A challenge to two Missouri abortion requirements has ended its trip to the Supreme Court – at least for now. Attorneys for Planned Parenthood notified the Supreme Court tonight that they were withdrawing their request to block a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit after that court ruled in the group’s favor. Today’s order means that a decision by a federal district judge that blocked the state from enforcing two of its abortion requirements can go into effect while the state appeals the district court’s ruling.
Planned Parenthood argues that two of the state’s abortion requirements violate the Constitution: the requirement that physicians providing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and the requirement that abortion facilities be licensed as surgical centers. As a result of the requirements, Planned Parenthood contends, there are only two facilities providing abortions in Missouri, which “imposes enormous burdens on women” seeking abortions in the state, particularly women who are poor, have medical conditions or are victims of abuse.
The district court temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the two requirements, agreeing with Planned Parenthood that both requirements bore a close resemblance to the Texas rules that the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in 2016, in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The state went to the 8th Circuit and asked that court to stay the lower court’s order pending appeal; a panel of the 8th Circuit declined to do so, but the full 8th Circuit granted the state’s request.
On September 22, Planned Parenthood asked the justices to step in and reinstate the district court’s order. But on the same day that the state was scheduled to file its response, Planned Parenthood notified the justices that, at the group’s request, the 8th Circuit had clarified that its order blocking the district court’s ruling was merely a temporary freeze of that ruling, intended to give the full court of appeals time to consider the state’s motion for a stay pending appeal, rather than an order by the full court granting the stay.
This afternoon, the full 8th Circuit denied the state’s motion for a stay. The court’s ruling prevents the state from enforcing the two requirements pending appeal. Four judges – Chief Judge Lavenski Smith and Judges Steven Colloton, Raymond Gruender and Bobby Shepherd – indicated that they would have granted the state’s motion.
The case will now presumably go back to the 8th Circuit, so that a three-judge panel can review on the merits the district court’s ruling blocking the two requirements. Whichever side loses in the lower court is likely to seek Supreme Court review, but – because abortion is such a contentious topic – many justices are probably relieved to have been able to at least sit out this round.