U.S. abortion rights groups sue over Missouri law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Prominent U.S. abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit late on Tuesday in an effort to stop a new Missouri law that bans almost all terminations of pregnancies after eight weeks.

The new law was signed by Republican Governor Mike Parson in May and is set to go into effect on Aug. 28.

The 31-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri contends that the legislation is unconstitutional. It asks for an injunction to stop the law from being enacted next month until the complaint is resolved.

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

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

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.

Neither representatives for the Missouri governor’s office, nor lawyers for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, were immediately available for comment early Wednesday.

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

The legislation allows for an abortion after the eighth week only in the case of medical emergencies, and provides no exceptions for victims or rape or incest.

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.

Planned Parenthood is engaged in separate litigation with the state to keep a St. Louis clinic open. If Missouri officials succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. top court to review Montana dispute over religious school subsidies

A man stands outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a case that could once again test boundaries for the separation of church and state, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide the legality of a Montana state tax credit that could help students attend private schools including religious ones.

The justices took up an appeal by three mothers of Christian private school students of a decision by Montana’s top court striking down the program because it ran afoul of a state constitutional ban on aid to religious institutions.

Churches and Christian groups have pushed for expanding access to public dollars for places of worship and religious schools, testing the limits of secularism in the United States.

The decision to hear the case could give the justices an opportunity to build on a major 2017 ruling that sided with a Missouri church and opened the door to more taxpayer funds going to religious entities.

In that case, the justices ruled that churches and other religious entities cannot be flatly denied public money even in states where constitutions explicitly ban such funding, siding with a church that sued after being denied access to a state grant program that helps nonprofit groups buy rubber playground surfaces made from recycled tires.

Much litigation over the years has involved school “voucher” programs and other subsidies to help parents pay for children to attend private religious schools, in states whose constitutions explicitly ban such funding. Republican President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is a prominent supporter of such “school choice” plans.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Denied a license, Missouri’s only abortion clinic awaits judge’s ruling

FILE PHOTO: Planned Parenthood's employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Robert Langellier

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri health officials on Friday refused to renew the license of the state’s only abortion clinic, but the facility will remain open for now as a judge left in place an injunction blocking its closure.

At a brief circuit court hearing on Friday, Judge Michael Stelzer said it might be days before the court would come to a decision on whether the state could shut its only abortion clinic, which is operated by women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

“I think you guys are expecting an order soon. I don’t know that order is going to be today,” Stelzer said during the hearing, which lasted less than five minutes.

If the clinic were to close, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion clinic.

Missouri officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“This decision signals the true motive behind this license renewal mess that has left patients in limbo, uncertain about their health care: to ban abortion without ever overturning Roe v. Wade,” Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a physician at Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinic, said in a statement.

The state is one of 12 to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri health officials after they warned they would decline to renew the license of the Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis on the grounds it failed to meet their standards.

Stelzer on June 10 issued a preliminary injunction blocking the clinic’s closure until the state made an official decision on its license.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral.

The legal battle in Missouri began after Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood has vowed to fight to protect abortion access in Missouri and to push back on regulatory standards that the women’s healthcare organization believes put a burden on abortion rights.

Court documents show that Missouri health officials declined to renew the clinic’s license to perform abortions because they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices.”

(Reporting by Robert Langellier in St. Louis; writing by Gabriella Borter; editing by Scott Malone, Sonya Hepinstall and Jonathan Oatis)

Judge weighs fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic after court hearing

Planned Parenthood's employees look on as anti-abortion rights advocates hold a rally in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Gabriella Borter and Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A St. Louis judge said on Tuesday he will work quickly to decide whether Missouri’s only abortion clinic can remain open after a hearing on a lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Women’s healthcare and abortion provider Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of the St. Louis clinic, called Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood, because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

Judge Michael Stelzer held a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire hours later, issuing a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood that enabled the clinic to continue providing the procedure.

