Tag Archives: anti-abortion

Groups challenge abortion restrictions in 3 states

Abortion rights groups filed three lawsuits challenging medically unnecessary abortion restrictions in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina.

This follows the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which struck down two Texas laws that devastated access to abortion in the state. Since the ruling, abortion restrictions in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Oklahoma and Wisconsin were blocked.

The lawsuits involve the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and challenge the following:

  • Medically unnecessary Alaska restrictions, passed more than 40 years ago, that ban abortion in outpatient health centers after the first trimester of pregnancy, forcing many women to travel out of state for procedures.
  • A ban on abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy in North Carolina which was recently amended to further restrict the already narrow health exception to extremely limited health emergencies.
  • Medically unnecessary restrictions in Missouri that have closed all but one health center that provides abortion in the state.

“Today’s filing is a major step in the fight to ensure all women can get safe and legal abortions in their own communities, when they need them,” stated Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We are a nation of laws, and the center is prepared to use the full force of the law to ensure women’s fundamental rights are protected and respected.  We are proud to stand with our partners in challenging these unconstitutional measures and vow to continue the fight for women’s health, equality, and dignity.”

At Planned Parenthood Federation of America, chief medical officer Raegan McDonald-Mosley said, “These restrictions have a disproportionate impact on those who already face far too many barriers to health care as people of color, people who live in rural areas, or people with low incomes. These laws are dangerous, unjust, and unconstitutional — and they will come down.”

Added Jennifer Dalven of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project: “With the cases we are filing today, we are sending a clear message that we won’t stop working until every woman can get the care she needs no matter who she is, where she lives, or how much money she makes.”

In the Alaska case,  Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands is represented by Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights, Brigitte Amiri of the ACLU, Carrie Flaxman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Tara Rich and Eric Glatt of the ACLU of Alaska, and Susan Orlansky of Reeves, Amodio, LLC.

In the North Carolina case, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic is represented by Maithreyi Ratakonda and Carrie Flaxman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America; Beverly Gray, M.D. and Elizabeth Deans, M.D. are represented by Andrew Beck of the ACLU; Amy Bryant M.D., M.S.C.R., is represented by Genevieve Scott and Julie Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights; Irena Como and Christopher Brook of the ACLU of North Carolina is representing all plaintiffs.

In the Missouri case, Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region are represented by Melissa Cohen and Jennifer Sandman of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Arthur Benson of Arthur Benson & Associates.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that women have a constitutional right to decide whether to end or continue a pregnancy and states cannot ban abortion prior to viability.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court refused to review North Dakota’s ban on abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy and Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy that had been struck down by lower courts.

The Supreme Court’s Whole Woman’s Health decision also affirmed that states cannot pass sham restrictions on abortion.

Bracing for the return of ‘Summer of Mercy’ anti-abortion protests

Twenty-five years after tumultuous mass protests led to nearly 2,700 arrests outside local abortion clinics, Wichita is bracing for a Summer of Mercy.

The Wichita Police Department has spent months putting together a 60-page operational plan that aims at ensuring that everyone is safe.

“I don’t think that we are anticipating an event like 1991,” said Police Capt. Brian White. “However, we have to be prepared for all possibilities and we want to ensure protesters have the ability to exercise their rights to protest, and we also want to make sure that we balance that with the legal right for the businesses to operate.”

The return of the Summer of Mercy, slated for July 16-23, is being organized by Operation Save America, a Dallas-based Christian fundamentalist group led by Rusty Thomas. Group leaders say they hope to complete in 2016 what activists started in 1991.

About 100 to 150 police officers have been assigned to the protests.

“While we have had good lines of communications with protesters, we have to be prepared for the unexpected and that is what we are doing,” White said.

Donna Lippoldt of Operation Save America’s Wichita affiliate did not immediately return a message seeking comment. Pastor Rob Rotola, whose Word of Life Church is hosting the Summer of Mercy, also did not return a call from the Associated Press.

Abortion provider George Tiller and the clinic where he performed abortions had been a target for decades. His clinic was bombed in 1985 and Tiller was shot in both arms in 1992. He was murdred in 2009 at his Wichita church by an abortion opponent. For years afterward, no abortion services were available. Then, in April 2013, the group Trust Women opened the South Wind Women’s Center in Tiller’s former facility.

