Full federal appeals court to consider Missouri abortion law

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rehear a case over Missouri abortion restrictions

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A full federal appeals court has decided to rehear a case over a sweeping Missouri abortion law that would ban the procedures at or around the eighth week of a pregnancy.

The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last week decided to take up the case on its own motion.

At issue is a 2019 state law that would ban abortions as early as eight weeks into a pregnancy and prohibit abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit Court last month upheld an injunction from U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs prohibiting Missouri from enforcing the provisions. But the full appeals court will now consider the case.

A spokesman for the Missouri attorney general's office, which is defending the law, didn't immediately reply to a request for comment.

Sachs said when he ruled last year that he thought Planned Parenthood and the ACLU would likely succeed in their lawsuit challenging the law as unconstitutional. Similar laws have been struck down in North Dakota and Iowa.

Legislators who helped draft the Missouri law had said it was meant to withstand court challenges instead of spark them. It included a provision stating that if the eight-week ban was struck down, then a series of less-restrictive abortion limits would kick in at 14, 18 or 20 weeks. But courts have blocked enforcement of all of those limits thus far.

Missouri's Republican attorney general, Eric Schmitt, earlier this month asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. In a court filing, he said the U.S. Supreme Court should consider whether Missouri’s restrictions are “reasonable regulations on abortion” and should also use the case to decide whether to overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a nationwide right to abortion at any point before a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is roughly around the 24th week.

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider allowing the enforcement of a Mississippi law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which could dramatically alter nearly 50 years of court precedent on abortion rights.

Missouri also is among several conservative states in recent years that have passed abortion restrictions in the hopes that the increasingly conservative Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade.

The next hearing on the Missouri abortion law has not yet been scheduled, according to online court records.