After listening to arguments from both sides on Tuesday, Stelzer said he will work “expeditiously” to come to a decision in the case, according to a court spokesman.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. Abortion rights advocates have said restrictions being passed at the state level amount to state control of women’s bodies.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Anti-abortion activists have said they hope to prompt the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling by enacting laws such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are assured of facing court challenges.

The Supreme Court last week sent a mixed message on abortion, refusing to consider reinstating Indiana’s ban on abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus while upholding the state’s requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated after the procedure is done. Several other abortion-related cases also are heading toward the high court.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic at stake as St. Louis judge holds hearing

A banner stating "STILL HERE" hangs on the side of the Planned Parenthood Building after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

(Reuters) – The fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic will be at stake on Tuesday when a St. Louis judge hears arguments in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

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

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire at midnight. He issued a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood, allowing the clinic to continue offering the procedure.

Stelzer will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become 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.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

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 such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in CHICAGO; Editing by Paul Tait)

Missouri abortion clinic to stay open for now after court order

Pro-Life supporters protest outside of Planned Parenthood as a deadline looms to renew the license of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

By Pavithra George

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Missouri’s only abortion clinic will stay open at least a few more days after a judge on Friday granted a request by Planned Parenthood for a temporary restraining order, allowing the facility to keep operating until a hearing on Tuesday.

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, meaning the clinic could have closed at midnight unless the judge granted the request for a temporary restraining order.

“Today is a victory for women across Missouri, but this fight is far from over,” Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said in a statement after Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer agreed to the organization’s request.

Representatives for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services could not be immediately reached for comment.

Health officials had refused to renew the clinic’s license because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to documents filed in a St. Louis court.

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.

On Friday, Stelzer said the clinic’s license would remain in effect until a ruling is made on Planned Parenthood’s request for a preliminary injunction against the state. A hearing on that matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

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

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.

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.

 

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

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)

Death toll from storms lashing central U.S. rises to seven

A member of the Jefferson City Fire Department checks houses for people on Woodland Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

By Antranik Tavitian

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Reuters) – The latest in a line of destructive storms pounding the central United States killed at least three people as tornadoes raked across Missouri while heavy rain flooded rivers in Oklahoma, authorities said on Thursday.

The three deaths and several injuries were recorded in and around Golden City, Missouri, some 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Joplin where a tornado touched down on Wednesday evening, the Missouri Department of Public Safety said on Twitter.

A damaged car is parked on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

A damaged car is parked on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

The casualties brought the week’s weather-related death toll to at least seven, as forecasters said the rain and threat of damaging winds were not expected to let up.

“It looks to stay quite wet over the next week across the central portion of the country,” said meteorologist Mark Chenard of the National Weather Service (NWS) Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

A system of showers stretched from the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma north to Nebraska on Thursday, threatening to bring more flooding, Chenard said. A diminished threat of tornadoes will persist from the Texas Panhandle through Kansas, he said.

In Jefferson City, the state capital of Missouri, officials said a “massive” twister caused widespread damage but no fatalities.

“Many, many buildings have significant damage, and there’s a lot of them that just have small damage as well, so it’s just very widespread,” Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin told CNN.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson said at least 20 people were treated at hospitals but that most had been released.

A firefighter and FEMA employee survey damage on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

A firefighter and FEMA employee survey damage on Woodlawn Avenue following a tornado touchdown overnight in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Antranik Tavitian

“The damage tornadoes & severe storms cause is devastating, but I am encouraged & inspired by storm survivors. In a time of tragedy, Missourians came together and cared for their neighbors, and our first responders acted with speed & skill to rescue survivors,” Parson wrote on Twitter.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter that his heart went out to the people of Missouri.

“You are strong and resilient, and we are here to assist,” he wrote.

Trump also urged Oklahomans to stay safe and listen to the warnings of local officials. “We are with you!” he tweeted.

Earlier this week, a tornado killed at least one person in Iowa, while two people in Oklahoma died in accidents on rain-slicked roads and a third in flooding.

