U.S. abortion rights groups fight new Missouri law in court

FILE PHOTO - A imaging table inside the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood St. Louis Region, Missouri's sole abortion clinic, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Opponents of a new law in Missouri restricting most abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy will ask a federal judge on Monday to stop the law from taking effect this week.

Abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit in July and want a judge to put the law on hold until their legal challenge is heard in court.

The new law, signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson in May and set to take effect on Wednesday, allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies and does not exempt victims of rape or incest.

The law is one of the most restrictive in the United States and activists say it effectively forbids most abortions since many women do not know they are pregnant yet at eight weeks.

The 31-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri contends that the legislation is unconstitutional.

“Without this relief, the bans will have a devastating effect on patients seeking access to abortion in the state,” lawyers wrote in the complaint.

In a perennially divisive moral and political fight, similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other U.S. states as Republican-controlled legislatures flex their muscles.

Efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, have been emboldened by two appointments by President Donald Trump giving conservatives a solid majority on the court.

Parson said in May the new law would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”

Plaintiffs in the Missouri complaint said the law conflicts with more than four decades of binding precedent, would prohibit “the vast majority of pre-viability abortions”, and denied patients healthcare they were entitled to.

Currently the state law allows abortions up until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

Attorneys for the governor’s office, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood were not available for comment early on Monday.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Darren Schuettler)

Planned Parenthood sues to block U.S. rule that may limit abortions

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Planned Parenthood and other nonprofits offering family planning services sued the Trump administration on Tuesday to block a new federal rule letting healthcare workers refuse abortions and other services because of religious or moral objections.

The two lawsuits filed in Manhattan federal court said enforcing the “conscience” rule would encourage discrimination against women, minorities, the poor, the uninsured, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people by curbing access to legal healthcare procedures, including life-saving treatments.

They also said the rule, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services and scheduled to take effect on July 22, would impose heavy costs on healthcare providers dependent on federal funding, which they could lose by refusing to comply.

The plaintiffs also include Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Inc, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association and Public Health Solutions Inc. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the latter two nonprofits.

“Trust is the cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship,” Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “No one should have to worry if they will get the right care or information because of their providers’ personal beliefs.”

HHS pledged to defend the rule vigorously. Planned Parenthood said the rule might affect more than 613,000 hospitals, health clinics, doctors’ offices and nonprofits.

The lawsuits escalate the legal battles over a rule announced on May 2 by Republican President Donald Trump, who has made expanding religious liberty a priority, in a Rose Garden speech marking the National Day of Prayer.

They were filed after California, New York, New York City, Chicago and 20 other mostly Democratic-controlled or Democratic-leaning states and municipalities sued the government on May 21 over the rule. San Francisco filed its own lawsuit on May 2.

HHS has said the rule protects the rights of workers who might oppose particular procedures, such as sterilizations and assisted suicides.

It has also said the rule requires compliance with roughly 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights, some of which date back decades.

Roger Severino, director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights, on Tuesday repeated his May 21 statement that the rule “gives life and enforcement tools” to those laws.

The cases are Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc et al v Azar et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 19-05433; and National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association et al v Azar et al in the same court, No. 19-05435.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Richard Chang)

As conservative U.S. states pass abortion bans, Missouri’s sole clinic could close

People take part in a pro-choice march in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., May 30, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Ael Diehm/via REUTERS

By Pavithra George

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri could become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion provider on Friday, as its only abortion clinic could lose its license to perform the procedure unless a St. Louis judge intervenes.

The legal battle in St. Louis comes a week after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri this week after state health officials said the license for Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was in jeopardy because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” documents filed in a St. Louis court showed.

The circuit judge in the case, Michael Stelzer, was expected on Friday to rule on Planned Parenthood’s request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against the state, according to local media.

Outside the clinic, a handful of anti-abortion protesters stood holding “Choose Life” signs early Friday.

If Stelzer rules against Planned Parenthood, the clinic’s license to perform abortions would expire at midnight, making Missouri the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral, while abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

On Thursday, abortion-rights demonstrators held a rally in downtown St. Louis, where police arrested Alderman Megan Ellyia Green and several Planned Parenthood board members during a sit-in at the Wainwright State Office Building, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

A series of prominent U.S. media companies said they will rethink working in Georgia, if a new state law takes effect, banning abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected by doctors. That standard effectively bans abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, before some women would even be aware they were pregnant.

