Missouri’s last abortion clinic warns it may close after state action

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 Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Missouri’s only abortion clinic expects to be shut down this week after the state health department refused to renew its license, which would make it the only U.S. state without a legal abortion clinic, Planned Parenthood said on Tuesday.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services did not respond to a request for comment.

The regulatory move is the latest in a wave of actions in Republican-led states to stop abortion. Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson on Friday signed a bill banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of eight states that have passed anti-abortion legislation this year.

“This is a real public health crisis,” said Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which runs the clinic. “More than a million women of reproductive age in Missouri will no longer have access to a health center in the state they live in that provides abortion care.”

The state department of health told the clinic it could not approve a license until it interviewed seven physicians who the state believed might be involved in “potential deficient practices,” CBS News reported, citing written communication between the clinic and the health department. Planned Parenthood said it could not comply with this request because only two of the physicians are employed by Planned Parenthood, and the other five have not agreed to be interviewed, according to CBS.

Planned Parenthood said in a statement that the clinic would sue the state health department on Tuesday to preserve access to legal abortions in the state.

CHALLENGE TO EIGHT-WEEK BAN

Separately, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri said on Tuesday that it would seek to repeal Missouri’s law banning abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy through a referendum on the state’s 2020 election ballot.

If the Missouri Secretary of State certifies the referendum petition for circulation, the ACLU would then need to collect over 100,000 signatures before Aug. 28 – when the law is due to go into effect – to delay the law until a 2020 vote.

The recent wave of anti-abortion legislation reflects a boost of confidence among anti-abortion advocates after Republican President Donald Trump named two justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing a 5-4 conservative majority.

Earlier this year, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect an embryonic heartbeat, which can occur at six weeks, often before a woman knows she is pregnant. Two weeks ago, Alabama passed a total ban on abortions except if a pregnant woman’s life is in danger.

Despite the uptick in anti-abortion measures from Republican-led states, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 58% of American adults said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 50% in a similar poll that ran 10 months earlier in July 2018.

Abortion-rights activists have pledged legal action against the states that pass laws contradicting Roe v. Wade. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against Alabama last week and have obtained injunctions blocking Kentucky and Mississippi’s anti-abortion laws.

Anti-abortion advocates have said they expected legal challenges to these laws and that they welcome the chance to have a court test their conviction that a fetus’ right to life is paramount.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris on Tuesday was set to unveil her plan to protect abortion rights.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

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)

Iowa’s ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban ruled unconstitutional

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

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat” law, the most restrictive abortion ban in the United States, was declared unconstitutional Tuesday, as it violates the Iowa state constitution, a state judge ruled.

Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the restriction in May 2018, outlawing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks and before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

In the ruling, posted online, District Court Judge Michael Huppert wrote, “It is undisputed that such cardiac activity is detectable well in advance of the fetus becoming viable.”

A fetus that is viable outside the womb, usually at 24 weeks, is widely considered the threshold in the United States to prohibit an abortion.

The district court decision is a victory for supporters of abortion rights, but abortion opponents have vowed to take the fight to Iowa’s appellate courts, the Des Moines Register and other media reported.

The legislation is aimed at triggering a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision which established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion, activists on both sides of the issue previously told Reuters.

Iowa state Sen. Janet Petersen of Des Moines, the Democrats’ leader in the Iowa Senate, praised the ruling.

“The extreme law should have been overturned, because it restricted the freedom of Iowa women and girls to care for their bodies, and it forced motherhood on them,” she told the Register. “The governor and legislative Republicans should stop attacking women’s health care.”

Proponents of the law had expected a long court fight.

The ultimate goal, abortion opponents have told multiple media outlets, is to get the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has become more conservative under President Donald Trump.

When the Iowa law was first passed, Republican state senator Rick Bertand of Sioux City told Reuters, “We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade – 100 percent.”

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. abortion rate dropped sharply in decade ending 2015, CDC reports

An exam room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is shown in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Abortion rates among U.S. women in all age groups plunged to a decade low, with teens experiencing a greater decrease than older women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

Statistics for 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, show the abortion rate was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. That is down 26 percent from 2006, when the study began and the rate was 15.9 abortions per 1,000 women.

Among teens aged 15 to 19, the rate decreased 54 percent from 2006 to 2015, the CDC said.

“This decrease in abortion rate was greater than the decreases for women in any older age group,” the CDC said in a statement.

The CDC did not provide any reason for the decline in the rates, but the drop comes amid efforts by many states to restrict a woman’s access to the procedure.

