(Reuters) – A panel of federal appeals court judges blocked a Missouri law on Wednesday that banned abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, saying the provisions of the law violated the constitutional right of women to end their pregnancies.
The law is among more than a dozen gestational age abortion bans that have been passed in recent years by Republican-led legislatures and challenged for their violation of the United States Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which said women have a right to abortion before the fetus is viable, between 24 and 28 weeks.
U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City had temporarily halted the Missouri law just days before it was due to go into effect in August 2019, saying it would negatively impact the rights of Missouri women. The decision on Wednesday by a three-judge panel in the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Sachs’ ruling.
“Bans on pre-viability abortions are categorically unconstitutional,” Judge Jane Kelly wrote in the opinion.
Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents declaring it immoral on religious grounds and abortion rights advocates saying the option is necessary to ensure women’s bodily autonomy.
Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties union filed the lawsuit challenging the 2019 ban, which only made exceptions for abortions after eight weeks in cases where there are medical emergencies. The law also banned women from seeking abortions because the fetus had Down’s Syndrome.
“Today’s decision is a critical victory for Missourians,” said Yamelsie Rodríguez, president of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, in a statement.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement that he was “disappointed” in the Eighth Circuit’s decision.
“We plan to seek review in the Supreme Court,” he said. “I have never and will never stop fighting to ensure that all life is protected.”
Last month, the Supreme Court signaled its willingness to weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade when it agreed to review a Mississippi law that would ban abortions before the fetus is able to live outside the womb. A decision in that case is expected in 2022.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Aurora Ellis)