Attorney General James Fights Missouri's Restrictive Abortion Laws

Attorney General James Fights Missouri’s Restrictive Abortion Laws 

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today continued her fight to protect a woman’s right to choose, pushing back against obstructive laws passed in the State of Missouri that impose unconstitutional restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion. In a multistate amicus brief filed in support of the defendants in Reproductive Health Services v. Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, Attorney General James, part of a coalition of 20 attorneys general from around the nation, challenged the constitutionality of several recently enacted abortion bans in MissouriPlanned Parenthood of St. Louis — the only remaining abortion clinic in Missouri — and its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Colleen McNicholas, are seeking to overturn several state restrictions that would significantly curtail women’s rights and create barriers to the ability to have safe, legal abortions.

“Nearly 50 years ago, the courts ruled that women across the country have the right to control their own bodies, but nearly every day since anti-choice legislators have tried to impose their personal beliefs on the wills of millions of women nationwide,” said Attorney General James. “These laws simply aim to control our bodies, control our choices, and control our freedom, which is why we will never stop fighting. We will not allow Missouri, nor any other state to undo all the progress we have made by restricting access to safe, legal abortions.”

Missouri recently enacted several anti-choice laws meant to deny women access to abortion care in the state. Included in those laws are several “Gestational Age Bans” that make it a felony for physicians to perform abortions before the stage of viability recognized by the Supreme Court and, in some cases, before women would even know they were pregnant. In particular, the bans prohibit abortions after eight, 14, 18, and 20 weeks so that if the court strikes down the eight-week ban, for example, the 14-week ban would still be in effect. Also included in the Missouri laws is a “Reason Ban” that prohibits a doctor from performing a pre-viability abortion if the doctor “knows” that a patient is seeking an abortion “solely because” of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

In August 2019, Planned Parenthood of St. Louis secured a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri against the enforcement of the Gestational Age Bans. The district court subsequently issued an additional order prohibiting the state from enforcing the “Reason Ban.” Missouri appealed both decisions. Attorney General James and the coalition of attorneys general are today arguing that the challenged laws are unconstitutional, do not promote women’s healthcare, and deny women access to safe, legal abortions. As the coalition explains, states can advance their interests in support of women's health while simultaneously protecting the rights of persons with Down syndrome without infringing on women's reproductive rights.

Today’s brief is just the latest action in a long list of measures Attorney General James has taken to protect women’s reproductive freedom. Last week, Attorney General James secured a victory for women in Rochester seeking to have an abortion without being harassed, threatened, or blocked before entering a clinic when a district court judge dismissed a lawsuit by anti-abortion activists seeking to bypass a 15-foot “buffer zone” outside a local Planned Parenthood facility.

Similar to today’s brief, earlier this month, Attorney General James filed a multistate amicus brief in support of a lawsuit that seeks to protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion care without the burdensome restrictions imposed by Arkansas laws. The brief — filed in support of the plaintiffs in Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Leslie Rutledge, now before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals — supports the last surgical abortion clinic in Arkansas as it challenges four state laws that would restrict the ability for women in Arkansas to access abortions by banning abortions after 18 weeks and otherwise restricting women’s access to reproductive care. 

Last month, Attorney General James filed an amicus brief defending the right to maintain full and equal access to birth control guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act for tens of thousands of women nationwide. 

Also, in December 2019, Attorney General James led a multistate amicus brief in support of a challenge by petitioners in the case June Medical Services v. Gee — now pending in the U.S. Supreme Court — challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion providers to maintain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

In October 2019, Attorney General James filed a multistate amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Jackson Women’s Health Organization against the State of Mississippi, challenging a law that would prohibit abortions after as early as six weeks of pregnancy.

In September 2019, Attorney General James led a multistate amicus brief in support of a challenge filed by Kentucky clinics and physicians challenging a Kentucky law that would ban physicians from providing second-trimester abortion services using the most common and safest procedure available for women after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

In August 2019, Attorney General James filed a multistate amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance against the State of Indiana after the state denied the clinics application for a license to open an abortion clinic that would provide medical abortions in South Bend.

In March 2019, Attorney General James co-led a coalition of 21 states in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s regulations that threaten essential services provided under federal Title X funding. The rule — also known as the “gag rule” — places an unlawful and unethical restriction on health care providers’ ability to fully inform patients of the reproductive health services available to them by disallowing referrals for abortions and restricting counseling related to abortions. Another provision would require those who perform abortions to physically segregate their services — an expensive and potentially impossible requirement.

Finally, Attorney General James is litigating the appeal in People ex rel. James v. Griepp, to ensure that women who enter the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens are not harassed, obstructed, or threatened by protestors.

Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.