Supreme Court blocks restrictive Louisiana abortion law

FILE PHOTO - An abortion rights activist holds up a sign as marchers take part in the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A divided U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday stopped a Louisiana law imposing strict regulations on abortion clinics from going into effect in its first major test on abortion since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy last summer.

The court on a 5-4 vote granted an emergency application by Shreveport-based abortion provider Hope Medical Group for Women to block the Republican-backed law from going into effect while litigation continues.

The four liberal justices were joined by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority, suggesting that Roberts, as Kennedy used to be, is now the key vote on the issue.

Kennedy backed abortion rights in two key cases. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who President Donald Trump appointed to replace Kennedy, joined the court’s four other conservatives in dissent.

Hope Medical Group challenged the law’s requirement that doctors who perform abortions must have an arrangement called “admitting privileges” at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic.

Kavanaugh, writing for himself, said it was not clear whether doctors would be unable to obtain the admitting privileges were the law to go into effect. He said that he would have favored allowing them to bring a later legal challenge if their efforts were unsuccessful.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion-rights group that represents the challengers, said the law could lead to the closure of two of the three abortion clinics operating in Louisiana, a state of more than 4.6 million people.

The law was passed in 2014 but courts had prevented it from going into effect. The Supreme Court itself blocked the law in 2016, two days after hearing another major case involving a similar Texas law that the justices struck down months later.

Kennedy, a conservative who retired in July 2018, had voted to preserve abortion rights in 1992 and again in the 2016 Texas case.

Roberts was a dissenter in the 2016 case, but his vote on Thursday, for now, suggests the court is not retreating from that precedent.

Kavanaugh is one of two Trump appointees who are part of the court’s 5-4 conservative majority, along with Neil Gorsuch.

The Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized the procedure nationwide in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

The court on Feb. 1 temporarily blocked the Lousiana law, which was due to go into effect on Feb. 4, while the justices decided how to proceed.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Abortion looms over Senate fight on Supreme Court nominee

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh pictured at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – When a U.S. appeals court last week rejected an Alabama abortion law, one of the court’s judges bemoaned having to base the decision on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, calling it an “aberration of constitutional law.”

The views of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Ed Carnes, a Republican appointee to the Atlanta-based court, are shared by many conservatives opposed to the landmark 1973 ruling.

The big question is whether conservative U.S. appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, is one of them.

The possibility he could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade will be a top line of questioning when Kavanaugh appears before a U.S. Senate panel for his confirmation hearing, starting on Tuesday.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last month found that 68 percent of Democrats believed abortion should be legal, while 61 percent of Republicans said the procedure, in general, should be illegal.  The issue has come to highlight the deep divide between the two parties.

Yet, some on both sides question whether Roe v. Wade could easily be overturned, given the Supreme Court’s tradition of standing by its older decisions. Under a principle known as stare decisis, the court tries to protect its credibility by avoiding politicization and keeping the law evenhanded.

During an Aug. 21 meeting, Kavanaugh told Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who favors abortion rights, that Roe v. Wade was “settled law,” she said afterward.

The court is currently split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh would replace if he is confirmed by the Senate, disappointed fellow conservatives by affirming abortion rights in two key cases.

Still, precedents can be cast aside. For instance, just two months ago, the conservative majority, including Kennedy, overturned a major 1977 labor law precedent. The ruling came after two earlier rulings that undermined it.

“Rarely if ever has the court overruled a decision – let alone one of this import – with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

ROAD MAP FOR ROE

The stakes are high in the Senate battle over Kavanaugh because, if confirmed, he could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade.

Doing that would likely prompt many conservative-leaning states to take steps to outlaw abortion altogether.

In the run-up to the Kavanaugh hearings, abortion rights groups have held rallies nationwide, while opponents of Roe v. Wade are optimistic that Kavanaugh will be on their side.

“I hope that there will be a future majority to overturn Roe, and I hope Kavanaugh would be among them,” Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said in an interview.

Abortion opponents could use the recent labor case decision as a road map to overturning Roe by taking up a series of abortion cases that would also criticize Roe’s validity.

“Five years of decisions questioning (Roe) – that could change things,” said John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Most analysts expect a steady weakening of Roe as opposed to a quick reversal. “They probably won’t do it instantly, but they will probably get there eventually,” said Carolyn Shapiro, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Trump pledged during the 2016 election campaign to appoint judges hostile to Roe v. Wade, a stance that won over social conservatives who helped him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The president’s fellow Republicans narrowly control the Senate and can ensure Kavanaugh’s confirmation if they avoid defections from their ranks.