Director Julie Burkhart said the clinic plans to stay open during this year’s protest, but a decision was made not to do any counter protesting.

“It is a new approach,” Burkhart said. “That our work is here inside and it is out talking to people who would like to have meaningful conversations in the community and not standing out basically wasting energy on folks that will never be able to understand that sometimes some people need or want to access abortion care.”

Instead, abortion rights supporters put together other events, including a rally and reception as part of what they’ve dubbed the #ShowSomeMercy Celebration.

A look at fatal attacks in anti-abortion violence in the US

At least 11 people have been killed in attacks against abortion providers in the U.S. since 1993, according to the National Abortion Federation. Here are some details of those attacks:

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn is shot to death outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida, becoming the first U.S. doctor killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin is convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Bayard Britton and a volunteer bodyguard are slain outside another clinic in Pensacola. Barrett’s wife, June, is wounded. Paul Hill, 40, a former minister and anti-abortion activist, confesses and cites Griffin as an inspiration. Hill is convicted of murder and executed in 2003.
  • Dec. 30, 1994: John Salvi opens fire with a rifle inside two Boston-area abortion clinics, killing two receptionists and wounding five others. Sentenced to life without parole, he kills himself in prison in 1996.
  • Jan. 29, 1998: A bomb explodes just outside a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing an off-duty police officer and wounding several others. Five years later, suspect Eric Robert Rudolph is captured in North Carolina. He admits to bombing the Birmingham clinic, another clinic and a gay bar outside Atlanta, and Centennial Olympic Park, a gathering spot for the 1996 Summer Games, an attack that killed one bystander and injured more than 100. Rudolph is serving multiple life sentences at the federal Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, near Colorado Springs.
  • Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian is fatally shot in his home in a suburb of Buffalo, New York. Militant abortion opponent James Kopp is convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He is also convicted of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and sentenced to life in prison.
  • May 31, 2009: Prominent late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller is shot and killed in a church in Wichita, Kansas, where he was serving as an usher; Tiller had been shot leaving his clinic 16 years earlier but survived. Scott Roeder confesses and is found guilty of murder and other counts. He is sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 50 years, but has that sentence vacated after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. A new jury will decide how long he must serve before he is eligible for parole.
  • Nov. 27, 2015: A gunman kills a police officer and two people accompanying friends to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Nine others are wounded. Robert Lewis Dear, who has acknowledged being the shooter, tells investigators he drew inspiration from Hill, the killer in the 1994 Pensacola attack.

 

Sources: National Abortion Federation; AP research

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Complaints drive Lands’ End to issue apology for featuring feminist Gloria Steinem in catalog

Wisconsin-based retailer Lands’ End is apologizing to customers for featuring an interview with feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem in its spring catalog and has removed references to her from its website.

The company removed a feature on Steinem from its website after customers complained about her support for abortion rights, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The retailer issued an apology on Feb. 24 after customers complained, including by flooding the company’s Facebook page with hundreds of comments and vows to stop shopping the stores.

“We understand that some of our customers were offended by the inclusion of an interview in a recent catalog with Gloria Steinem on her quest for women’s equality,” the company said in a statement. “We thought it was a good idea and we heard from our customers that, for different reasons, it wasn’t.”

Steinem was interviewed by company CEO Federica Marchionni for the Lands’ End “Legend Series,” which features people “who have made a difference in both their respective industries and the world at large,” according to the company.

“Our goal was to feature individuals with different interests and backgrounds that have made a difference for our new Legends Series, not to take any political or religious stance,” the statement said. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the interview mentioned her stance on abortion rights.

Steinem’s representative at Random House said Steinem was currently in the United Kingdom on book tour and unavailable for comment.

Anti-abortion activists indicted over phony videos targeting Planned Parenthood

A Houston grand jury has indicted anti-abortion activists who released a phony undercover video making it appear as if Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to researchers for a profit — a violation of federal law. The video stirred Republican outrage and led to investigations and defunding of the group in many states, including Wisconsin.

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive and sexual health care to poor women.