The Arkansas River town of Webbers Falls was ordered evacuated on Thursday, while residents of several other communities were advised to leave, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Keli Caine said by phone.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Tom Brown)

Tornadoes kill three, hit U.S. Plains state capital

Damage is seen on a street after a tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019, in this image taken from social media. Tyler Thompson/via REUTERS T

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Tornadoes killed at least three people in southwest Missouri and slammed into the state capital just before midnight on Wednesday, with rescue workers in Jefferson City searching into the morning for the injured, officials said.

The St. Louis office of the National Weather Service confirmed that reported twisters hit near Joplin, Mo., late Wednesday, and local media including the Joplin Globe reported at least three dead.

No other information about the deaths was immediately available from officials early Thursday.

The NWS reported that a “massive” twister also hit the southeastern part of Jefferson City, damaging buildings, toppling trees and power lines and tossing around parked cars.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities in the city as of early Thursday, said Jared Maples, a meteorologist with the NWS St. Louis office.

A damaged sign is seen after a tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jared Sheneman/via REUTERS

A damaged sign is seen after a tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jared Sheneman/via REUTERS

The Jefferson City Fire Department was sending rescuers house-to-house searching for people in need, officials posted on social media, with reports of people trapped in debris.

“We’re doing okay but praying for those that were caught in damage, some still trapped,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said on Twitter early Thursday.

Maples said, “As of this morning, the main parts of the storms have pushed eastward, thank goodness,” leaving the region to deal with just another expected two inches of rain through Friday.

At least three other people have been killed since Monday in Oklahoma and Iowa in a string of at least 30 tornadoes, heavy rains and floods that hit a swath from Texas to Illinois since Monday.

Residents in sections of Jefferson were under orders to evacuate Thursday ahead of the expected crest of the Missouri River at least 2 feet above the 30-foot high levees.

Rainfall is predicted to be about 2 inches (5 cm) across eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and into western Missouri, with localized spots getting up to 5 inches (13 cm), forecasters said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Editing by William Maclean)

U.S. south ‘still under the gun’ after deadly storms

A storm cloud formation is seen in Collinsville, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media on May 21, 2019. BRI'ANNE WALTON/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A storm system that blasted the U.S. South was weakening on Tuesday but another was on its way after thunderstorms and tornadoes left a swath of destruction, killed at least two people and tore up a NASCAR grandstand.

More than 30 tornadoes struck on Monday and Tuesday from Texas, Oklahoma and across the southern plains into Missouri, said meteorologists with the National Weather Service.

While this weakening storm system is expected to roll into the Great Lakes region early Wednesday, another system is brewing Wednesday night into Thursday, said Brian Hurley, a forecaster with the NWS Weather Prediction Center.

“The Southern Plains can’t catch a break,” Hurley said. “More storms will develop overnight into Thursday morning.”

Rainfalls are predicted to be about 2 inches across eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and into western Missouri, with localized spots getting up to 5 inches, he said.

“That whole area is still under the gun,” Hurley said.

In Wheatland, Missouri, at the Lucas Oil Speedway, a reported tornado injured 7 people, flipped over cars, toppled campers and damaged the grandstands, with local media images showing piles of twisted metal and upside down vehicles.

The Memorial Day weekend “Lucas Oil Show-Me 100” races at the speedway, about 120 miles southeast of Kansas City, were canceled indefinitely. A crowd topping 3,000 fans of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) had been expected, track officials said on Tuesday.

Dozens of people were rescued from rising floodwaters and felled trees that smashed homes and blocked roadways in Oklahoma on Tuesday.

Crews using boats pulled at least 50 people from rising water as heavy downpours inundated roads and homes, Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Keli Cain said.

Two deaths from a traffic accident on a rain-slicked Missouri highway were reported by police late Monday.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency on Tuesday for the state, out of concern for floods from cresting rivers and streams, with forecasts of more rain on the way.

Forecasters said the Missouri River is expected to crest on Thursday at more than 32 feet at the state capital of Jefferson City. Local media including NBC News said that is two feet higher than the city’s levees.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Graff)