Tag Archives: fetus

Irish court rules against anti-abortion laws

The Belfast High Court, in a judicial review case, found laws governing abortion in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the fetus and sexual crime are in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judge Mr Justice Mark Horner told Belfast High Court that women’s human rights were being breached by current laws: “In the circumstances, given this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future, and the entitlement of citizens of Northern Ireland to have their Convention rights protected by the courts, I conclude that the Article Eight rights of women in Northern Ireland who are pregnant with fatal fetal abnormalities or who are pregnant as a result of sexual crime are breached by the impugned provisions.”

It is illegal in Northern Ireland for an abortion to be carried out, except when the life or mental health of the mother is in danger. Anyone who performs an illegal abortion could be jailed for life.

The judicial review was taken by Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and was joined by Amnesty International and Sarah Ewart, whose first pregnancy was given a fatal fetal diagnosis. She had to travel to England to terminate her pregnancy as Northern Ireland laws did not permit her to receive medical treatment within the region.

Grainne Teggart, campaign manager for Amnesty’s My Body My Rights campaign said: “Today’s High Court decision is a hugely significant step towards ensuring the right to access abortion for women and girls in Northern Ireland who have been raped, are victims of incest or whose pregnancies have been given a fatal fetal diagnosis.

“Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion date back to the 19th century and carry the harshest criminal penalties in Europe.

Teggart continued, “Northern Ireland’s abortion laws must be brought into the 21st century and into line with international law as a matter of urgency.” 

Ewart said, “I hope that today’s ruling means that I, and other women like me, will no longer have to go through the pain I experienced, of having to travel to England, away from the care of the doctors and midwife who knew me, to access the healthcare I needed.”

“I, and many women like me have been failed by our politicians. First, they left me with no option but to go to England for medical care. Then, by their refusal to change the law, they left me with no option but to go to the courts on my and other women’s behalf.

“I am an ordinary woman who suffered a very personal family tragedy, which the law in Northern Ireland turned into a living nightmare.”

Supreme Court will hear first abortion case since 2007

The Supreme Court is giving an election-year hearing to a dispute over state regulation of abortion clinics in the court’s first abortion case in eight years.

The justices will hear arguments, probably in March, over a Texas law that would leave only about 10 abortion clinics open across the state. A decision should come by late June, four months before the presidential election.

The issue split the court 5-4 the last time the justices decided an abortion case in 2007, and Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to hold the controlling vote on a divided court.

The case tests whether tough new standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them are reasonable measures intended to protect women’s health or a pretext designed to make abortions hard, if not impossible, to obtain.

Texas clinics challenged the 2013 law as a violation of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The high court previously blocked parts of the Texas law. The court took no action on a separate appeal from Mississippi, where a state law would close the only abortion clinic, in Jackson.

States have enacted a wave of measures in recent years that have placed restrictions on when in a pregnancy abortions may be performed, imposed limits on abortions using drugs instead of surgery and raised standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them.

The new case concerns the last category. In Texas, the fight is over two provisions of the law that then-Gov. Rick Perry signed in 2013. One requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers. The other allows doctors to perform abortions at clinics only if they have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Twenty-two states have surgical center requirements for abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. Eleven states impose admitting privileges requirements on doctors who perform abortions in clinics, the institute said.

The measures go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety because the risks from abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed, are minimal, the institute said.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Texas is one of several states that have enacted “sham laws” to restrict access to abortion.” This law does not advance women’s health and in fact undermines it,” Northup said.

There is no dispute that the law has had a significant impact on Texas clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the clinic law. More than half of those closed when the admitting privileges requirement was allowed to take effect. Nineteen clinics remain.

Northup said the effect of the law has been to increase wait times for women in the Dallas area from an average of five days to 20 days.

The focus of the dispute at the Supreme Court is whether the law imposes what the court has called an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. If allowed to take full effect, the law would leave no abortion clinics west of San Antonio and only one operating on a limited basis in the Rio Grande Valley.

The state has argued that women in west Texas already cross into New Mexico to obtain abortions at a clinic in suburban El Paso.

In its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992, the court ruled that states generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places an undue burden on women. Casey was a huge victory for abortion-rights advocates because it ended up reaffirming the constitutional right to an abortion that the court established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2007, a divided court upheld a federal law that bans an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion and opened the door to new limits on abortion.

Kennedy was one of three authors of the Casey opinion and he wrote the majority opinion in 2007.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown an edge for abortion rights. Fifty-one percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in January and February.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, 15-274.

Wisconsin Republicans modify ban on fetal tissue so that medical research can continue

Republicans working on a bill that would prohibit the use of tissue from aborted embryos or fetuses for medical research announced Sept. 4 that they’re amending the measure to allow some scientific work.

