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Judge blocks law ordering 24-hour wait for abortions

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A federal judge yesterday blocked a state law that would have required a 24-hour wait for abortions. It was to take effect today.

The law requires physicians to consult with a patient about the procedure's risks a full day before performing an abortion. The women must be informed about the physical and psychological risks of abortion.

The Legislature overrode a veto by Governor Bob Holden, a Democrat, to pass the measure Sept. 11.

Planned Parenthood sued to stop the law, contending it was too vague to be properly enforced. The group argued the law doesn't adequately let abortion providers know what type of conduct is prohibited, and the murky wording would encourage arbitrary enforcement and violate their constitutional right of due process.

Senior Judge Scott O. Wright issued a temporary restraining order against the law in US District Court and set a Jan. 27 hearing on whether to impose an injunction. The "informed consent" law calls for physicians who violate it to be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Twenty-one other states have similar laws in effect, and five others have laws under litigation or enjoined by courts, according to Americans United for Life. "This is the tactic of the antichoice groups," said Paula Gianino, head of the St. Louis office of Planned Parenthood. "This bill is unsound and unfair. It burdens all women and families in this state and tries to make physicians afraid of performing abortions in this state."

Lawrence Weber, executive director of the Missouri Catholic Conference and a supporter of the measure, said the law was not vague and helped women.

"We think it is important that a woman have the information she needs and the time to assimilate it before she has an abortion," Weber said.

In addition to state initiatives to limit or control access to abortions, abortion rights face continued erosion nationally because of Republican control of Congress and the White House, several Democratic presidential candidates say.

Missouri is the home state of Representative Richard A. Gephardt, who has joined other Democrats in attacking the Bush administration's record on abortion and other health care issues. Earlier this year, President Bush signed into law a bill prohibiting doctors from performing a late-term procedure opponents have termed partial birth abortion.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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