The total number of reported abortions fell to 638,169 in 2015, from 842,855 in 2006, a 24 percent decrease. In 2015, there were 188 abortions per 1,000 live births, compared with 233 abortions per 1,000 live births in 2006, a drop of 19 percent.

In 2015, all measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2006-2015), the CDC said of the annual study, “Abortion Surveillance-United States 2015.”

Conservative state lawmakers are passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws in a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision that established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

The Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives last week approved a measure that would ban abortions at six weeks, while an Iowa law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is tied up in a court battle.

Such laws are designed to be thrust into a Supreme Court that has become more conservative following President Donald Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The CDC study also showed nearly all abortions, 91.1 percent, performed in 2015 were in a woman’s first 13 weeks of pregnancy. There was also a shift toward earlier abortions, with the number performed at six weeks or less increasing 11 percent.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Eyeing conservative U.S. top court, two states pass abortion measures

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., June 11, 2018. REUTERS/Erin Schaff/File Photo

By Dan Whitcomb

(Reuters) – Voters in Alabama and West Virginia on Tuesday passed ballot measures that could pave the way for new limits or a full ban on abortion in those states if the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court overturns the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

In Oregon, meanwhile, an initiative that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to fund abortion except in cases of medical necessity appeared headed for defeat.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, legalized abortion nationwide, and the justices have reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion in subsequent rulings since then.

Abortion opponents hope the addition of President Donald Trump’s appointee Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, replacing a retired justice who had protected abortion rights and cementing a 5-4 conservative majority, will lead to a dramatic scaling back or outright reversal of abortion rights recognized under the 1973 ruling.

In Alabama, an amendment to the state’s constitution to formally “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and rights of children, including the right to life” was leading by a margin of 59 percent to 40 percent with 96 percent of precincts counted, according to the New York Times.

The Republican-backed Amendment 2 does not specifically outlaw or restrict abortion in Alabama. But Republican state Representative Matt Fridy has said he wrote the measure with the Supreme Court’s conservative majority in mind.

“We want to make sure that at a state level, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that the Alabama Constitution cannot be used as a mechanism by which to claim that there is a right to abortion,” Fridy told Fox News in an August interview.

In West Virginia, a ballot measure amending the state’s constitution to say that “nothing in this constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or funding of abortion” was ahead 51 percent to 48 percent with 54 out of 55 precincts reporting.

The Republican-led West Virginia legislature voted in March to put the initiative on the ballot, with lawmakers saying they wanted to make clear there was nothing in the state constitution preventing them from passing abortion-related legislation should the Roe ruling be overturned or narrowed.

Oregon’s Measure 106 would amend the state constitution to bar the use of public money to fund abortions except in cases of medical necessity or where mandated by federal law.

“All three of these instances are the latest in a long string of attacks on access to reproductive healthcare nationally,” said Katie Glenn, Alabama state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates. “Amendment 2 in Alabama specifically would pave the way to ban abortion without exception, regardless of whether the person was a victim of rape or incest or if their life is at risk.”

A number of Republican-governed states over the years have passed laws seeking to put restrictions on abortion, some of which have been invalidated by the courts.

The Supreme Court in 2016 bolstered constitutional protections for abortion rights when it threw out key parts of a Texas law that imposed hard-to-meet regulations on abortion facilities and doctors, finding the measure placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion in violation of a 1992 high court precedent.

Anthony Kennedy, the retired justice who Kavanaugh replaced, sided with the court’s four liberals in the 2016 ruling.

Overturning Roe would end a constitutional right to abortion, enabling individual states to set their own policies.

Alabama and West Virginia are among the states that already have laws on the books imposing certain restrictions on abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The institute said four states have laws that would automatically ban abortion if Roe were to be reversed, seven states have laws that express an intention to restrict abortion as much as possible in the absence of Roe, and nine states still have on the books their unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Pope compares having an abortion to ‘hiring a hit man’

Pope Francis speaks during the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday compared having an abortion to “hiring a “hit man” to eliminate a problematic person, in comments sure to be welcomed by conservative Catholics who have accused the pontiff of not speaking out enough on “cultural war” issues.

Abortion is a raging political battle in a number of countries, including the United States, where many conservatives hope the Supreme Court will eventually overturn the landmark 1973 ruling known as Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Francis made his off-the-cuff comments on abortion, some of his toughest to date, in an address to tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly general audience.

The pope denounced what he called the contradiction of allowing “the suppression of human life in the mother’s womb in the name of safeguarding other rights”.

“But how can an act that suppresses an innocent and helpless life that is germinating be therapeutic, civilized or even simply human?” he said.