NO DIRECT RULING

When Trump named him in July as his Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh emphasized his Catholic faith. In a decade as a judge, he has not ruled directly on abortion, although he has signaled sympathy for legal arguments by anti-abortion advocates.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Supreme Court could soon wade back into the abortion debate. Legal battles over state bans on the procedure in early pregnancy are working through the courts.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which manages abortion clinics in several states, said she had spent her whole career working with the fate of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance.

Her clinic won the last major Supreme Court ruling on abortion in 2016, when the justices struck down strict regulations in Texas.

“This time I think Roe could fall,” she said. “But you have to stand up for what’s right even when the odds are against you.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

Ireland quietly comes to terms with dramatic change after abortion vote

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish people paid homage on Sunday to an Indian immigrant woman whose death inspired a historic vote to repeal Ireland’s strict abortion laws while the Catholic Church rued the outcome saying it showed indifference to its teachings.

In a referendum on Friday, the once deeply Catholic nation voted to scrap a prohibition on abortion by a margin of two-to-one, a landslide victory that astonished campaigners as citizens of every age and background demanded the change they had spent decades fighting for.

The vote overturns a law which, for decades, has forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations that they could not legally have in their own country. “Yes” campaigners had argued that with pills now being bought illegally online abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Hundreds of people on Sunday continued to leave flowers and candles at a large mural in Dublin of Savita Halappanaar, the 31-year-old Indian whose death in 2012 from a septic miscarriage after being refused a termination spurred lawmakers into action.

Katy Gaffney, a 24-year-old baker who traveled home to Dublin from Berlin to vote, stood silently in front of the makeshift memorial crying.

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“I am relieved but devastated that it had to come to this,” she said.

Others, many with tears in their eyes, pinned messages to the wall. One read: “I’m so sorry this happened to you before the country woke up. My vote was for you.” Another: “I’m sorry we let you down. It won’t be in vain.”

“It’s not a high. It’s more of a relief,” said Lynda Cosgrave, a 35-year-old legal associate, wearing the black sweatshirt with ‘Repeal’ in white that become the symbol of the youthful “Yes” campaign.

“I thought when I came in last night it would be jubilant, but it was a bit down. It’s a bit sad. I don’t think we ever thought it would actually happen.”

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of going abroad for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

The government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, will begin drafting legislation in the coming week to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy by the end of the year.

Many lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not try to block the bill.

NEW MILESTONE

The outcome was a new milestone on a path of change for the country of 4.8 million which only legalized divorce by a tiny majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

With the vote making newspaper frontpages across the world, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that “Ireland has once again made history.” He called the vote an essential symbol for women’s freedom.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with ministers and lawmakers in her Conservative party after refusing to back reform of highly restrictive abortion laws in the British province of Northern Ireland which has a 500 km (312 mile) land border with Ireland.

Ireland’s push to liberalize its laws is in contrast to another traditionally Catholic European country, Poland, where the ruling conservative party and still powerful church are seeking to ban most abortions.

In Ireland though, the once all-powerful Catholic Church, which has seen its public influence collapse since the 1980s after a string of child sex abuse scandals, took a back seat throughout the referendum campaign.

In churches across the country on Sunday there was only regret at the outcome.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told parishioners that the church had to “renew its commitment to support life.”

“Many will see the results of Friday’s referendum as an indication that the Catholic Church in Ireland is regarded today by many with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of Irish culture,” Martin said in a homily published by the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick called the result “deeply regrettable and chilling for those of us who voted ‘No’.” He asked those attending mass to pray for healing in Irish society.

Calling on colleagues to move quickly on legislation, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone reminded lawmakers that Irish women would still have to travel across the water to Britain for terminations until they acted.

“Women are leaving the country today,” she told national broadcaster RTE. “We have to be aware of that and have that sense of urgency in order to legislate as soon as possible.”

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Ireland ends abortion ban as ‘quiet revolution’ transforms country

Observers watch as votes are tallied folowing yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s prime minister on Saturday hailed the culmination of “a quiet revolution” in what was once one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries after a landslide referendum vote to liberalize highly restrictive laws on abortion.

Voters in the once deeply Catholic nation backed the change by two-to-one, a far higher margin than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, and allows the government to bring in legislation by the end of the year.

“It’s incredible. For all the years and years and years we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything,” said Mary Higgins, obstetrician and Together For Yes campaigner.

