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Judge rules partial-birth abortion ban includes health exception

December 06, 2000
By: Katy Scott
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Groups on both sides of the abortion issue said they have problems with Tuesday's ruling clarifying Missouri's ban on partial-birth abortions.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert H. Dierker, Jr. issued a 54-page ruling stating that the law applies only to partial-birth abortions, but allows physicians to perform such procedures if the health or life of the mother is in question.

Paula Gianino, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region, said the law was intentionally written to be vague so the legality of all abortions in Missouri would be in question.

"We received a 54-page opinion by a judge trying to clarify what is in a 1 1/2-page law," she said. "The definitions in this bill are intentionally broad. ... This is a dangerous and deceptive bill."

Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, however, said the wording of the law was very clear and scolded Planned Parenthood officials for saying otherwise.

"That is an absolute falsehood, and they know it," he said. "They ought to be ashamed of themselves."

He said the reason such a long ruling was needed to clarify the law was because of the "tangled precedent" the U.S. Supreme Court has set in abortion cases.

There are some aspects of Tuesday's ruling Kinder said he is unhappy about, specifically the interpretation that, according to the law, partial-birth abortions can be performed if the health of the mother is at stake.

"It's kind of a confusing ruling," said Patty Skain, executive director of Missouri Right to Life. "Confusing is the health exception, which clearly is not in the bill."

Gianino also said the law includes no such exception. And she said without such a clause, it threatens the rights of the women of Missouri.

In fact, legislative sponsors explicitly refused a proposal by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan to include a health exception. It was the absence of such an exception in the law that Carnahan had said prompted his veto, which was overridden by the legislature.

Planned Parenthood has made no plans as to further legal action in this case, Gianino said, but the organization will "continue to challenge bills that don't protect a woman's health."

Gianino said even with the health exception, she has problems with the ban on rarely performed partial-birth abortions.

"There's never been another situation where elected officials or politicians are trying to tell doctors what kinds of procedures they can or cannot perform," she said.

Her organization is currently challenging the law in federal court and either Planned Parenthood or the state could appeal Tuesday's ruling to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

"It remains to be seen as to the effect of the ruling on the bill," Skain said. "It will probably be appealed."