“I ask you: ‘Is it right to ‘take out’ a human life to solve a problem? What do you think? Is it right? Is it right or not?” he said in unprepared remarks.

Many in the crowd shouted “No”.

“Is it right to hire a hit man to solve a problem? You cannot, it is not right to kill a human being, regardless of how small it is, to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hit man to solve a problem,” he said.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception and ends at the moment of natural death. It also forbids euthanasia but says that a family or a patient can decide to stop using extraordinary means to keep people alive.

Shortly after becoming pope in March 2013, Francis appeared to downplay the importance of “cultural war” issues such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage, saying in an interview the Church had become “obsessed” with them.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” he said in that interview, adding that the Church’s stand on them was very clear and that it also had to address social issues such as poverty, injustice and immigration.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Abortion looms over Senate fight on Supreme Court nominee

FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh pictured at his office in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – When a U.S. appeals court last week rejected an Alabama abortion law, one of the court’s judges bemoaned having to base the decision on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, calling it an “aberration of constitutional law.”

The views of 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Ed Carnes, a Republican appointee to the Atlanta-based court, are shared by many conservatives opposed to the landmark 1973 ruling.

The big question is whether conservative U.S. appeals court judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, is one of them.

The possibility he could vote to overturn Roe v. Wade will be a top line of questioning when Kavanaugh appears before a U.S. Senate panel for his confirmation hearing, starting on Tuesday.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last month found that 68 percent of Democrats believed abortion should be legal, while 61 percent of Republicans said the procedure, in general, should be illegal.  The issue has come to highlight the deep divide between the two parties.

Yet, some on both sides question whether Roe v. Wade could easily be overturned, given the Supreme Court’s tradition of standing by its older decisions. Under a principle known as stare decisis, the court tries to protect its credibility by avoiding politicization and keeping the law evenhanded.

During an Aug. 21 meeting, Kavanaugh told Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican who favors abortion rights, that Roe v. Wade was “settled law,” she said afterward.

The court is currently split 4-4 between conservatives and liberals. Former Justice Anthony Kennedy, whom Kavanaugh would replace if he is confirmed by the Senate, disappointed fellow conservatives by affirming abortion rights in two key cases.

Still, precedents can be cast aside. For instance, just two months ago, the conservative majority, including Kennedy, overturned a major 1977 labor law precedent. The ruling came after two earlier rulings that undermined it.

“Rarely if ever has the court overruled a decision – let alone one of this import – with so little regard for the usual principles of stare decisis,” liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissenting opinion.

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump's Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communication at the Susan B. Anthony List, a leading anti-abortion group, poses on a residential street where local activists from her organization were canvassing in favor of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in Wheeling, West Virginia, U.S., August 29, 2018. Picture taken August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Mana Rabiee

ROAD MAP FOR ROE

The stakes are high in the Senate battle over Kavanaugh because, if confirmed, he could provide a decisive fifth vote on the nine-justice court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade.

Doing that would likely prompt many conservative-leaning states to take steps to outlaw abortion altogether.

In the run-up to the Kavanaugh hearings, abortion rights groups have held rallies nationwide, while opponents of Roe v. Wade are optimistic that Kavanaugh will be on their side.

“I hope that there will be a future majority to overturn Roe, and I hope Kavanaugh would be among them,” Clarke Forsythe, a lawyer with anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said in an interview.

Abortion opponents could use the recent labor case decision as a road map to overturning Roe by taking up a series of abortion cases that would also criticize Roe’s validity.

“Five years of decisions questioning (Roe) – that could change things,” said John McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.

Most analysts expect a steady weakening of Roe as opposed to a quick reversal. “They probably won’t do it instantly, but they will probably get there eventually,” said Carolyn Shapiro, a law professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Trump pledged during the 2016 election campaign to appoint judges hostile to Roe v. Wade, a stance that won over social conservatives who helped him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The president’s fellow Republicans narrowly control the Senate and can ensure Kavanaugh’s confirmation if they avoid defections from their ranks.

NO DIRECT RULING

When Trump named him in July as his Supreme Court nominee, Kavanaugh emphasized his Catholic faith. In a decade as a judge, he has not ruled directly on abortion, although he has signaled sympathy for legal arguments by anti-abortion advocates.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the Supreme Court could soon wade back into the abortion debate. Legal battles over state bans on the procedure in early pregnancy are working through the courts.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, which manages abortion clinics in several states, said she had spent her whole career working with the fate of Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance.

Her clinic won the last major Supreme Court ruling on abortion in 2016, when the justices struck down strict regulations in Texas.

