Judge blocks abortion law again, leaving legal observers puzzled
By Allen Palmeri
July 6, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – A controversial U.S. District Judge in Kansas City has imposed a preliminary injunction to suspend – for the second time – enforcement of a Missouri law requiring a 24-hour wait to have an abortion. Sources confirm the order by Judge Scott O. Wright is open-ended, leaving legal observers puzzled over the action and what is likely to happen next.
A legal analyst for The Pathway said that he “could not imagine” Wright issuing an open-ended injunction that was not limited by a certain number of days. He also described the ruling as “unusual.”
Since the order is open-ended, the law could be thwarted for months as a planned but unspecified appeal by Attorney General Jay Nixon and the power of Wright’s injunction work in tandem. The law was in effect from May 27 to June 22.
Planned Parenthood, a leading provider of abortions, requested the injunction and celebrated Judge Wright’s ruling as “a huge victory.” Spokespersons for Planned Parenthood expressed similar sentiments in October of 2003, when Wright blocked the law the first time with a temporary restraining order.
The Pathway’s legal analyst said Wright acted legally with his preliminary injunction, which went against the opinion of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling which dissolved the temporary restraining order. While it would be wrong, in a legal sense, to conclude that Wright favors Planned Parenthood as an organization, the legal analyst did say the judge, who was appointed by President Carter, appears to have a bent favorable to abortion.
“It is possible to be properly confining yourself to your jurisdiction without being accountable to the people,” said Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar and a member of First Baptist Church, Lamar. Emery led an effort in the 2004 General Assembly calling for the impeachment of Wright over his handling of abortion cases.
Emery said that Wright’s latest ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood will only strengthen the resolve of the 34 legislators who signed a resolution for the judge’s impeachment that was introduced in the House of Representatives before it died in committee. Perhaps a notation of this second suspension of the 24-hour wait law by Wright will go into another resolution on impeachment in the 2005 Legislature, Emery said.
“It just confirms that we’re on the right path,” he said.
Wright made his latest ruling in response to new legal arguments from Planned Parenthood, which filed a separate lawsuit June 24 in Boone County Circuit Court asking for clarification on parts of the new law that has been politically partisan since passed by a Republican-controlled General Assembly and vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in July of 2003. The General Assembly overrode Holden’s veto in September of 2003.
Nixon, a Democrat, is defending the law, and Christians and social conservatives are anxious for him to act. Public Information Officer Scott Holste, speaking for Nixon on the case, said he “wouldn’t want to speculate” on the chances for an expedited appeal.
“This situation should point Christians to why they should be involved in the elections,” said Kerry Messer, lobbyist for the Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “Here’s a federal judge who is only in power because he was appointed by a president. The question comes down to this: ‘Do we want more judges like this, or would we rather have judges of character appointed to the federal bench?’
“This judge obviously has a character flaw because he is not serving as an impartial judge. He is serving to promote his personal worldview.”
In addition to the 24-hour wait law, Wright has been instrumental in bottling up Missouri’s partial-birth abortion law. The law banning that gruesome procedure has been stalled in Wright’s courtroom since 1999.
Wright is known for favoring abortionists in his rulings, the Springfield News-Leader reported. He has ruled with pro-abortion groups in cases involving bans on the use of public funds for abortions, and a prohibition on insurance policies from covering abortion services without extra co-payments.
Emery cannot initiate impeachment proceedings in the state House of Representatives. That would need to come from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Emery, though, is holding the judicial branch accountable by contacting the U.S. House Judiciary Committee to secure the proper form for impeachment should a congressman wish to make a case against Wright. Emery said he would support that effort.
In the meantime, he is confident he is representing his district well. He said the top issue in and around Lamar is abortion.
“In campaigning two years ago, I probably didn’t meet three people who spoke out for abortion,” Emery said. “I’m getting frequent encouragements from people in my district. I don’t have to go up and ask them about judicial activism.”