For decades, the law forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations and “Yes” campaigners argued that with others now ordering pills illegally online, abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of leaving the country for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, had called the vote a once-in-a-generation chance and voters responded by turning out in droves. A turnout of 64 percent was one of the highest for a referendum.

“Today is an historic day for Ireland. A quiet revolution has taken place,” Varadkar, who became Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister last year, said in a speech after the vote.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. This is Ireland’s second chance to treat everyone equally and with compassion and respect. We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink.”

The outcome is a new milestone on a path of change for a country which only legalized divorce by a razor thin majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

The once-mighty Catholic Church took a back seat throughout the campaign.

ASTONISHING MARGIN

Anti-abortion activists conceded defeat early on Saturday as their opponents expressed astonishment at the scale of their victory. Lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not seek to block the government’s plans to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

“What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions,” the Save The 8th group said. “However, a wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it.”

Voters were asked to scrap the constitutional amendment, which gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

The country’s largest newspaper, the Irish Independent, described the result as “a massive moment in Ireland’s social history”.

Activists react at the count centre as votes are tallied folowing yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Activists react at the count centre as votes are tallied folowing yesterday’s referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Campaigners for change, wearing “Repeal” jumpers and “Yes” badges, gathered at count centers, many in tears and hugging each other. Others sang songs in the sunshine outside the main Dublin results center as they awaited the official result.

The large crowd cheered Varadkar as he took to the stage to thank them for “trusting women and respecting their choices”.

Reform in Ireland also raised the prospect that women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, may start traveling south of the border.

“The outcome of the referendum is an extremely worrying development for the protection of the unborn child in Northern Ireland,” said Jim Wells, a member of Northern Ireland’s socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

MIDDLE GROUND

No social issue had divided Ireland’s 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant from a septic miscarriage after she was refused a termination.

Campaigners left flowers and candles at a large mural of the woman, Savita Halappanavar, in central Dublin. Her parents in India were quoted by the Irish Times newspaper as thanking their “brothers and sisters” in Ireland and requesting the new law be called “Savita’s law”.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

“For him, it’s a different Ireland that we’re moving onto,” said Colm O’Riain, a 44-year-old teacher referring to his son Ruarai, born 14 weeks premature in November who was in his arms.

“It’s an Ireland that is more tolerant, more inclusive and where he can be whatever he wants without fear of recrimination.”

(Additional reporting by Graham Fahy and Emily Roe in Dublin; Amanda Ferguson in Belfast and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Alison Williams and Richard Balmforth)

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signs ‘Heartbeat Bill’ into law

Supporters of Planned Parenthood (L) rally next to anti-abortion activists outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Press Release from Faith2Action
Heartbeat Law–Most Protective Law in the Nation!
 
May 4, 2018 – For Immediate Release
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed the state Heartbeat Bill into law today, legally protecting unborn babies in Iowa whose beating hearts can be detected.
“We thank Gov. Reynolds and the leaders in the Iowa State Senate and House who worked tirelessly to keep hearts beating,” said Janet Porter, President of Faith2Action, who authored the nation’s first Heartbeat Bills at the state and federal level.
“We call on Speaker Paul Ryan to follow Iowa’s lead and call an immediate floor vote on the federal Heartbeat Bill (H.R. 490), now with 171 co-sponsors–more than any pro-life bill in Congress,” declared Porter.
 
Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay testified for the Iowa Heartbeat Bill in committee and has been leading the team fighting for passage of the federal Heartbeat Bill in Washington, sponsored by Congressman Steve King, from Iowa.  “Leaving Congress without ending abortion is my biggest regret–a regret Speaker Ryan doesn’t have to have,” said DeLay.
 
“Speaker Ryan can call for a floor vote to end abortion for every baby whose heartbeat can be heard right now–there’s nothing stopping him,” stated DeLay.
DeLay also offered advice to the Speaker and the Republicans in Congress:  “Nothing will bring out the Republican base in the midterm elections more than keeping your pro-life promises by passing the federal Heartbeat Bill, H.R. 490.”  Leader Delay was fully exonerated from every trumped-up charge against him.
In the last two weeks, more than 300,000 faxes were sent to Speaker Ryan, leadership, and members of Congress calling for a vote of the federal Heartbeat Bill.  Porter added, “In addition to Congress, other states will soon be introducing and passing Heartbeat Bills.  It’s common sense–to ignore a fetal heartbeat is to deny science.” 

Ohio passes law barring abortion over Down syndrome diagnosis

Ohio passes law barring abortion over Down syndrome diagnosis

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) – Women in Ohio would be prohibited from receiving abortions because of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis under a bill that passed the state senate on Wednesday and is heading to Republican Governor John Kasich’s desk.