Those companies include AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia, CBS Corp, Viacom Inc, Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, AMC Networks Inc, Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc.

(Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

Louisiana governor to sign ‘heartbeat’ ban, latest move to curb U.S. abortion rights

FILE PHOTO - Missouri Governor Mike Parson signs Bill 126 into law banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, alongside state House and Senate members and pro-life coalition leaders at his office in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S., May 24, 2019. Office of Governor Michael L. Parson/Handout via REUTERS.

By Gabriella Borter and Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Louisiana’s Democratic governor said on Wednesday he would sign a bill passed earlier in the day to ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, the latest legislation in a movement in mostly Southern and Midwest states to curb abortion rights.

Earlier on Wednesday, Missouri’s governor renewed his intention to close a Planned Parenthood clinic and become the first state without a medical facility that performs abortions.

The Louisiana bill was approved on Wednesday by a 79-23 vote of the Republican-controlled Louisiana House of Representatives and had already passed in the state Senate.

Louisiana would join at least four other conservative-leaning states that have passed measures this year to prohibit abortion as early as six weeks. Alabama has approved a stricter law that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court may eventually be called upon to rule on the various state laws, which challenge the high court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards would become the first Democrat this year to sign a ban on abortion when a heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks from conception before a woman realizes she is pregnant, lending bipartisanship to the measure. The bill’s sponsor, state Senator John Milkovich, is also a Democrat.

Other states that passed similar measures this year, including Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri, are led by Republican governors.

“As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone,” Edwards said in a statement on Wednesday.

The measure would allow a woman to have an abortion, after detection of an embryonic heartbeat, to prevent her death or if she risks serious injury.

The Louisiana legislation will not go into effect until a U.S. Appeals Court rules on whether to allow a similar measure in neighboring Mississippi to take effect. Last week, a U.S. district judge blocked the Mississippi law from taking effect, and the Appeals Court that is expected to review the ruling also has jurisdiction over Louisiana.

DECADES-LONG FIGHT

The Roe v. Wade decision allowed states to restrict abortion from the time a fetus can viably survive outside the womb, which the opinion placed at 24 to 28 weeks from conception.

Anti-abortion campaigners have sought to overturn the decision ever since, and they see an opportunity with the newly installed 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

While some states have sought to ban abortion at six weeks from conception, at least three states have passed measures this year to ban abortion starting at some point between eight weeks and 18 weeks.

The Louisiana House on Wednesday rejected a proposed amendment that would have allowed exceptions to the ban if a woman became pregnant during a rape or through incest.

Other states that have passed abortion restrictions this year also declined to make exceptions for rape and incest, drawing criticism from Trump, who supports such exceptions.

Abortion rights groups this year are challenging a number of state restrictions in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood obtained an injunction from a judge in March blocking Kentucky’s ban on abortions, which would apply as early as six weeks from conception.

On another front in the battle, Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of health on Tuesday after the department told the state’s only abortion clinic it could not approve a license until it interviewed seven doctors that worked there.

The license for the clinic, which Planned Parenthood operates, is due to expire on Friday.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, on Wednesday, reiterated his intention to close the clinic for failing to meet state licensing standards.

Planned Parenthood said in a statement that Parson’s remarks were “not based on medicine, facts or reality,” and it will do “everything to ensure our patients get the best medical care available.”

Last week, Parson signed into law a measure banning abortion in Missouri after the eighth week of a woman’s pregnancy.

(Story was refiled to remove “Bel” from governor’s name in paragraph 8)

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool)

Supreme Court upholds Indiana fetal burial law, spurns abortion measure

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Indiana’s Republican-backed requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated, dealing a setback to abortion provider Planned Parenthood, which had challenged the provision.

The unsigned ruling, with two of the court’s liberals dissenting, said an appeals court was wrong to conclude that the law had a illegitimate purpose.

But the court also turned away the state’s separate attempt to reinstate its Republican-backed ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus, which was also struck down by lower courts.

Both provisions were part of a 2016 law signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was Indiana’s governor.

The ruling stated that the court has previously said that states have a legitimate interest in the disposal of fetal remains. The court noted that in challenging the law, Planned Parenthood did not allege that the provision implicated the right of women to obtain an abortion.

“This case, as litigated, therefore does not implicate our cases applying the undue burden test to abortion regulations,” the ruling said.

Liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor both said they disagreed with the court’s decision to reinstate the fetal remains provision.