“This time I think Roe could fall,” she said. “But you have to stand up for what’s right even when the odds are against you.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

Justice Kennedy, U.S. Supreme Court’s pivotal vote, to retire

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said on Wednesday he plans to retire after three decades as a pivotal vote on the highest U.S. judicial body, giving President Donald Trump an opportunity to make the court more firmly conservative.

The conservative Kennedy, who turns 82 in July and is the second-oldest justice on the nine-member court, has become one of the most consequential American jurists since joining the court in 1988 as an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan. He proved instrumental in advancing gay rights, buttressing abortion rights and erasing political spending limits. His retirement takes effect on July 31, the court said.

“It has been the greatest honor and privilege to serve our nation in the federal judiciary for 43 years, 30 of those years on the Supreme Court,” Kennedy said in a statement.

The statement issued by the court said that Kennedy’s decision was motivated by his decision to spend more time with his family.

Kennedy is a traditional conservative who sometimes joined the liberal justices on key rulings, earning a reputation as the court’s “swing” vote who heartened conservatives and liberals alike, depending on the issue. Kennedy on Tuesday joined the court’s four other conservatives in giving Trump a huge legal victory by upholding the Republican president’s travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Kennedy’s decision was disclosed on the final day of the court’s current term, which began in October. On Wednesday, he joined his fellow conservative justices in a 5-4 ruling that dealt a major setback to organized labor by shutting off a key union revenue source.

Trump on Wednesday said Kennedy had great vision and heart. The president said he will begin a search immediately for a new justice, with a list of 25 candidates. The Republican-led Senate can be expected to push to have the new nominee confirmed and on the court before the justices begin their next term in October.

Trump already has left an imprint on the court, restoring its 5-4 conservative majority with the appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch last year after the president’s fellow Republicans in the Senate in 2016 refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

While Kennedy’s replacement will not change the numerical ideological balance on the court, Trump could appoint a justice who would be more staunchly conservative than Kennedy and less likely to occasionally side with the court’s liberal wing.

MAJOR SOCIAL ISSUES

Without Kennedy on the bench, the high court could move to the right on major social issues including abortion and gay rights. Kennedy wrote the landmark 2015 ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

Conservative activists have long dreamed of building a firmly conservative majority on the court that would push to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling in the case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide.

Kennedy disappointed conservatives by joining Supreme Court decisions that affirmed the Roe decision, including a landmark 1992 ruling in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Gorsuch already has demonstrated that he is one of the most conservative members of the court, aligning himself with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. [nL1N1OE2GT]

The U.S. Senate, which must confirm nominees before they can join the court, is controlled 51-49 by Trump’s fellow Republicans, meaning that if they remain unified they can overcome any Democratic opposition like that mounted against Gorsuch. Senate Republicans changed the chamber’s rules during the Gorsuch nomination battle to prevent Democrats from insisting on a 60-vote super-majority, allowing court nominees to win confirmation by a simple majority vote.

Kennedy personally delivered his retirement letter to the White House on Wednesday afternoon, after he told his fellow justices of his plans at their afternoon conference.

Trump picked Gorsuch from a list of names, mostly conservative federal appeals court judges, he circulated during his 2016 election campaign. The White House last November issued an expanded list that includes other prominent conservatives, including Judge Brett Kavanagh, a former Kennedy law clerk who serves on the U.S. appeals court in Washington.

While Kennedy sided with conservative colleagues on many issues and authored the landmark 2010 ruling that allowed unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns, his tenure also included strong support for the liberal cause of gay rights.

Kennedy, mild-mannered and professorial, followed a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road approach and often posed probing, intellectual questions of lawyers arguing cases. He became the swing vote on the ideologically divided court after fellow centrist conservative Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired in 2006.

Kennedy was Reagan’s third choice to fill the court seat left open by the retirement of Lewis Powell in 1987. The Senate rejected Reagan’s first nominee, outspoken conservative Robert Bork, in a fierce partisan fight and second choice Douglas Ginsburg withdrew after admitting to past marijuana use.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Iowa passes ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortion ban, most restrictive in U.S.

Opponents of a California law, requiring anti-abortion pregnancy centers to post signs notifying women of the availability of state-funded contraception and abortion, hold a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Chung

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) – Iowa’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the most restrictive abortion ban in the United States on Wednesday, outlawing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks and before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

The Senate voted 29-17 to pass the House of Representatives-approved bill, according to the legislature’s online voting tallies. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, an abortion opponent, who has not said publicly whether she will sign it into law.

The legislation is aimed at triggering a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision which established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion, activists on both sides of the issue said.

