Support for abortion jumped in Mexico last year, survey finds

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Support for abortion rose sharply in Mexico in 2020, according to a poll published on Monday, as attitudes towards the issue shift across Latin America.

In Mexico, a majority Roman Catholic nation, elective abortion is allowed only in the capital and the state of Oaxaca, but a growing pro-choice movement has been calling for a loosening of restrictions.

At the end of November, support for abortion stood at 48% in a survey, published by the news organizations El Financiero and Nación321 – a steep rise from the 29% recorded in March.

The poll, based on telephone interviews with 410 participants, asked if respondents agreed that “the law should permit a woman the right to abortion.”

Although Latin America has some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws, Argentina legalized the procedure last month.

The move was a triumph for the women’s rights movement in a region where the Catholic Church has held cultural and political sway for centuries.

Several nations in Latin American ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison.

Until recently, only Communist Cuba and tiny Uruguay permitted elective abortions.

In most of Mexico, abortion is banned except under certain circumstances, such as rape. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has declined to take a position, saying wider legalization should be a matter for public consultation.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Argentina lower house approves landmark bill to legalize abortion

By Nicolás Misculin and Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentina’s lower house of Congress approved a bill to legalize abortion in the early hours of Friday morning, a big step forward for the legislation that could set the tone for a wider shift in conservative Latin America.

The draft law, which would allow the legal termination of pregnancies up to the 14th week, was passed with 131 votes in favor, 117 against and six abstentions. It will now move up to the Senate, where an even tighter vote is expected.

Supporters of the legislation, dressed in distinctive green scarves, cheered and hugged each other in the streets of Buenos Aires after the vote for the bill, which was backed by the government.

Some of the opponents – who had also marched outside Congress through a mammoth debate on Thursday and stayed out all night for the decision – were in tears.

The votes in Argentina, the birthplace of Pope Francis, come amid calls for greater reproductive rights for women across the predominantly Roman Catholic region.

“This is a fundamental step and recognition of a long struggle that women’s movements have been carrying out in our country for years,” Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the government’s Women, Gender and Diversity minister, said after the vote.

“We are going to continue working so that the voluntary termination of pregnancy becomes law.”

A similar vote to legalize abortion was narrowly defeated in a Senate vote in 2018 after passing the lower house.

Groups opposing the legislation wore light blue scarves as they marched.

“They don’t want to show what an abortion is,” said Mariana Ledger who was holding a cross and a dummy of a headless and bloodied fetus. “This is it, and they don’t want to show it. They are hiding the truth, we are not foolish people.”

Amnesty International welcomed the lower house vote and called on the Senate not to “turn its back” on women.

The initiative includes a parallel bill – which will face a separate vote – to assist women who want to continue with their pregnancy and face severe economic or social difficulties.

Argentine law currently only allows abortions when there is a serious risk to the mother or in the event of rape. Activists say, even in those cases, many women often do not receive adequate care.

Carlina Ciak, a 46-year-old pediatrician who stayed in the square outside Congress until after midnight, said the bill would help women from the most vulnerable groups who were often forced to seek dangerous illegal abortions.

“Abortion as a medical practice exists, even when illegal it never stopped being performed,” the mother-of-two said.

The most affected women were from groups already suffering from “misery, poverty, criminalization and all kinds of violence.”

“For them, and for our daughters, we will fight until it becomes law,” she said.

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Additional reporting by Reuters TV and Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan, Tom Brown and Andrew Heavens)

Argentine lawmakers take up government-backed bill to legalize abortion

By Nicolás Misculin

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -Argentine lawmakers began debating a bill to legalize abortion on Thursday as protesters rallied outside Congress waving trademark green scarves in support of the legislation that could set the tone for a wider shift in Latin America.

The draft law, which would provide for the legal termination of pregnancy up until the 14th week, is backed by center-left President Alberto Fernandez. It is expected to be narrowly approved by congressional deputies before moving up to the Senate, where an even tighter vote is anticipated.

The South American country is the birthplace of Pope Francis, and Thursday’s debate comes as a number of countries in the predominantly Roman Catholic region are seeing drives to give women greater reproductive rights.

A spokesman for the ruling party said a debate of almost 30 hours was expected in the lower house, meaning that the bill – which could undergo modifications to achieve broad consensus – would be likely to face a vote on Friday morning.

“”We are convinced that this offers a concrete answer to an urgent and structural public health problem,” said Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the government’s Women, Gender and Diversity minister, as she opened the session in the Chamber of Deputies.

