Republican Alabama governor mulling nation’s strictest abortion law

The U.S. Flag and Alabama State Flag fly over the Alabama Governor's Mansion as the state Senate votes on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States at the Alabama Legislature in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

(Reuters) – Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday was mulling whether to sign the United States’ strictest abortion law, part of a multistate effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider women’s constitutional right to abortion.

The state’s Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions, including in the cases of pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest, allowing exceptions only to protect the mother’s health.

The Republican governor is a strong opponent of abortion but has so far withheld comment on whether she would sign the bill.

If Ivey signs the bill, the law would take effect six months later. But it is certain to face legal challenge from abortion rights groups, which have vowed to sue.

Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced this year in 16 states, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

The Alabama bill goes further, banning abortions at any time. Those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

The Senate defeated a Democratic amendment that would have allowed legal abortions for women and girls impregnated by rape or incest.

Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged. Courts this year have blocked a restrictive Kentucky law and another in Iowa passed last year.

But supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the fetus transcends other rights, an idea they would like tested at the 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.

Just this year, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect an embryonic heartbeat.

Opponents call the “heartbeat” legislation a virtual ban because embryonic cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

The National Organization for Women denounced Alabama’s ban as unconstitutional.

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 Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Judge rules for Trump administration in suit over family-planning program shift

FILE PHOTO: Healthcare activists with Planned Parenthood and the Center for American Progress protest in opposition to the Senate Republican healthcare bill on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A federal judge ruled on Monday against birth control organizations that sought to block the Trump administration from shifting a federal family-planning grant program toward prioritizing groups that are faith-based and counsel abstinence.

Three planned Parenthood organizations along with the National Family Planning Reproductive Health Association filed lawsuits, which were later combined, in May challenging guidelines the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued in February.

Those guidelines set forth new criteria for how the department under Republican President Donald Trump would assess applications for grants under the Title X family planning program. The grants are expected to total $260 million.

The organizations objected to the criteria’s focus on abstinence, easier access to primary health care, increasing family participation and cooperation with faith-based organizations, according to the ruling.

The organizations argued that the changes require a notice and comment rule-making process, violate the Title X law and were “arbitrary and capricious.”

United States District Court Judge Trevor McFadden, who was appointed by Trump in 2017, said in his ruling that “courts cannot review substantive objections to a non-final agency action, nor can they require formal rulemaking for a change in agency procedure.”

McFadden also said that if he could rule on the merits of the case, the government’s changes align with program’s commitment to support “voluntary family projects … offering a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services.”

Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor and strident opponent of abortion, has pushed Congress to defund Planned Parenthood. The non-profit’s clinics provide contraception, health screenings and abortions.

“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to impose its ideology on people – no matter how many it hurts,” Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement on Monday, adding that the ruling could effect the health care of four million people.

Planned Parenthood health centers serve more than 40 percent of patients receiving care subsidized by Title X.

HHS could not be reached for comment.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

Texas governor signs bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions

FILE PHOTO: The Texas capitol building, crafted from pink granite, is seen in Austin, Texas September 19, 2012. REUTERS/Julia Robinson/File Photo

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – The Republican governor of Texas signed into law on Tuesday a measure that will restrict insurance coverage for abortions, compelling women to buy a supplemental plan if they want coverage for the procedure.

Governor Greg Abbott said the measure known as House Bill 214 would protect abortion opponents from subsidizing the procedure. Democratic critics decried it as forcing people to buy “rape insurance.”

Texas, the most-populous Republican-controlled state, has been at the forefront in enacting abortion restrictions, with many of its measures followed by other socially conservative states. But when HB 214 goes into law on Dec. 1, Texas will be the 11th state to restrict abortion coverage in private insurance plans written in the state.

“As a firm believer in Texas values, I am proud to sign legislation that ensures no Texan is ever required to pay for a procedure that ends the life of an unborn child,” Abbott said in a statement.

The Republican sponsor of a Senate bill on abortion insurance restriction, Brandon Creighton, has told local media supplemental coverage would cost $12 to $80 a year.

House Bill 214, which passed both chambers this month, mostly on a party-line vote, does not offer exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Abortion rights groups said they plan a court fight to prevent it from becoming law.

“By signing HB 214 into law, Governor Abbott has told women and parents they must pay extra for what is tantamount to ‘rape insurance,'” Democratic Representative Chris Turner, who opposed the bill, said on Tuesday.

There are 25 states with restrictions on abortion coverage in plans set up by state exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act under former Democratic President Barack Obama, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such legislation.

Also on Tuesday, Abbott signed another measure that expands reporting requirements for complications arising from abortions.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Sandra Maler)

Texas bill restricting insurance coverage for abortions nears approval

Texas bill restricting insurance coverage for abortions nears approval

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A Texas bill that would restrict insurance coverage for abortions was approved by the state’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday, a move critics called cruel and damaging to women’s health.

The House measure would ban insurance coverage for abortions and require women who wanted coverage to purchase a supplemental plan for an abortion, the latest effort by the most-populous Republican-controlled state to place restrictions on the procedure.

If enacted, the bill would take effect on Dec. 1 and make Texas the 11th state to restrict abortion coverage in private insurance plans written in the state.

The Republican-dominated Senate has passed a similar bill, and Republican Governor Greg Abbott has shown support for the measures.

The bill’s backers say it would protect abortion opponents from subsidizing the procedure. A Democratic critic decried it as forcing people to buy “rape insurance.”

“It’s a question of economic freedom and freedom in general,” Republican Representative John Smithee, the bill’s sponsor, said in House debate on Tuesday ahead of the bill receiving preliminary approval.

The Republican sponsor of the Senate bill, Brandon Creighton, has told local media supplemental coverage would cost $12 to $80 a year

House Bill 214, which passed mostly on a party-line vote, does not offer exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Abortion rights groups are likely fight the measure in court if enacted.

“Women and parents will be faced with the horrific decision of having to purchase ‘rape insurance’ to cover them if they are victimized,” Democratic Representative Chris Turner said in a statement. “This is not only ridiculous, but it is cruel.”

Idaho, Kansas and Oklahoma are among the 10 other states that make abortion coverage a supplement on private plans. There are 25 states with restrictions on abortion coverage in plans set up by state exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act under former Democratic President Barack Obama, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such legislation.

“It is surprising that Texas has not done this before,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager for Guttmacher.

The insurance measure is one of several bills concerning abortion before Texas lawmakers in a special session that runs through next week.

The Senate has already approved bills that include requiring physicians to improve notification of complications that occur during abortions and another that prohibits local governments from having contracts with abortion providers and their affiliates.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker)