Federal appeals court will rehear Missouri abortion ban lawsuit
A federal appeals court will review an earlier ruling on a lawsuit over Missouri's 2019 abortion law, bringing it before the entire bench and declaring the court's previous ruling void.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered last week that it would review a June ruling by a panel of three judges, which upheld a lower court ruling blocking the law. When the issue next appears in court, it will be in front of the appeals court's entire 18-judge bench, known as an en banc hearing.
The order will vacate, or nullify, the previous ruling, but the injunction put in place by the original district court ruling will remain in effect. The law makes abortions illegal after eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for incest or rape, criminalizes abortions sought due to indications of Down Syndrome during pregnancy and punishes physicians who violate its statutes.
The rehearing was ordered by the court itself, rather than either the state or Planned Parenthood, who is suing over the law.
"The Eighth Circuit's sudden change to reconsider Missouri's sweeping abortion ban — one the court said was unconstitutional — is just another troubling signal in a long line of threats to our reproductive freedom," said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, in a statement. "For now, nothing has changed — abortion remains legal in Missouri."
Attorney General Eric Schmitt, also a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, filed a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court on July 1, arguing that the highest court in the country should hear the case after the appeals court's initial June ruling. Chris Nuelle, spokesperson for the attorney general's office, said the next step for that request is not certain, but the office is likely to withdraw the petition.
"We're certainly encouraged by the Eighth Circuit's decision to vacate and order a rehearing, and we look forward to the opportunity to vigorously defend this law again," Nuelle said.
Missouri Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, called the court's order a "surprise action" in its newsletter, and executive director Susan Klein said the organization was "pleased" with the move.
The law, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, has not yet been enforced by the state, as it was challenged by Planned Parenthood and blocked by a judge the day before it was to go into effect. Missouri is one of many states seeking to challenge the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade with their own laws restricting abortion.