“The time has come to stop looking the other way.”

Protesters supporting the bill began gathering outside Congress with their green scarves on Thursday, planning an overnight vigil to await news of what they hope will be an approval this time round after a similar vote to legalize abortion was narrowly defeated in 2018.

Opposition groups, who wear light blue scarves, have also pledged to take to the streets to demonstrate against the bill.

The initiative includes a parallel bill which will face a separate vote to assist women who want to continue with their pregnancy and face severe economic or social difficulties.

Argentine law currently only allows the voluntary interruption of pregnancy when there is a serious risk to the mother or in the event of rape, although activists say many women often do not receive adequate care.

The country has seen a gradual rise in agnosticism in recent years. While the current Peronist government is strongly behind the bill, that was not the case in 2018 during the conservative administration of Mauricio Macri.

“We are not in favor of abortion, we do not recommend or suggest it, we are against clandestine abortion that kills thousands of women,” Argentine actress and campaigner Carola Reyna posted on Twitter.

“We believe that it is a practice that should be regulated by the State, guaranteeing women’s health.”

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Tom Brown)

Women’s movement sweeps Latin America to loosen abortion restrictions

By Daina Beth Solomon and Cassandra Garrison

MEXICO CITY/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Several weeks pregnant and about to start a job away from home, Lupita Ruiz had no doubts about wanting to end her pregnancy, despite knowing she could face jail time for having an abortion under a law in her state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.

She asked friends for help until she found a doctor two hours from her town who agreed to do it in secret.

Five years later, lawmakers in Chiapas are set to consider an initiative to halt prosecutions of women who terminate their pregnancies, part of a movement sweeping Latin America to loosen some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws.

Several out of more than 20 Latin American nations ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison. Most countries, including Brazil, the region’s most populous, allow abortion only in specific circumstances, such as rape or health risk to the mother.

Just Uruguay and Cuba allow elective abortions.

In Mexico, a patchwork of state restrictions apply, but the debate is shifting, Ruiz said.

“When someone talked about abortion, they were shushed,” said the 27-year-old activist, who helped draft the Chiapas initiative. “Now I can sit down to eat a tamale and have a coffee and talk with my mom and my grandma about abortion, without anyone telling me to be quiet.”

Change is palpable across the predominantly Roman Catholic region. A new Argentine president proposed legalization last month, Chilean activists are aiming to write broader reproductive rights into a new constitution, and female lawmakers in Mexico are resisting abortion bans.

The push can be traced to Argentina’s pro-abortion protests in 2018 by as many as one million women to back a legalization bill that only narrowly failed to pass – in Pope Francis’s home country.

Catalina Martinez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy organization, said Argentina’s example inspired protests across Latin America.

“It was an awakening,” she said.

Outrage at worsening gender violence in Latin America, where the number of femicides has doubled in five years, has also spread awareness of the abortion rights movement and fueled demands for recognition of women’s rights in a conservative, male-dominated society.

“Women are finally understanding that they are not separate issues,” said Catalina Calderon, director for campaigns and advocacy programs at the Women’s Equality Center. “It’s the fact that you agree that we women are in control of our bodies, our decisions, our lives.”

The rise of social media has afforded women opportunities to bypass establishment-controlled media and bring attention to their stories, Calderon said.

“Now they’re out there for the public to discuss and for the women to react, and say: ‘This does not work. We need to do something’,” Calderon said.

As in the United States, where conservatives have made gains in restricting a woman’s right to an abortion, there is pushback in Latin America against the calls for greater liberalization.

Brazil, under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, is making it even harder for women to abort.

The Argentine Episcopal Conference has said it does not want to debate abortion during the coronavirus crisis, and alluded to comments by the Pope urging respect for those who are “not yet useful,” including fetuses.

Yet trust in the Catholic Church, which believes life begins at conception, is fading, with many Latin Americans questioning its moral legitimacy because of sexual abuse by priests.

SPREADING ‘GREEN WAVE’

Argentina could be first up for sweeping change, with a bill submitted to Congress by center-left President Alberto Fernandez seeking to legalize elective abortions.

Approval for legalization has risen eight percentage points since 2014, according to an August Ipsos poll, with support split nearly evenly between those who favor elective abortion and those who are for it only in certain circumstances.