The original bill would outlaw selling, donating and experimenting with cells, tissues, organs or other components from fetuses. Violators would be charged with a felony punishable by up to six years in prison and $50,000 in fines. The bill’s authors, Reps. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, and Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, said they’ve tweaked the law to permit research on tissue from fetuses aborted before Jan. 1, 2015.

The two lawmakers said in a news release the move would allow research to continue on widely used cell lines from the 1960s and 1970s and assuage scientists’ concerns that the bill would end their work.

“I think this is a fair approach — one, I think, we all can live with,” Kleefisch said in a press release.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as scientists in the private sector have argued that the bill could jeopardize ongoing research into cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases, while also putting millions of dollars in research funding and tens of thousands of jobs at risk.

A UW-Madison spokesman had no immediate comment on the amendment.

Although Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin doesn’t offer tissue donation services, Jacque has said he wants to make sure it never can. More than 50 Republican legislators so far have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

Kleefisch chairs the Assembly’s criminal justice committee and has scheduled a vote on the bill for Sept. 9. There have been signs of a lack of support in the Senate, however. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, has said she opposed the original bill because it would halt ongoing research at UW-Madison and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, hasn’t said when or whether the bill will come up.

A spokesman for Darling didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Neither did Fitzgerald’s spokeswoman.

Gov. Scott Walker, whose campaign for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination keeps him mostly out of state, hasn’t committed to supporting the measure. His gubernatorial spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Georgia woman jailed for using abortion pills now faces new charges

A Georgia woman spent nearly three days in jail without bond before prosecutors decided police had wrongly charged her with murder after being told she had used pills ordered online to terminate her pregnancy.

Kenlissia Jones, 23, has been freed and no longer faces a malice murder charge. But her legal case isn’t over. District Attorney Greg Edwards told reporters that he still plans to pursue a misdemeanor charge against Jones for possessing a dangerous drug.

Abortion rights advocates say the case is troubling because it appears to be part of a creeping trend in which women are being prosecuted for exercising their abortion rights. An Indiana woman last March was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted of feticide for using pills to end her pregnancy.

Jones may have escaped a murder prosecution in Georgia, but the police’s decision to charge her is chilling, said Lynn Paltrow, an attorney and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women in New York.

“The initial reaction of the police and prosecution to view her as a murderer is reflective of the current political climate in this country,” Paltrow said.

Even abortion opponents such as Genevieve Wilson, a director of Georgia Right to Life, were stunned by the proposed murder charge.

Georgia has prohibited the prosecution of women for feticide or for performing illegal abortions in cases involving their own pregnancies. Edwards said the arresting officers acted within their authority and used “their best understanding of the law,” but that their understanding was incorrect.

“Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts related to the end of her pregnancy,” the prosecutor said.

Edwards noted that police had charged Jones without consulting his prosecuting attorneys.

Jones was arrested after seeking help at a hospital. A social worker told police that Jones had taken four Cytotec pills she ordered online after breaking up with her boyfriend. The pills induced labor and she delivered the fetus, which did not survive, in a car on the way to the hospital, according to an Albany police report.

Although the Supreme Court has declared that American women have legal rights to abortion, states have put limits on where abortions can be performed, who can perform them and at what stages of pregnancy abortions are allowed. Traditionally, those state laws have targeted doctors and other abortion providers, but not women seeking to end their pregnancies.

Abortion rights advocates worry that this could be changing.

In March, 33-year-old Purvi Patel of Granger, Indiana, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for feticide and neglect of a baby. Prosecutors said Patel ended her seven-month pregnancy using drugs from China instead of seeking a doctor’s help. Paltrow’s group called it the first time an American woman was convicted and sentenced for trying to end her pregnancy.

Cytotec is a brand name for misoprostol, a prescription drug used in combination with mifepristone to induce nonsurgical abortions. Used as recommended, mifepristone kills the fetus, and then misoprostol induces the labor that expels it. The pills are sold with prescriptions in the U.S. but available over the counter and online in many countries.

In many cases, women are using misoprostol alone — partly because it is more easily obtained, because it has long been approved as a drug that prevents and heals ulcers.

Dr. Beverly Winikoff, president of the women’s health research organization Gynuity Health Projects, said misoprostol has been used in more than 2.5 million abortions in the U.S. and in hundreds of millions of abortions overseas in European countries as well as nations such as India and China.

“I would say it’s a very safe drug,” said Winikoff, who said its more common side effects include chills, fever and sometimes cramping. “The reason some people think it’s unsafe is because it can cause abortion, which people who are anti-abortion don’t like.”

The police report does not say how far along Jones was in her pregnancy. WALB-TV reported earlier that authorities estimated Jones was about five-and-a-half months pregnant.

A phone number for Jones was not accepting incoming calls and there was no answer at the address for her listed on the police report.

