Federal judge blocks Alabama abortion ban from being enforced

Federal judge blocks Alabama abortion ban from being enforced
(Reuters) – A federal judge blocked Alabama on Tuesday from enforcing the strictest abortion laws in the country, which were due to come into effect next month and would ban all abortions unless a mother’s health was in danger.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a Republican, had signed the bill into law in May. Those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued to overturn the law, which clashes with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Conservative Republicans have sought to enact a wave of abortion restrictions around the country in the hopes that one case or another might reach the Supreme Court and lead to the erosion of the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Judge Myron H. Thompson of the United States District Court in Middle Alabama has blocked the Alabama abortion ban from being enforced until the lawsuit is resolved.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Planned Parenthood to open large secretly built Illinois clinic as Missouri readies abortion ban

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood is set to open a large facility in western Illinois this month that will provide abortion access for women in Missouri as officials there aim to shutter the state’s sole abortion clinic, the organization said on Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood has been secretly building the 18,000-square-foot clinic in Fairview Heights since August 2018, using shell companies to avoid attention and protests, CBS first reported.

The new healthcare center will provide abortion and other health services to women in western Illinois and eastern Missouri, and is located just 13 miles from Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic. Missouri has declined to renew that facility’s license, citing its failure to meet state health department standards.

“While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois,” Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s southwest regional chapter, said in a statement. “The new health center is a testament to the needs of the greater bi-state region and our commitment to provide, protect and expand access to healthcare, no matter what.”

A federal judge has allowed the Missouri clinic to stay open pending the decision of a state arbiter, who will weigh Planned Parenthood’s case against the state health department. If officials in Missouri succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

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

Missouri is one of 12 states 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, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

A U.S. federal judge in August temporarily blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency.

Illinois has moved to protect women’s right to abortion as other states have tried to overturn it. The state passed the Reproductive Health Act in June to preserve the legality of abortion even if Roe v. Wade should be overturned. It has refused funding from the Title X family planning program because of President Donald Trump’s “gag rule,” which withholds federal funds from health providers who perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

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)

U.S. to expand abortion ‘gag rule,’ won’t fund certain groups: Pompeo

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

The Trump administration on Tuesday expanded its anti-abortion policies, prohibiting U.S.-funded organizations from supporting other groups that support abortion and forbidding the use of U.S. tax dollars to lobby for or against abortion.

In 2017, Trump reinstated a policy known by critics as the “global gag rule,” which requires foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive U.S. family planning funds to certify they do not provide abortions or give abortion advice.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday the United States will expand the policy by cracking down on NGOs that fund other groups that support abortion.

The United States will also enforce the federal law forbidding the use of U.S. funding, including foreign assistance, to lobby for or against abortion, he added.

“We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” Pompeo told reporters.

He added that the United States will cut funding to the Organization of American States as a result of the expanded rule. “The institutions of OAS should be focused on addressing crises in Cuba, Nicaragua and in Venezuela, not advancing the pro-abortion cause,” he said.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey and Jeffrey Benkoe)

U.S. top court rejects challenge to strict Arkansas abortion law

Visitors to the Supreme Court are pictured in the rain in Washington, October 7, 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court will this week step into the politically charged debate over campaign finance for the first time since its controversial ruling three years ago paved the way for corporations and unions to spend more on political candidates and causes. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW) - GM1E9A71U4B01

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a setback to abortion rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday paved the way for Republican-backed restrictions on medication-induced abortions to take effect in Arkansas that could lead to the shuttering of two of the state’s three abortion clinics.

The nine justices, with no noted dissents, declined to hear an appeal by abortion provider Planned Parenthood of a lower court ruling that had revived the state law, which sets regulations regarding the RU-486 “abortion pill,” after it was earlier struck down by a federal judge. The law had remained blocked pending the outcome of the appeal to the Supreme Court.

The high court’s action may not be the final word on the matter. Planned Parenthood can still ask a judge to reimpose the injunction blocking the law.

The Supreme Court in 1973 legalized abortion nationwide, but many Republican-governed states have passed laws seeking to impose a variety of restrictions, some so demanding that they may shut down abortion clinics and make the procedure far more difficult to obtain.

The justices, in a 2016 ruling, struck down a restrictive Republican-backed Texas law that had targeted abortion clinics and doctors in a decision that was seen as reaffirming and fortifying legal protections for abortion rights. Planned Parenthood had claimed the appeals court ruling in the Arkansas case had disregarded the precedent set in the Texas case.