Indiana’s law was one of many passed by Republicans at the state level putting restrictions on abortion, which was legalized nationwide by the Supreme Court in the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2017 permanent injunction issued by U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt against the Indiana law. She found the measure violated the constitutional privacy rights recognized in the 1973 abortion ruling.

Indiana required that abortion providers bury or cremate fetal remains after an abortion.

The law also forbade women from obtaining an abortion if the decision to terminate the pregnancy was based on a diagnosis or “potential diagnosis” of fetal abnormality such as Down syndrome or “any other disability” or due to the race, color, national origin ancestry or sex of the fetus. Indiana said the state has an interest in barring discrimination against fetuses and in protecting the “dignity of fetal remains.”

A similar fetal burial law from Minnesota was upheld by a federal appeals court in 1990 but the Indiana law and another like it in Texas, enacted in 2016, have been struck down by the courts.

In Tuesday’s ruling, the court said its decision not to review the second provision of Indiana’s law “expresses no view on the merits.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Missouri governor expected to sign new abortion restrictions into law

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with the Governor of Missouri Mike Parson as he arrives in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – Missouri’s Republican governor could sign a law as early as this week banning most abortions in the Midwestern state after the eighth week of pregnancy, part of a wave of restrictions aimed at driving a challenge of abortion to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republican Governor Mike Parson told reporters on Friday he planned to sign the bill, which was approved by the Republican-controlled state legislature last week and would enact one of the United States’ most restrictive bans. He did not set a date for the signing but has until July 14 to do so, according to local media reports.

The state is one of eight where Republican-controlled legislatures this year have passed new restrictions on abortion. It is part of a coordinated campaign aimed at prompting the nation’s now conservative-majority top court to cut back or overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

The most restrictive of those bills was signed into law in Alabama last week. It bans abortion at all times and in almost all cases, including when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest but allows exceptions when the mother’s life is in danger. The Missouri bill also offers no exception for cases of rape or incest.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it will sue to block Alabama’s law from taking effect. Last week, the ACLU joined Planned Parenthood, the women’s reproductive healthcare provider, in suing Ohio over its recent six-week abortion ban.

Abortion is one of the most bitterly contested social issues in the United States. Opponents often cite religious belief in saying that fetuses deserve rights similar to those of infants. Abortion rights advocates say the bans deprive women of equal rights and endanger those who end up seeking riskier, illegal methods to end a pregnancy.

Kentucky, Georgia, Utah, Mississippi and Arkansas have also passed new restrictions on abortion this year.

Conservative lawmakers have been emboldened in their efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade by two judicial appointments by President Donald Trump that have given conservatives a 5-4 majority on the court.

The Supreme Court could act as early as Monday on appeals seeking to revive two abortion restrictions enacted in Indiana in 2016.

Abortion rights activists on Sunday marched on the Alabama state capital in Birmingham to protest that state’s new law, which would take effect in two months.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Alabama Senate to vote on bill banning abortion

FILE PHOTO: The Alabama State Capitol building is pictured in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Alabama’s state Senate was due to vote on a bill on Tuesday that would outlaw nearly all abortions, but will first consider whether to allow the procedure for women and girls impregnated by rape and incest.

Debate on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States was set to begin in the Republican-controlled chamber at 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT). It would be the latest in a procession of anti-abortion bills across the country that activists are hoping will result in the issue going before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill previously passed the Republican-dominated Alabama House of Representatives. Republican Governor Kay Ivey has withheld comment on whether she would sign it but generally is a strong opponent of abortion.

The Alabama debate follows passage of anti-abortion laws in states that border it to the east and west, Georgia and Mississippi, creating what abortion rights advocates have warned would be a large “abortion desert.”

Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced in 16 states this year, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.

Opponents called that legislation a virtual ban because fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

The Alabama bill goes further, banning all abortions except to prevent serious health risk to the mother. People who perform abortions would be subject to a Class A felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

A Senate committee added an amendment that would create exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but the matter stalled on the Senate floor.

Debate will resume without the rape and incest amendment attached.

Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged in court, but they are hoping the matter will land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court, now with a majority of conservative justices after Republican President Donald Trump appointed two, could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion.

Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio have outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat.

Courts have blocked the Iowa and Kentucky laws, and the others face legal challenges.

