by Steven Ertelt
November 16, 2006
Jefferson City, MO (LifeNews.com) — The Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday held a hearing on a law that allows parents to sue abortion facilities or their staff when they help a teenager get a secret abortion out of state. A Missouri judge upheld the law as constitutional last November.
Backers of the law hoped it would help curb the number of teenagers that are taken just over the border in large cities like St. Louis and Kansas City.
The Hope Clinic For Women, an abortion business in Granite City, Illinois, a St. Louis suburb, has long been criticized for helping teenagers break the Missouri notification law and promoting secret abortions in advertising there.
Eve Gartner, a lawyer for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the state’s high court that the law would even penalize clergy who discuss abortion options with teenagers, because it claims the statute is too vaguely worded.
The law says no one can "aid and assist" a teen in getting the abortion and Gartner told the court, "The plain meaning of these words does include speech."
But the St. Louis Post Dispatch newspaper reports Chief Justice Michael Wolff disagreed and told Gartner nothing in the law "has anything to do with speech."
He indicated the law only criminalizes the actual conduct of taking a teenage to another state for an abortion.
The newspaper said Michael Pritchett, an assistant Missouri attorney general, indicated his office would only prosecute those who take teens for secret abortions and would not punish those who give them abortion information.
Rebeca Navarro-McKelvey, an assistant St. Louis circuit attorney, said the same thing.
The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to hand down a ruling in the next several weeks.
Last year, Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles Atwell upheld the law but also issued an injunction preventing the law from being enforced while abortion advocates appealed to the state Supreme Court. He reached the same conclusion as Judge Wolff.
Judge Atwell said state officials could not investigate or discipline anyone under the law until the Missouri Supreme Court hands down its ruling on the case.
Atwell first issued a temporary restraining order against enforcing the law in October after Planned Parenthood filed its lawsuit. At the time, Atwell said he thought Planned Parenthood would prevail in the case and sympathized with its argument that the law violated its right to free speech by preventing it from discussing abortion with teenagers.
In his ruling, Atwell said Planned Parenthood had a right to discuss abortion with girls who go to its facilities, but he said the law would not violate those rights.
He said people would only be prosecuted under the law if they knew the girl was a minor, wanted to violate the state’s parental consent law, and assisted her in getting an abortion elsewhere.
Assistant Attorney General Vickie Mahon argued that it was unfair to single out the one provision in the law and said the abortion facility’s First Amendment rights would be violated only if it encouraged teens to go out of state for secret abortions.
Atwell’s ruling applies only to the out-of-state provision in the law the legislature approved and does not apply to the admitting privileges requirement.
The law also says abortion practitioners must have admitting privileges at a local hospital in case of a botched abortion and that provision is already partly responsible for closing an abortion center in Springfield.
Gov. Matt Blunt backed Atwell’s decision at the time.
"I am pleased this ruling reaffirms the value Missourians and I place on human life and protecting our most vulnerable citizens," Blunt said. "I expect the Attorney General to vigorously defend the law during the inevitable appeals."