U.S. rights groups, doctors sue to stop Georgia ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: Abortion-rights campaigners attend a rally against new restrictions on abortion passed by legislatures in eight states including Alabama and Georgia, in New York City, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – A group of civil rights organizations, doctors and clinics sued Georgia’s government on Friday to overturn a law passed in March that bans abortions if an embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The law, which was passed by Republicans, will make abortion possible only in the first few weeks of a pregnancy absent a medical emergency, in many cases before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. It is due to take effect in January.

“This law is an affront to the dignity and health of Georgians,” the lawsuit, which was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the plaintiffs, said. It said that Georgians, particularly black Georgians, already die from pregnancy-related causes at a higher rate than in most other U.S. states.

At least four other Republican-led states this year passed laws dramatically limiting abortion. The laws are in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that women have a constitutional right to abort a pregnancy.

Some religious conservatives hope the passage of such laws will force the Supreme Court, in which conservative-leaning justices hold the majority, to revisit and even overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Until the new law takes effect, Georgians are allowed to get an abortion until about the 20th week of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions.

The lawsuit names Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr, and other state government and medical officials as defendants. The lawsuit asks a judge to block the law from being enforced.

A spokeswoman for Carr, Katie Byrd, said by email that her office could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Kemp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A doctor who performs an abortion after an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected could be imprisoned for up to 10 years under Georgia’s new law.

Defenders of the law say they believe an embryo or a fetus should be afforded similar rights to those of a baby, often citing religious arguments in their support.

The law’s opponents say denying women abortions has already been deemed unconstitutional, and note that abortion restrictions force some women to turn to riskier means to end a pregnancy, which can sometimes be deadly.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott)

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)

More U.S. states push ahead with near-bans on abortion for Supreme Court challenge

Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation on Wednesday making it a crime for doctors to perform a second-trimester abortion using instruments like forceps and clamps to remove the fetus from the womb.

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

The move came the same day that Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans – outlawing the procedure if a doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature in March also passed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Activists on both sides of the issue say such laws, which are commonly blocked by court injunctions, are aimed at getting a case sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-4 majority, to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The North Dakota bill, which Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, confirmed in an email that the governor signed, followed similar laws in Mississippi and West Virginia.

Known as HB 1546, it outlaws the second-trimester abortion practice known in medical terms as dilation and evacuation, but which the legislation refers to as “human dismemberment.”

Under the North Dakota legislation, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony but the woman having the abortion would not face charges.

Similar legislation exists in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, but is on hold because of litigation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group.

Abortion-rights groups challenging such bans argue they are unconstitutional as they obstruct private medical rights.

North Dakota has one abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She previously said her clinic would wait for a decision in a case involving similar legislation in Arkansas before deciding on a possible legal challenge to HB 1546.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)