The grand jury indicted David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, on a felony charge of tampering with a governmental record and a misdemeanor count related to purchasing human organs. Another activist, Sandra Merritt, was indicted on a charge of tampering with a governmental record, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

At the same time the anti-abortion activists were indicted, Planned Parenthood was exonerated of any wrong doing, although it’s unlikely the “pro-life” movement will believe the findings or let up in their obsessive crusade to destroy the group.

The Texas jury was the first to charge the hoaxsters criminally since the videos were released last year, setting off a maelstrom on the fringes of the religious right.

The footage from a clinic in Houston showed people pretending to be from a company called BioMax that procures fetal tissue for medical research. Fetal tissue research led to the vaccine for polio and other major medical advancements. It’s currently helping to make gains against Alzheimer’s, cancer and other major diseases.

Planned Parenthood has previously said that the fake company sent an agreement offering to pay the “astronomical amount” of $1,600 for organs from a fetus. The clinic said it never entered into the agreement and ceased contact with BioMax because it was “disturbed” by the overtures.

In a statement announcing the indictment, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson did not provide details on the charges, including what record or records were allegedly tampered with and why Daleiden faces a charge related to buying human organs. Her office said it could not disclose more information and a court spokesman said it was unclear whether copies of the indictments, which typically provide more insight, would be made public.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” Anderson, an elected Republican, said in her statement. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us.”

Daleiden issued a statement saying that his group “uses the same undercover techniques” as investigative journalists and follows all applicable laws.

“We respect the processes of the Harris County District Attorney, and note that buying fetal tissue requires a seller as well,” he said.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has his own ongoing investigation into Planned Parenthood, said Monday that the “the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life.”

The Texas video was the fifth released by the Center for Medical Progress.

Planned Parenthood has said a few clinics in two states used to accept legally allowed reimbursements for the costs of transporting tissue donated by some of its abortion clients to labs. In October, Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursement and would cover the costs itself.

The group called Monday’s indictments the latest in a string of victories since the videos were released, saying that by its count, 11 state investigations have cleared the nation’s largest abortion provider of claims that it profited from fetal tissue donation.

“This is absolutely great news because it is a demonstration of what Planned Parenthood has said from the very beginning: We follow every law and regulation and these anti-abortion activists broke multiple laws to try and spread lies,” said spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast.

Before the Texas video was released, Melaney Linton, president of the Houston Planned Parenthood clinic, told state lawmakers last summer that it was likely to feature actors — pretending to be from a company called BioMax — asking leading questions about how to select potential donors for a supposed study of sickle cell anemia. Linton said the footage could feature several interactions initiated by BioMax about how and whether a doctor could adjust an abortion if a patient has offered to donate tissue for medical research.

Despite the lofty name of the Center for Medical Progress, public filings suggest only a small number of people are affiliated with the nonprofit, none of whom are scientists or physicians engaged in advancing medical treatments. The people named as its top officers are longtime anti-abortion activists with a history of generating headlines.

Earlier this month, Planned Parenthood sued the center in a California federal court, alleging extensive criminal misconduct. The lawsuit says the center’s videos were the result of numerous illegalities, including making recordings without consent, registering false identities with state agencies and violating non-disclosure agreements.

Associated Press Writers Juan A. Lozano in Houston, Will Weissert in Austin and David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

Fetal tissue is critical for medical researchers

For decades, U.S. scientists have been using cells from aborted fetuses in medical research to develop vaccines and seek treatments for a host of ailments, from vision loss and neurological disorders to cancer and AIDS.

But anti-abortion activists set off an uproar over the practice by releasing undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how researchers obtain fetal tissue donated by women who’ve had abortions. The videos raised questions of whether the organization was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has denied making any profit and said it charges fees solely to cover its costs.

University laboratories that buy such cells strongly defend their research, saying tissue that would otherwise be thrown out has played a vital role in lifesaving medical advances and holds great potential for further breakthroughs.

Fetal cells are considered ideal because they divide rapidly, adapt to new environments easily and are less susceptible to rejection than adult cells when transplanted.

“If researchers are unable to work with fetal tissue, there is a huge list of diseases for which researchers would move much more slowly, rather than quickly, to find their cause and how they can be cured,” Stanford University spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told the Associated Press in an email.