Lawmakers voted 20-12 in favor of the law, which criminalizes abortion if the physician has knowledge that the procedure is being sought due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome, a genetic disorder caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21.

Doctors would lose their medical licenses in the state and face a fourth-degree felony charge under the law if they were to perform an abortion with that knowledge. Mothers would not face criminal charges.

The bill makes Ohio the third state to pass a law outlawing abortions due to fetal anomalies. Similar laws were passed in Indiana and North Dakota. The Indiana provision was struck down by a U.S. District Judge in September after a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling declined to say whether the governor would sign the measure into law. He added that when Kasich was asked about a similar bill in the Ohio House, he had called it “appropriate.”

Abortion opponents cheered the move and said they expected the governor to sign the law.

“Every Ohioan deserves the right to life, no matter how many chromosomes they have,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life.

Abortion-rights supporters wore “STOP THE BANS” T-shirts in the Senate chamber on Wednesday as the vote went forward.

The law “will create a chilling effect on the medical profession in our state and could result in a shortage of gynecologists willing to practice in Ohio,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Ohio, an abortion-rights advocacy group, said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

The ACLU of Ohio said it was still evaluating the final bill before deciding whether to pursue legal action.

Kasich has 10 days to sign the bill into law after it is delivered to his office. If he does so, it will mark the 20th piece of Ohio legislation restricting abortion rights and funding for reproductive health passed in the six years he has been governor.

Unlike many other anti-abortion laws in the state, the Down syndrome bill did not pass strictly along party lines, with some Republicans joining the entire Democratic caucus in voting against the measure.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Patrick Enright and Matthew Lewis)

Federal judge strikes down two abortion restrictions in Alabama

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday struck down two abortion restrictions in Alabama that limited how close clinics can be to public schools and banned a procedure used to terminate pregnancies in the second trimester.

The decision is a blow to abortion opponents in Alabama, who have joined conservatives in other states in enacting new laws that critics said were chipping away at the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson in the Middle District of Alabama found the laws unconstitutional and permanently enjoined the state from enforcing the measures, which were signed into law in May 2016 by former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican.

The same court last year temporarily blocked both measures in a preliminary injunction, which was under appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The school-proximity law banned clinics within 2,000 feet of a K-8 public school and was the only law of its kind in the United States. Thompson said it would likely have forced the closing of clinics in Huntsville and Tuscaloosa, where 72 percent of the state’s abortions are performed.

The “fetal-demise law,” which effectively banned the most common method of second-trimester abortion, known as dilation and evacuation, would have prohibited abortions after 15 weeks, Thompson wrote.

“Because these laws clearly impose an impermissible undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose an abortion, they cannot stand,” he wrote.

The ACLU of Alabama had challenged the laws on behalf of two women’s health clinics in a state where abortion providers have faced what Thompson’s ruling called a “climate of hostility.”

“Both would have had a devastating impact on the ability of women to access abortion in Alabama,” said Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama.

Alabama’s Attorney General and Republican Governor Kay Ivey’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

U.S. state legislatures enacted 41 new abortion restrictions in the first half of 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank that supports abortion rights.

Those laws have led to a spate of legal challenges in Alabama and elsewhere. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of a Texas law that required clinics to meet hospital-like standards and for clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; editing by Patrick Enright and Grant McCool)

Stricter Missouri abortion rules take effect after legal fight

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – New abortion regulations took effect on Tuesday in Missouri that critics argue will make it more difficult for women to access the procedure.

A judge on Monday declined to block a requirement that physicians performing abortions inform their patients about abortion risks at least 72 hours before their procedure. Previously, a different provider could give that mandated information.

That means repeat doctor visits for women seeking abortions, some of whom must travel hundreds of miles to reach one of Missouri’s three clinics, said Bonyen Lee-Gilmore, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains. There is also a shortage of abortion doctors, she said.

The organization had sued to stop the new regulations because of the provider requirement.

“This is about making it as difficult as possible to obtain an abortion,” Lee-Gilmore said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Abortion access is chipped away one seemingly moderate restriction at a time.”

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley praised the law in a statement issued late on Monday, saying, “SB5 enacts sensible regulations that protect the health of women in Missouri and we will continue to vigorously defend these.”

The provider restriction was part of broader abortion regulations that went into effect on Monday after they were passed by Missouri lawmakers during a July special session called by Republican Governor Eric Greitens.

Among other things, the law gives the attorney general power to enforce abortion laws, requires annual surprise inspections of clinics and exempts pregnancy resource centers, which counsel against abortions, from a local St. Louis law banning employers from discriminating against those who have had an abortion. Critics of the St. Louis ordinance believed it could require the centers to hire workers who favor abortion rights.

The legislative session was called after a federal judge in April blocked requirements for clinics to meet standards for surgical centers and for doctors to have hospital privileges as unconstitutional barriers to access.

Since then, doctors in Missouri, formerly one of seven states down to only one clinic providing abortions, have begun offering them at three locations, in St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City.

But the new regulation offsets the benefits of those new locations, Lee-Gilmore said.

U.S. state legislatures enacted 41 new abortion restrictions in the first half of 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank that supports abortion rights.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; editing by Patrick Enright and Tom Brown)

ACLU sues over FDA restrictions on abortion pill access

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland August 14, 2012. Picture taken August 14, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to challenge U.S. Food and Drug Administration restrictions that limit the ability of women to access the so-called abortion pill.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii to challenge FDA restrictions that limit the dispensing of the pill, Mifeprex, to clinics, medical offices or hospitals rather than retail pharmacies.

The ACLU said that as a result, the FDA’s restrictions delay and in some cases block a woman’s access to abortion by requiring her to be handed Mifeprex by healthcare providers who have arranged to stock it in their facilities.

That is despite the fact that Mifeprex, which can be used for abortions up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy, is considered safe and has been recognized by the FDA itself as providing “meaningful therapeutic benefit,” the lawsuit said.

“The unique and harmful restrictions the FDA imposes on where and how a patient may receive Mifeprex deny women meaningful access to this safe and effective treatment with no medical justification,” the complaint said.

The FDA declined to comment.

Mifeprex, manufactured by Danco Laboratories, was approved in 2000 to terminate early pregnancy when given in combination with misoprostol, an anti-inflammatory drug that was originally approved to prevent gastric ulcers.

The lawsuit came after the FDA in March 2016 announced a decision to relax restrictions on the use of Mifeprex that were in place for over a decade.

The FDA eased access to it by updating the prescribing information on the drug’s label, thus expanding use to 70 days of gestation from 49 days, cutting the recommended dose of the drug and reducing the number of required visits to a doctor.

The ACLU filed its lawsuit on behalf of three healthcare associations and a family medicine doctor, Graham Chelius, who is based on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, which has no abortion providers.

According to the ACLU, while Chelius is qualified and willing to provide the pill, he cannot stock it at the hospital where he works due to objections from some colleagues and as a result his patients must fly to another island for abortions.

To support its case, the ACLU cited a June 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Illinois Republican governor signs controversial abortion bill

FILE PHOTO - Bruce Rauner talks to the media at the White House in Washington December 5, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner signed a controversial bill into law on Thursday to expand state-funded coverage of abortions for low-income residents on Medicaid and state employees.

The bill, approved by the state legislature in May, would also keep abortions legal in Illinois if the U.S. Supreme Court follows President Donald Trump’s call to overturn its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortions legal 44 years ago.

Illinois’ Medicaid program has previously covered abortions in cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life or health is threatened.

The expansion would enable poor women to obtain elective abortions. The bill would allow state employees to have the procedures covered under state health insurance.

Rauner, who had earlier suggested he would veto the measure, said in a statement that he had talked to woman around the state before making his decision.

“I understand abortion is a very emotional issue with passionate opinions on both sides. I sincerely respect those who believe abortion is morally wrong,” he said.

“But, as I have always said, I believe a woman should have the right to make that choice herself and I do not believe that choice should be determined by income,” Rauner added. “I do not think it’s fair to deny poor women the choice that wealthy women have.”

The decision comes as conservative legislatures and other Republican governors have sought in recent years to tighten regulations on abortion clinics and forced closures in states such as Texas and Kentucky.

The move by Rauner upset conservatives.

“Taxpayers should not be forced to fund something as controversial and culturally divisive as abortions,” Republican state Senator Dan McConchie told the Chicago Tribune.

Currently, 15 other states allow Medicaid to pay for abortion, including some required by courts, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But Illinois is the first state in decades to voluntarily lift its restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, according to National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

“Under the Trump administration, we are potentially facing the greatest threat to reproductive rights in more than a generation. HB 40 ensures that abortion will remain legal in Illinois, regardless of what happens at the federal level,” the forum’s executive director, Sung Yeon Choimorrow, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Diane Craft)