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restored the law last year, reversing a 2016 ruling by a district court judge that had prevented it from going into effect.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which runs two of the three clinics that provide abortions in Arkansas, sued the state in 2015, saying the law would deprive many Arkansas women of their legal right to an abortion.

The law involves the RU-486 “abortion pill,” also called mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) and misoprostol (brand name Cytotec). It requires any doctor dispensing the drug to sign a contract with another doctor who would agree to handle any medical complications from it, an unusual and difficult-to-achieve arrangement. The contracted doctor also must have admitting privileges at a hospital designated to handle emergencies.

Arkansas said the law was aimed at protecting women against the “dangerous and potentially dangerous” off-label use of the abortion pills.

RU-486 was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000 subject to the instructions stated on the label. The “off-label” use prohibited by Arkansas allowed for less physician oversight when RU-486 is used. Planned Parenthood, which offers only medication-induced abortions at its two facilities in Arkansas, said the effect of the law would be to ban such abortions in the state.

The only other abortion clinic in the state, Little Rock Family Planning Services in the state capital, offers both surgical and medication abortions. The district court judge had found that women in Fayetteville, for example, would then have to make two 380-mile (610-km) round trips to get an abortion at what would be the state’s last remaining abortion clinic.

The state’s lawyers said the Arkansas law differs from the Texas law as it does not require the doctors who provide abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. They also said the abortion providers failed to provide evidence that a significant number of women would be adversely affected.

In 2013, the Supreme Court left intact an Oklahoma court ruling that struck down a state law that would have effectively banned RU-486.

In the Supreme Court’s current term, which runs through the end of June, the justices are weighing another abortion-related case in which operators of Christian-affiliated “crisis pregnancy centers” that steer women with unplanned pregnancies away from abortion are challenging a California law that requires them to post notices telling women about the availability of state-subsidized abortions.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Ireland quietly comes to terms with dramatic change after abortion vote

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Irish people paid homage on Sunday to an Indian immigrant woman whose death inspired a historic vote to repeal Ireland’s strict abortion laws while the Catholic Church rued the outcome saying it showed indifference to its teachings.

In a referendum on Friday, the once deeply Catholic nation voted to scrap a prohibition on abortion by a margin of two-to-one, a landslide victory that astonished campaigners as citizens of every age and background demanded the change they had spent decades fighting for.

The vote overturns a law which, for decades, has forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations that they could not legally have in their own country. “Yes” campaigners had argued that with pills now being bought illegally online abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

Hundreds of people on Sunday continued to leave flowers and candles at a large mural in Dublin of Savita Halappanaar, the 31-year-old Indian whose death in 2012 from a septic miscarriage after being refused a termination spurred lawmakers into action.

Katy Gaffney, a 24-year-old baker who traveled home to Dublin from Berlin to vote, stood silently in front of the makeshift memorial crying.

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Messages are left at a memorial to Savita Halappanava a day after an Abortion Referendum to liberalise abortion laws was passed by popular vote, in Dublin, Ireland May 27, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

“I am relieved but devastated that it had to come to this,” she said.

Others, many with tears in their eyes, pinned messages to the wall. One read: “I’m so sorry this happened to you before the country woke up. My vote was for you.” Another: “I’m sorry we let you down. It won’t be in vain.”

“It’s not a high. It’s more of a relief,” said Lynda Cosgrave, a 35-year-old legal associate, wearing the black sweatshirt with ‘Repeal’ in white that become the symbol of the youthful “Yes” campaign.

“I thought when I came in last night it would be jubilant, but it was a bit down. It’s a bit sad. I don’t think we ever thought it would actually happen.”

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of going abroad for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

The government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, will begin drafting legislation in the coming week to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy by the end of the year.

Many lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not try to block the bill.

NEW MILESTONE

The outcome was a new milestone on a path of change for the country of 4.8 million which only legalized divorce by a tiny majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

With the vote making newspaper frontpages across the world, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on Twitter that “Ireland has once again made history.” He called the vote an essential symbol for women’s freedom.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a showdown with ministers and lawmakers in her Conservative party after refusing to back reform of highly restrictive abortion laws in the British province of Northern Ireland which has a 500 km (312 mile) land border with Ireland.

Ireland’s push to liberalize its laws is in contrast to another traditionally Catholic European country, Poland, where the ruling conservative party and still powerful church are seeking to ban most abortions.

In Ireland though, the once all-powerful Catholic Church, which has seen its public influence collapse since the 1980s after a string of child sex abuse scandals, took a back seat throughout the referendum campaign.

In churches across the country on Sunday there was only regret at the outcome.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin told parishioners that the church had to “renew its commitment to support life.”