Republicans push anti-abortion bill through House on Roe v. Wade anniversary

With thousands of abortion protesters swarming the city in their annual March for Life, Republicans muscled broadened abortion restrictions through the House on Jan. 22 after a GOP rebellion forced leaders into a retreat on an earlier version.

By a near party-line 242-179 vote, the House voted to permanently forbid federal funds for most abortion coverage. The bill would also block tax credits for many people and employers who buy abortion coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

A White House veto threat and an uncertain fate in the Senate mean the legislation has no realistic chance of becoming law. But on a day when crowds of anti-abortion demonstrators stretched for blocks outside Capitol windows – and hours after the embarrassing GOP stumble on another abortion measure – the vote let party leaders signal that the Congress they now command is at least trying to end abortion.

The GOP’s passage of one bill and the abrupt derailment of another forbidding most late-term abortions underscored the party’s perilous balancing act of backing abortion restrictions crucial to conservatives while not alienating women and younger voters wary of such restrictions.

Obama, out West to promote his State of the Union economic agenda, embraced the same 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion that the protesters were vilifying.

He said the decision in the Roe v. Wade case “reaffirms a fundamental American value: that government should not intrude in our most private and personal family matters.” He said the House-passed bill would “intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have today.”

Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio praised the marchers in a written statement that also seemed to acknowledge discord among Republicans.

“This march is part of a longer one, and our destination is clear: to secure and protect the rights of every unborn child. When there is disagreement, we should pause and listen closely. When there is movement, we should rejoice, and the House’s vote to ban taxpayer funding of abortion is cause for doing so,” he said.

Even so, the GOP sidetracking of the late-term abortion measure sparked grumbling from politically potent allies.

In a sharp statement that singled out Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and others, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias criticized GOP dissenters on the late-term bill and warned, “Some of these lawmakers may ultimately conclude that they were ill advised to sacrifice the trust of their pro-life constituents so egregiously.”

Ellmers, who has had a strong anti-abortion voting record, was among those who had objected to portions of the late-term abortion bill. Her spokeswoman, Blair Ellis, declined to comment.

Dozens of protesters visited her Capitol Hill office on Jan. 22 to protest her role in scuttling that measure.

On the House floor, a debate that has raged virtually every year for decades was emotional, as usual.

“Abortion is not health care. It’s a brutal procedure that ends lives of unborn children,” said Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa.

“I urge my colleagues to stand with the hundreds of thousands of people out on the Mall right now by voting for this bill,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Democrats said such talk showed that Republicans were willing to subjugate women’s rights to political pandering to the crowds outside.

“Women’s rights should not be theater, it shouldn’t be drama,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.

The debate took a turn for the personal when Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., referred to “hypocrites on the other side of the aisle who have counseled their own girl friends to have abortions. It’s legal.”

Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., a doctor who opposes abortion rights, once urged a patient he was dating to seek an abortion. His aides did not return phone and email requests for comment.

Outside, thousands of demonstrators trudged up Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court in protest of the justices’ legalization of abortion exactly 42 years ago. Some wore religious garb while others carried signs with messages ranging from “I am a voice for the voiceless” to “Thank God my mom’s pro-life.”

No. 4 House GOP leader Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told the crowd that her 7-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, has intensified her commitment to the anti-abortion fight.

The approved bill would permanently block federal money for nearly all abortions – a prohibition in effect for decades but one which Congress must renew yearly. Rape and incest victims and women whose lives were in danger would be exempted.

The bill would also bar individuals and some employers from earning tax credits for insurance plans covering abortion that they pay for privately and obtain through exchanges established under Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It would also block the District of Columbia from using its money to cover abortions for lower-income women.

The vote came hours after GOP leaders indefinitely abandoned a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, retreating in the face of a revolt by women and other Republican lawmakers that left them short of votes.

GOP leaders had planned a House vote on that bill Thursday. But rebellious Republicans complained that while the measure exempted victims of rape and incest, it did so only if those women had previously reported the assaults to authorities.

Republican leaders flinched at the prospect of forcing passage of anti-abortion legislation opposed by GOP women.

‘Virgin Mother’ sculpture upsets Long Island villagers

A 33-foot bronze sculpture of a nude pregnant woman has upset a Long Island, New York, village.

The statue, “The Virgin Mother,” by British artist Damien Hirst has an exposed fetus, skull and tissue.

It sits on a conservation easement of the historic Old Westbury estate of real estate mogul Aby Rosen.

Newsday says the village has strict rules regulating easements.

A hearing on the issue is set for May 19, but for now the sculpture has been covered up.

The sculpture previously sat in the courtyard at Lever House in mid-Manhattan.

Rosen is being sued by the New York Landmarks Conservancy over his plan to move a Picasso painting it owns from The Four Seasons Restaurant in Manhattan. The restaurant is in the Seagram Building owned by Rosen’s company, RFR Holding Corp.