“The dilemma we must overcome is whether abortions are performed clandestinely or in the Argentine health system,” Fernandez said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a U.S.-based reproductive health research organization, an estimated 29% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2015 to 2019 ended in abortion, encompassing 5.4 million women. The abortions are often clandestine, so figures are hard to determine.

The mass demonstrations in Argentina two years ago, known as the “green wave” protests, have reverberated.

Since mid-2018, lawmakers in Mexico have filed more than 40 proposals to end punishment for abortion, according to Mexican reproductive rights group GIRE.

In Chiapas, the de-criminalization effort is the first of its kind since a brief period in the 1990s when abortion was legalized during the left-wing Zapatista rebellion.

Although Chiapas does not on paper punish abortion with prison, it can jail women for the “killing” of their infants.

With Mexico’s first leftist government in a century in power, national lawmakers are considering two initiatives to open up restrictions and strip away criminal punishments from places like Sonora state, where abortion can be punished by up to six years in prison.

Only two federal entities, Mexico City and Oaxaca, allow elective abortions.

Wendy Briceno, a Sonoran lawmaker who has backed a nationwide legalization bill, said the initiatives have a good chance to pass if the debate centers on women’s health, especially given rising outrage over femicides.

In Chile, activists are celebrating a vote in October to write a new constitution as a chance to expand a 2017 law that permitted abortion to save a mother’s life, in cases of rape, or if the fetus is not viable.

Colombia, where the constitutional court has agreed to consider a petition to remove abortion from the penal code, could set an example, said Anita Pena, director of Chilean reproductive rights group Corporacion Miles.

Activists agree there is still a long way to go, with restrictive laws entrenched in many countries.

To Briceno, Brazil’s shift to the right under Bolsonaro, who has vowed to veto any pro-abortion bills, was a reminder to push even harder for abortion rights.

“No fight is ever finished,” she said.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City, Cassandra Garrison in Buenos Aires, Natalia Ramos in Santiago; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Vatican City; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Grant McCool)

Blinken is president-elect’s pick as U.S. secretary of state – Biden ally

By Matt Spetalnick and Trevor Hunnicutt

NEW YORK/WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Joe Biden will pick Antony Blinken as U.S. secretary of state, a person close to the president-elect’s transition said on Sunday, elevating one of his most seasoned and trusted aides as he prepares to undo President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

Blinken is a longtime Biden confidant who served as No. 2 at the State Department and as deputy national security adviser in President Barack Obama’s administration, in which Biden served as vice president.

A second Biden ally said that Blinken was Biden’s first choice. An announcement is likely on Tuesday.

Blinken’s appointment makes another longtime Biden aide with a foreign policy background, Jake Sullivan, the top candidate to be U.S. national security adviser, the first source said. Bloomberg News first reported the expected roles.

Biden’s transition team declined to comment. Neither Blinken nor Sullivan responded to requests for comment.

While neither are household names, Blinken and Sullivan have helped Biden formulate a strategy that will include immediate outreach to U.S. allies who have often been antagonized by Trump’s “America First” approach, and to demonstrate a willingness to work together on major global problems like the coronavirus epidemic and its economic fallout.

Biden has vowed to rejoin a nuclear deal with Iran if the country returns to compliance, return to the Paris climate accord, abandon plans to leave the World Health Organization and end a U.S. rule that bans funding of aid groups that discuss abortion. Each move would reverse Trump’s policies and some could take place quickly after Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

Biden is also likely to name Linda Thomas-Greenfield as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, media outlets reported on Sunday. Thomas-Greenfield is Black, an expert on Africa policy and held a top diplomatic post in the administration of former President Barack Obama.

‘DIPLOMAT’S DIPLOMAT’

Blinken, 58, has long touted the view that the United States needs to take an active leadership role in the world, engaging with allies, or see that role filled by countries like China with contrary interests.

“As much of a burden as it sometimes seems to play … the alternative in terms of our interests and the lives of Americans are much worse,” he said in an interview with Reuters in October.

When asked if relations with the United States might improve with Blinken replacing Mike Pompeo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian sidestepped the question by saying he does not comment on U.S. domestic affairs.​

He reiterated that China was willing to improve communication, strengthen cooperation and manage differences with the United States.

People familiar with his management style describe Blinken as a “diplomat’s diplomat,” deliberative and relatively soft-spoken, but well-versed in the nuts and bolts of foreign policy.

After Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Trump, Blinken became one of the founders of WestExec Advisors, a Washington consultancy advising corporations on geopolitical risks.

