various sections specifying prohibitions on abortions at various weeks prior to viability cannot be allowed to go into effect on Aug. 28, as scheduled," U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs wrote in an 11-page opinion.

"However formulated, the legislation on its face conflicts with the Supreme Court ruling that neither legislative nor
judicial limits on abortion can be measured by specified weeks of development of a fetus; instead, 'viability' is the sole test for a State’s authority to prohibit abortions where there is no maternal health issue," Sachs continued.

After going into detail regarding judicial precedent on that issue, Sachs added that "the Supreme Court’s prohibition on a state’s selecting a specific fetal age where abortion could be prohibited has been enforced in many cases, including the Little Rock case. A 20-week limit has been struck down in several."

Sachs also offered another reason for his refusal to allow the law to go into effect.

"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 LMP," Sachs wrote. "This is contrary to repeated, clear language of the Court. The anti-discrimination section seeks to create novel exceptions to some plain but general language. That is a less questionable legislative practice. It does seem so likely wrong, however, that it should not be permitted to go into operation, unless the relief sought offers minimal demonstrable practical benefit — or, in other words, the denial of immediate relief is not demonstrably harmful."

Sachs is not the first judge in 2019 to overturn a state's draconian anti-abortion laws. Earlier this summer, two other federal judges blocked restrictions on abortions that were passed in Arkansas and Ohio. Such legislative efforts are viewed by critics as attempts to force the matter before the Supreme Court in the hope that the 5-to-4 Republican majority there will decide to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case which legalized abortion throughout America. Sachs acknowledged as much in his decision, essentially calling out the Missouri government for passing a bill that was seemingly designed for the primary purpose of being challenged at the Supreme Court.

"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 wrote in his decision.

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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