From 2011 through 2014 alone, 97 research institutions — mostly universities and hospitals — received a total of $280 million in federal grants for fetal tissue research from the National Institutes of Health. A few institutions have consistently gotten large shares of that money, including Yale, the University of California and Massachusetts General Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard.

The U.S. government prohibits the sale of fetal tissue for profit and requires separation between researchers and the women who donate fetuses. Some schools go further, requiring written consent from donors.

Many major universities declined to make scientists available for interviews about their fetal tissue work, saying they fear for the researchers’ safety because the issue is so highly charged. The Planned Parenthood uproar led to a failed attempt by Republicans to strip the organization of federal funding.

Researchers use fetal tissue to understand cell biology and human development. Others use it to look for treatments for AIDS. Research on spinal cord injuries and eyesight-robbing macular degeneration involves transplanting fetal cells into patients. European researchers recently began putting fetal tissue into patients’ brains to try to treat Parkinson’s, a strategy that previously had mixed results.

Some scientists are looking for alternatives to fetal tissue, such as using adult cells that have been “reprogrammed” to their earlier forms. But those techniques are still being refined, and some fields are likely to remain reliant on fetal tissue, such as the study of fetal development.

Vaccines have been one of the chief public benefits of fetal tissue research. Vaccines for hepatitis A, German measles, chickenpox and rabies, for example, were developed using cell lines grown from tissue from two elective abortions, one in England and one in Sweden, that were performed in the 1960s.

German measles, also known as rubella, “caused 5,000 spontaneous abortions a year prior to the vaccine,” said Dr. Paul Offit, an infectious-disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “We wouldn’t have saved all those lives had it not been for those cells.”

Fetal tissue was “absolutely critical” to the development of a potential Ebola vaccine that has shown promise, said Dr. Carrie Wolinetz, an associate director at NIH, which last year handed out $76 million for work involving fetal tissue, or 0.2 percent of the agency’s research budget.

Scientists are also using fetal tissue to try to identify substances in adults that could be early warning signs of cancer, said Dr. Akhilesh Pandey, a molecular biologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Experts at MIT and other research centers use fetal tissue to implant the human immune system into mice, as a way to study diseases without employing people as test subjects. They add tumors to study the immune system’s response, then test cancer treatments out on the mice.

“This eventually will provide a benefit to society,” said Jianzhu Chen, an immunology professor and researcher at MIT.

At Stanford, fetal tissue has been used to study Huntington’s disease, “bubble boy disease” and juvenile diabetes. Fetal brain calls are now being used there in research on autism and schizophrenia.

After the release of the undercover videos, Colorado State University conducted an ethics review and suspended its dealings with one vendor. But it is pressing ahead with its HIV research with fetal tissue.

“Our position is this research has such tremendous value in driving discoveries that could be done no other way,” said Alan Rudolph, university vice president of research.

Wisconsin anti-abortion groups set 2015-17 agenda

Wisconsin anti-abortion groups are gearing up for another legislative session, with plans to push for a new ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and to revive a host of initiatives that went nowhere last time around.

Last session, the anti-abortion lobby lobbied the GOP-controlled Legislature to pass a law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Republicans retained their majorities in the Assembly and Senate in November’s elections, setting the stage for more wins for anti-abortion groups. Republican leaders aren’t publicly committing to anything, but Democrats are already preparing for a fight.

“These extremist groups and their Republican allies will not stop until abortion and birth control are inaccessible in Wisconsin,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison.

One of the most contentious issues could be Wisconsin Right to Life’s plan to push for a so-called fetal pain ban, which would bar abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy based on the disputed notion that a fetus could feel pain after that.

About a dozen states have passed such bans, which depart from the standard of viability established by the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. That decision allowed states to limit abortions in cases where there’s a viable chance the fetus could survive outside of the womb, generally considered to be between 22 and 24 weeks. 

While some doctors contend that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says evidence suggests that a fetus can’t feel pain until the third trimester begins at 27 weeks.

Julaine Appling, president of ultra-conservative Wisconsin Family Action, said her group’s top priority is fortifying Wisconsin’s so-called right-of-conscience laws.