For copyright reasons, here is a link to an image of the sculpture: http://www.damienhirst.com/the-virgin-mother.

  

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.

Ohio judge bans right-wing Minutemen protests in front of church

Members of a right-wing Christian group cannot protest in the land in front of one of Ohio’s largest churches, a central Ohio judge ruled this week.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Charles Schneider sided with Vineyard Columbus, an orthodox, evangelical church that for months had been the subject of protests of the Columbus-based Minutemen United. Schneider said protesters were trespassing with their demonstrations.

The protesting group had argued that it was expressing its message within the public right of way. But Schneider ruled that the right of way ends at the edge of the road along the church. That stretch of the road in a northeast Columbus suburb has no curb or sidewalk.

“Due to the absence of a sidewalk, a berm or a shoulder on Vineyard’s property, the city has a prescriptive easement only to the edge of the pavement,” Schneider wrote. “The right of way can be no larger.”

The judge further noted that protesters are not allowed to place “signs or any other object of any type” on Vineyard’s property.

Members of Minutemen United have said they are targeting Vineyard because it’s been too passive when it comes to fighting “the culture war” against abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage – including helping women recover from abortions and accepting gay members. The group’s displays include signs – one labeling the 8,500-member evangelical church “pagan” – and graphic images of aborted fetuses.

Court records identify two Minutemen United members and list others as John and Jane Does.

A Minutemen member who represented himself, Richard D. Justman, said the ruling will be appealed.

“You can’t take the public right of way away from the public,” he told The Columbus Dispatch.

Schneider had issued a temporary restraining order against Minutemen United last month while he deliberated on the case. The order prompted the protesters to move their demonstrations across the street from the church.

Perry wants Texas to ban abortion after 20 weeks

Gov. Rick Perry threw his support this week behind legislation that would ban abortion in Texas after 20 weeks, the point at which he says a fetus can feel pain.

The Legislature, which will reconvene Jan. 8 for a 140-day session that occurs every two years, also will consider a bill that would require physicians who perform abortions to have an agreement with a nearby hospital, allowing them to admit a patient in case of an emergency, Perry said.

Perry said he would like “to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past,” but since that isn’t possible under federal law, the Legislature has an “obligation to end that kind of cruelty” when an unborn child can feel pain.

NARAL Pro-Choice Texas called the proposed legislation – which has not yet been submitted – “a cruel attempt by anti-choice extremists to curb access to care for women in the most desperate of circumstances.”

“The reality is that while most women welcome pregnancy and can look forward to a safe childbirth, for some, pregnancy can be dangerous,” the group said in a statement.

The proposed bill, however, should have widespread support in Texas’ largely Republican Legislature, which passed several laws in its 2011 session that made it more difficult to get an abortion, including a law that requires women to have a sonogram before going ahead with the procedure and putting in place a 24-hour waiting period between the time she sees a doctor and has the abortion.

Forty-one states already have laws banning abortions after 20 weeks, unless the woman’s health is in danger. Texas’ law would include a similar exception.

“We cannot and we will not sit idly by as we put our unborn through the agony” of ending their lives, Perry told a crowd of anti-abortion activists in Houston, where he announced his support for the bills.

Backed by the crowd’s occasional “Amens” and other praise, Perry vowed lawmakers would make every day of the 140-day session count when it comes to protecting life.

The legislation that would require physicians to have an agreement to admit patients to a hospital within 30 miles of their facility is designed to ensure abortion clinics are held to the same standard as all other medical centers in the state, Perry said. 

Appeals court hears arguments over Arizona abortion ban

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Nov. 5 heard arguments in a challenge to Arizona’s law criminalizing most abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The ACLU calls the measure the most extreme ban in the country, with the narrowest exception for medical emergencies.

“This law endangers women by preventing them from receiving safe, legal medical care,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Politicians have no place interfering in a woman’s right to make this very serious and personal decision with the help of her family and her doctor.”

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg on July 30 refused to block the ban, ruling that it doesn’t impose a substantial obstacle to being able to have abortions because women still have time to make decisions.

Teilborg said the ban is only a regulation, not a flat prohibition, but opponents contend it’s unconstitutional because some women couldn’t have abortions before viability. That’s when a fetus can survive outside the womb, generally at about 23-24 weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters justify the ban by arguing that fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks of pregnancy and that women face more health risks from later abortions.

Critics dispute both contentions.

Other points of contention about the ban include whether it would impose hardships on women with non-emergency health problems and fetal abnormalities that aren’t discovered until after the ban takes hold.

The ban was part of a broader package of abortion legislation enacted last spring by Arizona’s Republican-led legislature.

Besides Arizona, other states with versions of 20-week bans are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Most were enacted in the past several years.

Arizona’s is the first to face a court test.