“Many will see the results of Friday’s referendum as an indication that the Catholic Church in Ireland is regarded today by many with indifference and as having a marginal role in the formation of Irish culture,” Martin said in a homily published by the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick called the result “deeply regrettable and chilling for those of us who voted ‘No’.” He asked those attending mass to pray for healing in Irish society.

Calling on colleagues to move quickly on legislation, Minister for Children Katherine Zappone reminded lawmakers that Irish women would still have to travel across the water to Britain for terminations until they acted.

“Women are leaving the country today,” she told national broadcaster RTE. “We have to be aware of that and have that sense of urgency in order to legislate as soon as possible.”

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Ireland ends abortion ban as ‘quiet revolution’ transforms country

Observers watch as votes are tallied folowing yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s prime minister on Saturday hailed the culmination of “a quiet revolution” in what was once one of Europe’s most socially conservative countries after a landslide referendum vote to liberalize highly restrictive laws on abortion.

Voters in the once deeply Catholic nation backed the change by two-to-one, a far higher margin than any opinion poll in the run up to the vote had predicted, and allows the government to bring in legislation by the end of the year.

“It’s incredible. For all the years and years and years we’ve been trying to look after women and not been able to look after women, this means everything,” said Mary Higgins, obstetrician and Together For Yes campaigner.

For decades, the law forced over 3,000 women to travel to Britain each year for terminations and “Yes” campaigners argued that with others now ordering pills illegally online, abortion was already a reality in Ireland.

The campaign was defined by women publicly sharing their painful experiences of leaving the country for procedures, a key reason why all but one of Ireland’s 40 constituencies voted “Yes”.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, had called the vote a once-in-a-generation chance and voters responded by turning out in droves. A turnout of 64 percent was one of the highest for a referendum.

“Today is an historic day for Ireland. A quiet revolution has taken place,” Varadkar, who became Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister last year, said in a speech after the vote.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. This is Ireland’s second chance to treat everyone equally and with compassion and respect. We have voted to look reality in the eye and we did not blink.”

The outcome is a new milestone on a path of change for a country which only legalized divorce by a razor thin majority in 1995 before becoming the first in the world to adopt gay marriage by popular vote three years ago.

The once-mighty Catholic Church took a back seat throughout the campaign.

ASTONISHING MARGIN

Anti-abortion activists conceded defeat early on Saturday as their opponents expressed astonishment at the scale of their victory. Lawmakers who campaigned for a “No” vote said they would not seek to block the government’s plans to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

“What Irish voters did yesterday is a tragedy of historic proportions,” the Save The 8th group said. “However, a wrong does not become a right simply because a majority support it.”

Voters were asked to scrap the constitutional amendment, which gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life was in danger.

The country’s largest newspaper, the Irish Independent, described the result as “a massive moment in Ireland’s social history”.

Activists react at the count centre as votes are tallied folowing yesterday's referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Activists react at the count centre as votes are tallied folowing yesterday’s referendum on liberalizing abortion law, in Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Campaigners for change, wearing “Repeal” jumpers and “Yes” badges, gathered at count centers, many in tears and hugging each other. Others sang songs in the sunshine outside the main Dublin results center as they awaited the official result.

The large crowd cheered Varadkar as he took to the stage to thank them for “trusting women and respecting their choices”.

Reform in Ireland also raised the prospect that women in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, may start traveling south of the border.

“The outcome of the referendum is an extremely worrying development for the protection of the unborn child in Northern Ireland,” said Jim Wells, a member of Northern Ireland’s socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

MIDDLE GROUND

No social issue had divided Ireland’s 4.8 million people as sharply as abortion, which was pushed up the political agenda by the death in 2012 of a 31-year-old Indian immigrant from a septic miscarriage after she was refused a termination.

Campaigners left flowers and candles at a large mural of the woman, Savita Halappanavar, in central Dublin. Her parents in India were quoted by the Irish Times newspaper as thanking their “brothers and sisters” in Ireland and requesting the new law be called “Savita’s law”.

Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said he believed a middle ground of around 40 percent of voters had decided en masse to allow women and doctors rather than lawmakers and lawyers to decide whether a termination was justified.

“For him, it’s a different Ireland that we’re moving onto,” said Colm O’Riain, a 44-year-old teacher referring to his son Ruarai, born 14 weeks premature in November who was in his arms.

“It’s an Ireland that is more tolerant, more inclusive and where he can be whatever he wants without fear of recrimination.”

(Additional reporting by Graham Fahy and Emily Roe in Dublin; Amanda Ferguson in Belfast and Michael Holden in London; Editing by Alison Williams and Richard Balmforth)