Having practiced law briefly, he entered politics in the late 1980s helping Democrat Michael Dukakis’ presidential campaign raise money.

He joined Democratic President Bill Clinton’s White House as a speechwriter and became one of his national security aides.

Under Obama, Blinken worked to limit most U.S. combat deployments to small numbers of troops. But he told Reuters last year that Trump had “gutted American credibility” with his pullback of U.S. troops in Syria in 2019 that left Kurdish U.S. allies in the lurch in their fight against Islamic State.

On the campaign trail, Blinken was one of Biden’s closest advisers, even on issues that went beyond foreign policy.

That trust is the product of the years Blinken worked alongside Biden as an adviser to his unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign, as national security adviser early in his vice presidency and as the Democratic staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair.

Sullivan, formerly a close policy aide to Hillary Clinton, became one of the key policy advisers to Biden. He served as the former vice president’s national security adviser during the Obama administration.

A 43-year-old graduate of Yale, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford and has a reputation as a behind-the-scenes operator, Sullivan took part in secret back channel talks with Iran that led to a 2015 international nuclear deal that Trump subsequently overturned.

He took on a broad portfolio on foreign and domestic policy, including the campaign’s views on the public health and economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, and was quickly chosen to stay on with Biden through the transition.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in New York, Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Diane Craft, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Toby Chopra)

New Jersey, Arizona approve recreational marijuana, Florida raises minimum wage

By Peter Szekely and Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) – Voters in New Jersey and Arizona legalized marijuana for recreational use on Tuesday, and in Oregon approved the country’s first therapeutic use for psilocybin, the hallucinogenic drug known as magic mushrooms.

The measures were among at least 124 statutory and constitutional questions put to voters this year in 32 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Here are some of the key results and projections from the ballots, which covered topics such as elections, abortion rights and taxes:

MARIJUANA

While voters in New Jersey and Arizona approved measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use, South Dakota was poised to allow the drug for both medical and recreational use: Its ballot measure that appeared headed to victory with 90 percent of precincts counted. A proposition legalizing medical marijuana also appeared headed for victory in Mississippi.

Since 1996, 33 other states and the District of Columbia have allowed medical marijuana, 11 had previously approved its recreational use and 16, including some medical marijuana states, have decriminalized simple possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

PSILOCYBIN, AKA MAGIC MUSHROOMSPsilocybin, a hallucinogen also known in its raw form as magic mushrooms, was approved by Oregon voters for therapeutic use for adults. Backers of the Psilocybin Services Act cited research showing benefits of the drug as a treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions. The measure will set a schedule to further consider the matter and create a regulatory structure for it.

In a related measure, Washington, D.C., voters approved Initiative 81, which directs police to rank “entheogenic plants and fungi,” including psilocybin and mescaline, among its lowest enforcement priorities.

MINIMUM WAGE Voters in Florida approved a measure to amend the state constitution to gradually increase its $8.56 per hour minimum wage to $15 by Sept. 30, 2026.

CALIFORNIA GIG WORKERS California voters approved a measure that would exempt ride-share and delivery drivers from a state law that makes them employees, not contractors, according to Edison Research. The measure, Proposition 22, is the first gig-economy question to go before statewide voters in a campaign. Backers, including Uber Technologies Inc and Lyft Inc, spent more than $190 million on their campaign, making the year’s costliest ballot measure, according to Ballotpedia.

ABORTION

Colorado voters rejected a measure to ban abortions, except those needed to save the life of the mother, after 22 weeks of pregnancy.

ELECTIONS

California approved a measure to restore the right to vote to parolees convicted of felonies.

TAXES

In California, a proposal to roll back a portion of the state’s landmark Proposition 13 law limiting property taxes was too close to call Tuesday night. The measure, Proposition 15 on the state’s 2020 ballot, would leave in place protections for residential properties, but raise taxes on commercial properties worth more than $3 million. With about 80% of precincts partially reporting at 12:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the measure was slightly behind, with 51.5% of voters opposed to it and 48.5% in favor.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Philippa Fletcher)

Trump’s Supreme Court pick lauded as ‘unashamedly pro-life’ in hearing’s third day

By Lawrence Hurley, Patricia Zengerle and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett faced fresh questioning at her Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, with the panel’s Republican chairman lauding her as “unashamedly pro-life” even as Democrats worry that she could vote to overturn the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

Barrett, a conservative federal appellate judge who is the Republican president’s third selection for a lifetime job on the top U.S. judicial body, was in the third day of her four-day Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

“This is history being made folks,” Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the panel, said. “This is the first time in American history that we’ve nominated a woman who is unashamedly pro-life and embraces her faith without apology, and she’s going to the court. A seat at the table is waiting for you.”