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has called for a sex strike under the social media hashtag #SexStrike in response to the campaigns against abortion rights, urging women to refuse sex with men “until we get bodily autonomy back.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Bowing to U.S. demands, U.N. to remove phrase seen as code for abortion on sexual violence in conflict

Amal Clooney and Nadia Murad listen to Denis Mukwege speaking at the United Nations Security Council during a meeting about sexual violence in conflict in New York, New York, U.S., April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A U.S. threat to veto U.N. Security Council action on sexual violence in conflict was averted on Tuesday after a long-agreed phrase was removed because President Donald Trump’s administration sees it as code for abortion, diplomats said.

A German-drafted resolution was adopted after a reference was cut referring to the need for U.N. bodies and donors to give timely “sexual and reproductive health” assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflict.

The U.S. veto threat was the latest in a string of policy reversals that some U.N. diplomats say has been driven by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who staunchly opposes abortion rights.

Pence was not involved in directing U.S. diplomats during the negotiations, a White House aide said, but added that the adopted text “ended up in a place that is closer in line with the White House’s priorities.”

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jonathan Cohen did not speak after the council vote.

After the vote French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told the 15-member body: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

The language promoting sexual and reproductive health is long-agreed internationally, including in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013 and several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.

The text adopted on Tuesday simply reaffirms the council’s commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions. A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.

RUSSIA, CHINA ABSTAIN

Before the vote, Cohen told the Security Council: “None of us can turn our backs on this issue.”

“It requires the engagement of all member states and of the United Nations to support the efforts of those fighting to protect women, provide accountability, and support survivors,” Cohen said.

Thirteen council members voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia and China abstained over a number of concerns – including a German push for expanded U.N. monitoring of sexual violence in conflict – and even circulated their own rival draft text, which they did not put to a vote.

“Please do not even try to paint us as opponents of the fight against sexual violence in conflict. Our stance on this issue remains firm and unyielding, this scourge has to be eliminated,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.

The council voted after hearing briefings from Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was held as a sex slave by Islamic State militants, Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treats rape victims, Libyan rights activist Inas Miloud, and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney.

The Trump administration cut U.S. funding in 2017 for the U.N. Population Fund because it “supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” The United Nations said that was an inaccurate perception.

In 2018 the administration unsuccessfully tried to remove language on sexual and reproductive health from several General Assembly resolutions, then failed in a similar campaign last month during the annual U.N. Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington’; Editing by Susan Thomas and Howard Goller)

Court allows Ohio law blocking Planned Parenthood funding

FILE PHOTO: A sign is pictured at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood building in New York August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

(Reuters) – A divided federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the constitutionality of an Ohio law to block state funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, in a victory for anti-abortion advocates.

By an 11-6 vote, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati rejected arguments by Planned Parenthood affiliates that the law signed by Republican Governor John Kasich in 2016 barring funding for entities that perform abortions violated their due process rights.

“The affiliates are correct that the Ohio law imposes a condition on the continued receipt of state funds,” Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the majority. “But that condition does not violate the Constitution because the affiliates do not have a due process right to perform abortions.”

Tuesday’s decision overturned a lower court injunction against the law, which the appeals court had upheld last April 18.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

Trump asks U.S. Congress to prohibit late-term abortion

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump called for curbs on late-term abortion in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, citing controversies over the issue in New York and Virginia.

Using emotive language, Trump waded into what has long been a divisive issue in American politics, even though the procedure was legalized in a Supreme Court ruling more than 40 years ago.

“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” Trump said.

“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. Let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: all children – born and unborn – are made in the holy image of God,” he said.

The issue of whether a fetus feels pain has been raised frequently in recent years by abortion opponents pushing for more restrictions in state legislatures. Medical opinion on the issue is not conclusive.

With the confirmation last year of Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, conservatives now have a 5-4 edge on the nation’s highest court, raising fears among abortion rights supporters that the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling could be weakened or overturned.

Currently, laws governing late-term abortions vary state by state.

Trump criticized a New York law enacted last month that provides strong abortion rights protections, including late-term abortions when the mother’s health is endangered.

In his speech, he said lawmakers in the state “cheered with delight” at the law “that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

The Republican president also seized on a controversy surrounding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, repeating Republicans’ accusations that Northam, a Democrat, advocated infanticide when he defended a bill that would have lifted restrictions on later-term abortions.

Northam has said his comments were misinterpreted. “Extrapolating otherwise is bad faith,” his spokeswoman, Ofirah Yheskel, said last week.

The embattled Virginia governor is facing a separate controversy over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, but has resisted calls to resign.

(Reporting by Makini Brice and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)