Full Court to Review Missouri Ban on Down Syndrome Abortions

Cute small boy with Down syndrome playing with mother in home living room
Tatiana Dyuvbanova / Getty Images

A federal appeals court agreed to a rehearing of a decision last month by a divided panel of that court that blocked Missouri from enforcing its law that bans abortions sought because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

In 2019, Judge Howard Sachs of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, an appointee of Jimmy Carter, temporarily blocked the state’s comprehensive abortion law that banned most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually by the eighth week of pregnancy.

Sachs also granted the requests of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to strike down restrictions on late-term abortions in the state past 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The judge, however, allowed to go into effect the part of the law that prohibits abortions on the basis of an unborn baby’s race, sex, or prenatal diagnosis, such as Down syndrome. Nevertheless, he gave little hope for Missouri to prevail over that provision of the law as well.

In June, a divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the law banning Down syndrome abortions July 1.

“My son Stephen has shown me the inherent beauty in life, and he brings immense joy and love to his loved ones and those around him,” said Schmitt in a statement. “Since taking office, I’ve fought to protect all life, including the unborn. A pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome should not be a death sentence.”

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Schmitt wrote:

In the face of this genocidal crisis, Missouri and at least 11 other States have enacted laws restricting the eugenic abortion of the disabled, especially those with Down syndrome. In 2019, this Court declined to review the Seventh Circuit’s decision invalidating one of these laws—Indiana’s—because no Circuit split yet existed. Since then, a clear and well-developed split of authority has emerged.

The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, to decide the question of “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.”

Conservative legal expert Ed Whelan, a distinguished senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, observed at National Review on Wednesday about the decision for a full court review by the Eighth Circuit:

In reconsidering whether the Missouri law is impermissible under existing Supreme Court precedent, the en banc court will also effectively revisit the panel decision (in Little Rock Family Planning Services v. Rutledge) in January against a similar Arkansas law. (Arkansas has a certiorari petition pending in the Supreme Court.) In April, the en banc Sixth Circuit ruled that Ohio may enforce its similar law.

Schmitt also led a 22-state coalition in filing an amicus brief in support of the similar law banning Down syndrome abortions in Arkansas.

The case is Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region v. Parson, No. 19-2882 in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit


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