“It will be a great signal to all young women who share your view of the world,” Graham added.

Under questioning by Graham, Barrett reiterated her comments from Tuesday that the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to abortion was not a “super-precedent” that could never potentially be overturned.

Barrett, a devout Catholic and a favorite of religious conservatives, told the committee on Tuesday she could set aside her religious beliefs in making judicial decisions.

Barrett would be the fifth woman to serve on the court and the second Republican appointee.

During 11 hours of questioning on Tuesday, she sidestepped questions on contentious social issues and told the committee she had no agenda on issues such as the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Democrats say Barrett’s confirmation would threaten healthcare for millions of Americans and they have said the Senate should not consider filling the vacancy until after the presidential election.

Barrett, 48, would tilt the court even further to the right, giving conservative justices a 6-3 majority. Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority, making Barrett’s confirmation a virtual certainty.

Barrett has declined to say whether she would recuse herself from the major Obamacare case to be argued on Nov. 10, in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the law. She said the case centers on a different legal issue than two previous Supreme Court rulings that upheld Obamacare that she has criticized.

In response to Democratic suggestions that she would vote to strike the entire law down if one part is found to be unlawful, Barrett on Wednesday told Graham that when judges address the legal question raised in the case, the “presumption” is that Congress did not intend the whole statute to fall.

Barrett agreed with Graham that if a statute can be saved, it is a judge’s duty to do so. Barrett indicated she was in favor of a broad reading of the “severability doctrine” in which courts assume that when one provision of a law is unlawful, Congress would want the rest of the statute to remain in place.

“I think insofar as it tries to effectuate what Congress would have wanted, it’s the court and Congress working hand in hand,” Barrett said of the doctrine.

Barrett on Tuesday also refused to say whether the 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide was wrongly decided. Barrett deflected Democrats’ questions about whether she would participate in any dispute resulting from the Nov. 3 presidential election, promising only to follow rules giving justices the final say on recusal.

Trump has urged the Senate, controlled by his fellow Republicans, to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Trump has said he expects the Supreme Court to decide the election’s outcome as he faces Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

The hearing is scheduled to end on Thursday with testimony from outside witnesses, with Republicans already preparing for committee vote next week.

Trump nominated Barrett to a lifetime post on the court on Sept. 26 to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The four-day confirmation hearing is a key step before a full Senate vote due by the end of October on Barrett’s confirmation.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York and Lawrence Hurley and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. Supreme Court rebuffs Planned Parenthood defunding case

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away South Carolina’s bid to cut off public funding to Planned Parenthood, the latest case involving a conservative state seeking to deprive the women’s healthcare and abortion provider of government money.

The justices declined to hear South Carolina’s appeal of a lower court ruling that prevented the state from blocking funding under the Medicaid program to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the organization’s regional affiliate.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic operates clinics in Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina, where it provides physical exams, cancer and other health screenings, as well as abortions. Each year the clinics serve hundreds of patients who receive Medicaid, a government health insurance program for low-income Americans.

Numerous Republican-governed states have pursued direct and indirect restrictions involving abortion. Planned Parenthood often is targeted by anti-abortion activists. Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the United States and also receives millions of dollars in public funding for other healthcare services.

Planned Parenthood and Medicaid patient Julie Edwards sued the state’s Department of Health and Human Services in 2018 after officials ended the organization’s participation in the state Medicaid program.

The state took the action after Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, issued executive orders declaring that any abortion provider would be unqualified to provide family planning services and cutting off state funding to them. The state’s action forced Planned Parenthood to turn away Medicaid patients seeking healthcare services, according to a court filing.

South Carolina already did not provide Medicaid reimbursements for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother’s life was in danger, as required by federal law.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the state’s decision in 2019, saying that by ending Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid agreement for reasons unrelated to professional competency, the state violated Edwards’ right under the federal Medicaid Act to receive medical assistance from any institution that is “qualified to perform the service.”

In appealing to the Supreme Court, the state’s health department said Medicaid recipients do not have a right to challenge a state’s determination that a specific provider is not qualified to provide certain medical services.