Abortion opponents aim to land abortion questions back in front of the nation’s top court, where they believe the 5-4 conservative majority could sharply curtail abortion access or ban it outright.

“We created an opportunity to take a run at Roe v. Wade – 100 percent,” said Republican state Senator Rick Bertrand of Sioux City, who said the legislation is designed to be “thrust into the court” that has become more conservative following President Donald Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Spokeswoman Becca Lee of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which supports access to abortion, called it an “intentionally unconstitutional ban on 99 percent of safe, legal abortion, designed to challenge Roe v. Wade.”

“The bill weaponizes fetal heartbeat, which is by all accounts an arbitrary standard that bans abortion long before the point of fetal viability,” Lee said in an email to Reuters.

Mississippi’s Republican governor in March signed into law a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks with some exceptions, sparking an immediate court challenge by abortion rights advocates.

A similar court challenge is underway in Kentucky, which in April enacted a ban on a common abortion procedure from the 11th week of pregnancy.

The newest Iowa bill, which the state Senate passed early Wednesday after overnight wrangling by lawmakers, requires any woman seeking an abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound to screen for a fetal heartbeat. If one is detected, healthcare providers are barred from performing an abortion.

Among the few exceptions are if the woman was raped or a victim of incest and has reported that to authorities.

The bill would ban most abortions in the state and was passed in the final days of the Iowa legislative session.

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

Note from Editor:  Links to our shows with  Janet Porter and Congressman Tom DeLay.

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Heartbeats, the miracle of Life 

Trump decries ‘permissive’ U.S. abortion laws at rally

Participants attend the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017.

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump criticized U.S. abortion laws as among the most permissive in the world in a speech to anti-abortion activists at the annual March for Life on Friday, and pledged his administration would always defend “the right to life.”

The Republican president’s speech, relayed via video link from the White House Rose Garden to thousands gathered on Washington’s National Mall, highlighted his shift in recent years from a supporter of women’s access to abortion to a powerful opponent.

“As you all know, Roe v. Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world,” he said, criticizing the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion at most stages of a pregnancy.

Trump said the United States “is one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions,” mentioning China and North Korea. “It is wrong. It has to change.”

The other countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks are Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group.

Trump listed some anti-abortion measures his administration had taken, including an announcement March for Lifeearlier in the day by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency said it was revoking Obama administration legal guidance that had sought to discourage states from trying to defund organizations that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood.

Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion nationwide. In the 45 years since the decision was issued on Jan. 22, 1973, the March for Life has been staged near the ruling’s anniversary in protest.

“Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full, God-given potential,” Trump, a Christian, told the marchers, who included many groups of students from Roman Catholic schools.

Trump has pledged to appoint more federal judges who oppose abortion with the hope that the ruling might eventually be overturned.

Trump is the third sitting president to address the march: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both made supportive remarks to the march at least twice each during their presidencies, speaking via telephone broadcast by loudspeakers.

Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence, a vocal abortion opponent, to speak at last year’s march, a few days after the presidential inauguration. This year, Pence introduced Trump, saying the president would “restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”

Many marchers, carrying signs with slogans such as “Pray to end abortion,” said they were excited to hear from a president they see as an ally, but hesitated to point to any specific advancements in their agenda from Trump’s first year in office.

“It’s so refreshing to have a standing president who supports pro-life,” Tim Curran, a 66-year-old grocer who had traveled to the march from Kentucky, said before the remarks and the march to the steps of the Supreme Court for a rally. “He seems to be moving us back in the direction of traditional families and morality.”

U.S. President Donald Trump greets a young girl among families gathered in the White House Rose Garden as he addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the nearby National Mall in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump greets a young girl among families gathered in the White House Rose Garden as he addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the nearby National Mall in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The event came a day before the first anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, a milestone to be marked by the second Women’s March in cities across the United States, including Washington. Organizers hope to recreate last year’s huge anti-Trump protests by hundreds of thousands of people who saw Trump as a foe of women’s rights and reproductive freedom.

Trump previously supported women’s access to abortion, saying in an interview in 1999, when he was still a celebrity real-estate tycoon in New York City, that while he “hated the concept of abortion,” he was “very pro-choice.”

As a candidate for the presidency in 2016, Trump said his position had “evolved,” describing himself as “pro-life with exceptions,” such as in cases of rape or incest.

Trump has said he hopes Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned and that each state will instead be allowed to decide whether to ban it.

Americans tend to split roughly down the middle on abortion access, with 49 percent saying they supported it and 46 percent saying they opposed it in a 2017 Gallup poll.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)