The state Constitution includes language that allows people to refuse to act in ways that might clash with their religious or moral beliefs. WFA wants to amend that language to prohibit the state from punishing anyone for exercising his or her right of conscience and refusing to perform an abortion. A constitutional amendment that would have made the changes went nowhere last session.

Pro-Life Wisconsin, meanwhile, still wants license plates displaying the words “Choose Life.” A bill that would have created the plates passed the Assembly but died in the Senate last session.

In addition, state Rep. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, one of the right-of-conscience amendment sponsors last session, said he’ll push for an audit of Planned Parenthood to see whether the abortion provider is overbilling Medicaid.

Nicole Safer, the group’s political director, said the organization has nothing to hide and isn’t afraid of Jacque’s “threats.”

None of the groups mentioned resurrecting a pair of contentious bills from last session that would have barred public workers’ health insurance from covering abortions, exempted religious organizations from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives and banned abortions based on whether the fetus is male or female.

The Assembly passed the measures but Senate Republicans shelved them after Democrats promised “all out hell” if they came up for debate. The bill’s Senate sponsors, former Republican Sens. Glenn Grothman and Joe Leibham, aren’t returning this session. Grothman is headed to Washington, D.C., as a congressman.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge William Conley is weighing whether the admitting privileges law improperly restricts abortion in Wisconsin. If Conley strikes the law down Republicans may decide to bring a revised version of the measure forward.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, didn’t immediately return a message. Myranda Tanck, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said Senate Republicans haven’t discussed the session’s agenda as a group.

Texas Gov. Perry cites Joan Rivers’ death in defense of anti-abortion law

Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sept. 21 invoked comedian Joan Rivers’ death at a surgical clinic while defending a law he signed that would close the majority of abortion facilities in the nation’s second-most populous state.

The potential 2016 presidential candidate claimed the law made Texas safer, even though a federal judge in August blocked a key provision that requires abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards. Had that requirement taken effect, only seven abortion facilities would remain in Texas — down from more than 40 in 2012. 

Rivers was undergoing a procedure at a New York outpatient surgery center when the 81-year-old entertainer went into cardiac arrest and died. Health officials in New York are investigating. 

“It was interesting that Joan Rivers and the procedure that she had done, where she died, that was a clinic,” Perry said. “It’s a curious thought, that if they had that type of regulations in place whether or not that individual would be still alive.”

Abortion-rights supporters bristled at Perry’s comparison.

“The reality is that complications happen in all areas of medicine. There’s risk inherent in just about anything. You could have a heart attack and die while having your wisdom teeth removed. Should we outlaw wisdom teeth removal?” said Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas in an email. 

Perry was responding to a question from the audience during a wide-ranging interview at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin.

The event was a rare instance of Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, reflecting on 14 years of state policy, after spending the past year whipping up conservative crowds around the U.S. for another potential White House run. Rather than a fiery speech blasting President Barack Obama, an easygoing Perry mused on his record on schools and jobs. 

Texas is now asking a federal appeals court in New Orleans to let the state fully enforce its sweeping anti-abortion law, known as HB2. That same appeals court previously upheld a section of the law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel of Austin ruled last month that making Texas abortion clinics spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades was less about safety than making access to abortion difficult. 

Opponents of the law repeatedly extolled the safety of abortion clinics during a four-day trial in Austin, arguing that that only one of more than 500 deaths from pregnancy-related causes from 2008-2012 in Texas was attributed to abortion.

Jan Soifer, an Austin attorney representing abortion providers in the lawsuit, said in an email Sunday she didn’t know the circumstances of Rivers’ death, or if Perry knew whether that clinic would have met Texas’ proposed ambulatory surgical center requirements. 

“I do know that the evidence we produced at trial proved that abortions are among the safest procedures and neither ASCs nor admitting privileges make them any safer,” Soifer said. 

Perry reiterated during the event that he wouldn’t announce a decision on whether he’ll run for president again until after leaving office in January.

Wisconsin asks Supreme Court to remove injunction against anti-abortion law

Wisconsin has filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a U.S. Court of Appeals order blocking enforcement of a law that would restrict access to safe and legal abortion in the state.