The Supreme Court in 2018 rejected similar appeals by Louisiana and Kansas seeking to terminate Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding. At that time, three conservative justices – Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch – said the court should have heard the states’ appeals.

President Donald Trump has asked the Senate to confirm his Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a favorite among religious conservatives, before the Nov. 3 election. Barrett was picked to replace liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supporter of abortion rights who died on Sept. 18.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Jan Wolfe; editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

Senate hearing begins for Supreme Court nominee Barrett

By Lawrence Hurley, Andrew Chung and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday opened its four-day confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as his fellow Republicans seek to place her on the bench ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election in the face of firm Democratic opposition.

The hearing for the conservative appellate court judge, picked by Trump to replace the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, started with senators making opening statements. Barrett herself will make her own opening statement after the 22 members of the committee are given a chance to speak.

As a result of health concerns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic, not all the senators will participate in person. Those present in the hearing room on Capitol Hill, which will include Barrett and her family, will be socially distanced and follow other guidelines.

Barrett sat at a table facing the senators wearing a face mask. Her children sat behind her, also wearing protective masks, as the hearing got underway.

Each senator has the final call on whether to attend in person. Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate, is among those participating remotely.

The Senate’s Republican leaders rejected Democratic pleas to delay the hearing after two Republican Judiciary Committee members and Trump himself tested positive for the coronavirus in the days following the Sept. 26 White House event at which the president announced Barrett as the nominee.

The hearing is a key step before a final full Senate vote by the end of October on her nomination for a lifetime job on the court.

Barrett is expected to tell senators that as a judge she seeks to “reach the result required by the law, whatever my own preferences might be,” according to a copy of her prepared remarks released on Sunday.

Barrett, 48, said in the statement that it will be an “honor of a lifetime” to serve alongside the current eight justices.

Her confirmation would create a 6-3 conservative majority on the court that could lead to rulings rolling back abortion rights, expanding religious and gun rights, and upholding Republican-backed voting restrictions, among other issues.

Republicans have a 53-47 Senate majority so Barrett’s confirmation seems almost certain.

Democrats have focused their criticism so far on Barrett’s potentially vital role in a case pending before the Supreme Court in which Trump and Republican-led states are seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act healthcare law, often called Obamacare.

One key provision bars insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.

Democrats have called on Barrett to recuse herself from the case, saying she would have a conflict of interest because Trump has called for the law to be struck down.

They have also demanded that she step aside from any cases involving the presidential election because Trump has said the court is likely to have to settle cases over electoral disputes.

Trump, who is running for re-election against Biden, has indicated he would expect the court to rule in his favor if Barrett is confirmed.

Under existing rules, individual justices have the final say on whether they should recuse.

Barrett, a devout Catholic who has expressed opposition to abortion, is expected to face Democratic questioning on that issue too. Christian conservative activists long have hoped for the court to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Barrett will face questions from senators on Tuesday and Wednesday in lengthy all-day sessions. The hearing is due to conclude on Thursday with outside witnesses testifying about her qualifications.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

South Korea proposes compromise abortion law after landmark court ruling

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Wednesday proposed allowing abortion up until the fourteenth week of pregnancy as part of a new law designed to comply with a landmark ruling by the constitutional court that struck down a decades-long ban.

South Korea criminalized abortion in 1953 when its leaders wanted to boost the population, but exceptions to the law were introduced in 1973, including when the pregnancy was caused by a sexual crime.

However, the Constitutional Court overturned the ban in April last year, saying it unconstitutionally curbed women’s rights and ordering the government to come up with a new law.

Under the new proposal, abortion would be banned after 14 weeks except in the case of a sex crime, or if the health of the mother is at risk, or if the fetus shows signs of severe birth defects, in which case abortion would be allowed up to 24 weeks, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

It also allowed the use of the drug mifepristone for performing abortions.

The proposal drew criticism from both sides of the debate, with women’s rights groups arguing that the law is still focused on punishing women.

Instead, any law should focus on how to safely provide the procedure, the Joint Action for Reproductive Justice in Seoul said in a statement.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea issued a statement opposing the justice ministry decision, saying that children should be protected “from the very moment of conception.”

Ahead of the court’s ruling, opinion polls showed around three-quarters of South Koreans supported dropping the ban.

South Korea has a fertility rate of 1.1 births per woman, the lowest of 198 countries and falling far behind the global average of 2.4, according to the 2020 United Nations Population Fund report.