Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Case Law Development: Missouri Supreme Court Upholds 24-hour Waiting Period For Abortions

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state’s 24-hour waiting period before women can have an abortion is constitutional.  It also upheld a requirement that doctors mention any "physical, psychological or situational" risk factor associated with an abortion.

Planned Parenthood had challenged the statute that creates an informed consent requirement, including a 24-hour waiting period before elective abortions may be performed in Missouri. Any person who knowingly violates or fails to abide by the statute is guilty of a class A misdemeanor. Health care practitioners who violate the statute may also may face disciplinary action to their licenses to practice. Planned Parenthood argued that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and that its 24-hour waiting provision violates rights of liberty and privacy under the state constitution.

In rejecting the challenge, a unanimous court said that the statute imposes no further duty on physicians than already was imposed at common law.  According to the court, the statute merely codifies the physician's duty to obtain informed consent from a patient prior to an abortion and creates criminal or disciplinary liability if the physician knowingly fails to fulfill that duty. It said that liability “does not extend beyond the physician's actual expertise.” It requires a physician to warn his or her patient about only those factors the physician knows may affect the patient's medical condition and imposes criminal liability or license discipline only for risks the individual physician “knew he or she should have discussed with the patient but did not.”

The court also said that the 24-hour waiting provision does not violate the Missouri constitution. It stated that there is no reason “to construe the language in the Missouri constitution more broadly than the corresponding language of the federal constitution, and the United States Supreme Court already has determined that such a waiting provision does not violate the federal constitution. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 887 (1992).” You may download here the slip opinion in the Missouri_abortion_case.htm (reo).

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