The measure passed in the Legislature and was signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and, if allowed to go into effect, would impose a requirement that doctors who provide abortion obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin sued to overturn the measure and also sought a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law until the issue could be resolved by federal court.

The organization stressed that if the court didn’t block enforcement, the law would end the availability of abortion services at two of the four remaining health centers providing abortion in the state.

In December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upheld a preliminary injunction.

Judge Richard Posner, writing for the majority, said Planned Parenthood seemed likely to succeed on its claim that the law would unduly burden women’s access to safe and legal abortion without advancing any medical interest. 

Planned Parenthood responded to the state’s petition on March 19. “It is deeply disappointing that politicians in Wisconsin continue to waste taxpayer dollars to litigate these dangerous and unconstitutional laws,” said Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “Far from protecting women’s health, the effect of this law if enacted would be to force an abortion later in pregnancy or cut off access to safe and legal abortion.” 

Cecile Richards, president of the national Planned Parenthood Action Fund, also issued a statement: “Planned Parenthood Action Fund will continue to fight these dangerous restrictions in state legislatures and courts across the country. Sadly, Wisconsin is not alone — in Texas, we’ve seen the tragic consequences of these dangerous restrictions, and politicians in Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina are pushing similar bills through their state legislatures.”

She continued, “These dangerous and unconstitutional laws won’t be tolerated by the courts or voters. To create real change, women in states across the country need new leaders who value women’s health, to ensure that a woman’s access to health care doesn’t depend on her ZIP code.”

Planned Parenthood said the list of groups opposing the Wisconsin law include the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Public Health Association, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, the Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. 

Arkansas anti-abortion law overturned

A federal judge has struck down Arkansas’ attempt to ban most abortions beginning 12 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, saying viability, not a heartbeat, remains the key factor in determining whether abortions should be allowed.

U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright last year had stopped enforcement of the law while she reviewed it, and now she has declared that it was unconstitutional. She cited previous court decisions that said abortions shouldn’t be restricted until after a fetus reaches viability, which is typically at 22 to 24 weeks.

“The state presents no evidence that a fetus can live outside the mother’s womb at twelve weeks,” the judge wrote.

By adopting a ban based on a fetal heartbeat, and not the ability to survive, the Arkansas Legislature had adopted the nation’s toughest abortion law last March. Two weeks later, North Dakota lawmakers passed a bill restricting abortions at six weeks – or before some women would know they’re pregnant. That law is on hold.

In her decision, Wright said only a doctor could determine viability.

“The Supreme Court has … stressed that it is not the proper function of the legislature or the courts to place viability at a specific point in the gestation period,” Wright wrote.

Wright left in place a portion of the law that requires doctors to check for a fetal heartbeat and to notify the pregnant woman if one is present.

Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat, had vetoed the bill, citing the viability standard. But Republicans, controlling the Statehouse for the first time since Reconstruction, overrode him with a simple majority vote.

“The ruling is what the governor predicted in his veto letter last year,” Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said.

The state attorney general’s office said it was reviewing possible next steps. “Today’s decision was not a surprise,” spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

Bettina Brownstein, who represented two doctors who perform abortions at a Little Rock clinic, said the 12-week ban was “demeaning to women.”

“The law never should have been passed in the first place, it’s so unquestionably unconstitutional,” she said. She said it was unlikely that Drs. Louis Jerry Edwards and Tom Tvedten would appeal the portion of the law requiring them to notify patients if a heartbeat is detected.

“Practically, in my opinion, it has very little effect. It’s duplicative of what doctors who perform abortions in Arkansas already have to do,” she said.

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, who sponsored the fetal heartbeat bill, said he was encouraged that that portion of the measure was upheld.

“Now, anyone who presents for abortion in our state, they’re going to be given an opportunity to know if there’s a living heartbeat in their womb, and that is a win for the pro-life movement,” Rapert said. “When people have to face the reality that there’s a living heartbeat in their womb, that will make them rethink about taking the life away from their baby.”

The 12-week ban had included exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and highly lethal fetal disorders. Legislators last year also passed a separate ban at 20 weeks, based on the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain at that point.