Missouri Supreme Court to hear arguments for state abortion ban funding

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday regarding this question: Is abortion an appropriate subject for lawmakers to address in an appropriations bill?

In 2018, state lawmakers denied funding for any abortion facility for fiscal year 2019.

Planned Parenthood in St. Louis subsequently sued the state.

The Administrative Hearing Commission, or AHC, ruled in favor of the state. However, St. Louis Circuit Judge David Dowd ruled the decision is illegal under the state's constitution. 

"The Missouri Supreme Court is the last word on the Missouri Constitution," the ACLU director, Tony Rothert, said.

Attorneys for Planned Parenthood argued the state's decision violated the state constitution because it excluded Planned Parenthood and other facilities that perform abortions.

Planned Parenthood attorneys said the state is required "to pay for physician and family planning services on behalf of MO HealthNet beneficiaries, regardless of the provider of those services."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Friend-of-the-Court brief in support of Planned Parenthood. 

Rothert said this case is not really about abortion.

"This is about non-abortion healthcare, whether women can choose to go to Planned Parenthood to get birth control or other healthcare," he said. 

The state, however, said providers are not entitled to payment. 

"Both statutes confer benefits on patients, but they do not purport to
guarantee that any individual provider will be eligible for reimbursement," the state said in its brief.

Rothert said he thinks the state is trying to take a shortcut to get what it wants.

"I think the reason why the legislature is doing this is to try to prevent Planned Parenthood from having income from providing other medical resources, in the hopes that Planned Parenthood will leave the state," Rothert said. 

But the state's attorneys said the budget can "provide legislative guidance or direction about the use of an appropriation without contravening or amending substantive law."

Article IV, section 23 is also one of the articles in question. 

It states, "every appropriation law shall distinctly specify the amount and purpose of the appropriations law without reference to any other law."

The appropriations bill, passed in 2018, contained references to other laws. 

But the state said that is not uncommon.

"Many sections of many appropriations bills contain statutory cross-references," attorneys wrote. 

Planned Parenthood argued the references could make it unclear, but the state said a reader "can ascertain the amount and purpose of this."

The St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic is currently the only abortion provider in Missouri. 

After both sides give their arguments on Tuesday, the Supreme Court could take anywhere from 30 days to a year to come to a decision. 

Rothert said he thinks the Court will decide within 90 days in order to have a decision before the next appropriations decision. 

KOMU 8 News reached out to Missouri Right to Life, an anti-abortion activist group, multiple times for comment. The group did not provide a statement.