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IN THE COURTS | Lawsuit Filed To Block Missouri Ballot Proposal Critics Say Would Ban Most Abortions

IN THE COURTS | Lawsuit Filed To Block Missouri Ballot Proposal Critics Say Would Ban Most Abortions
[Dec. 19, 2007]

A St. Louis County, Mo., resident and lawyers for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on Monday filed a lawsuit in state court to bar a ballot proposal that would require doctors to certify that performing an abortion was necessary to avoid a woman's death or prevent permanent disability, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Mary Hickey and PPFA lawyers in the suit ask the Cole County, Mo., Circuit Court to declare the initiative unconstitutional and bar Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D) -- who approved the proposed ballot language on Dec. 7 -- from moving forward with it. The lawsuit argues that, if passed, the initiative would be ruled unconstitutional because it would violate Roe v. Wade. The suit also disputes that the state's determination that the initiative would not cost the treasury, arguing that Missouri would be burdened by a resulting increase in rates of self-induced, covert and unsafe abortions, as well as an increased birth rate (O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12/18).

Under the proposal, named the "Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortion Act" by supporters, doctors would be required to document that continuing the pregnancy would be more harmful than the combination of every "psychological, emotional, demographic or situational" risk that has been linked to abortion in any study published in a peer-reviewed journal. If a doctor failed to complete the requirements, a woman who had an abortion could sue the doctor and receive up to $10,000 for each risk the doctor failed to include in the determination. The woman also could sue for wrongful death of the fetus and could file suit up to two years "after the date the woman has recovered from any psychological complications" from the abortion, the proposal says. The proposal does not contain any exceptions for rape or incest. Abortions, including those to save a woman's life, also would be subject to a 48-hour waiting period.

The petition's supporters must gather at least 86,000 signatures to put the proposal on Missouri's 2008 election ballot (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 12/11).

Reaction

Paula Gianino, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said, "What we have is a dangerous and deceptive and extreme ban that would even go so far as to propose -- even if a woman's life were in imminent danger -- forcing the doctor to wait to help the woman" (Lieb, AP/Jefferson City News Tribune, 12/18). Gianino also said that no one in the "professional medical, social-service and psychiatric communities" knows what "situational" and "demographic" evaluations mean (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 12/18).

David Reardon -- director of the Elliot Institute and spokesperson for the petitioning group Stop Forced Abortions Alliance -- said the proposal "doesn't make anything illegal. It's all about establishing a proper right to redress for negligence in pre-abortion screening and counseling." Reardon added that the allowance for documented physical and psychological health risks could be interpreted broadly (AP/Jefferson City News Tribune, 12/18).