Tag Archives: restrictions

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.

Federal appeals court upholds Texas anti-abortion restrictions

A federal appeals court this week upheld Texas’ strict abortion restrictions that could soon leave only seven abortion clinics open in a state of 27 million people.

The decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allows Texas to enforce Republican-backed restrictions that require abortion clinics to meet hospital-level operating standards, a checklist that includes rules on minimum room sizes, staffing levels and air ventilation systems. The restrictions, approved in 2013, are among the toughest in the nation.

Owners of the abortion clinics say they would be forced to close because the new rules demand millions of dollars in upgrades they can’t afford. That would mark the second large wave of closures in as many years in Texas, which had 41 abortion clinics in 2012, before other new restrictions took effect that require doctor admitting privileges.

“Not since before Roe v. Wade has a law or court decision had the potential to devastate access to reproductive health care on such a sweeping scale,” said Nancy Northrop, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “We now look to the Justices to stop the sham laws that are shutting clinics down and placing countless women at risk of serious harm.”

Texas will be able to start enforcing the restrictions in about three weeks unless the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to halt the decision, said Stephanie Toti, an attorney for the center. Only seven abortion facilities in Texas, including four operated by Planned Parenthood, meet the more robust requirements.

Abortion-rights groups said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which temporarily sidelined the law last year.

If the law takes effect, some women in the state would live hundreds of miles away from a Texas abortion provider. But that argument didn’t sway the three-judge panel making the decision for the New Orleans-based appeals court, which is considered one of the most conservative in the nation. The judges noted that a New Mexico abortion clinic was just across the Texas border, and said clinic owners in Texas failed to prove that a “large fraction” of women would be burdened.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office argued before the appeals court in January, praised the ruling.

“Abortion practitioners should have no right to operate their businesses from sub-standard facilities and with doctors who lack admitting privileges at a hospital,” Paxton said.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and other conservatives say the standards protect women’s health. But abortion-rights supports say the law is a thinly veiled attempt to block access to abortions in Texas, which has been the site of one of the nation’s largest abortion fights for two years. Toti said roughly a half-dozen other states require similar standards for abortion clinics, but unlike in those states, the Texas law doesn’t allow clinics to be grandfathered or seek waivers.

About 18 abortion clinics are currently open in Texas, though the number fluctuates depending on whether a facility has a doctor with hospital admitting privileges.

Under the new restrictions, the only remaining abortion facilities in Texas would be in major cities. One exception would be a Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border, which the 5th Circuit exempted from some restrictions – but Toti said even those exemptions are so limited that it may not be practical to keep that clinic open.

For women in El Paso, the closest abortion provider in Texas would require a 1,200-mile round trip to San Antonio, or they would have to cross state lines. The appeals court found that option suitable, noting that a clinic was just across the border in Santa Teresa, New Mexico.

“Although the nearest abortion facility in Texas is 550 miles away from El Paso, there is evidence that women in El Paso can travel the short distance to Santa Teresa to obtain an abortion and, indeed, the evidence is that many did just that,” the court wrote.

Attorneys for the state also dismissed opponents’ arguments about women being burdened by fewer abortion facilities, saying that nearly 9 in 10 women in Texas would still live within 150 miles of a provider.

The restrictions are the same ones that Democrat Wendy Davis temporarily blocked with a 13-hour filibuster in the Texas Legislature in 2013, which attracted national attention and propelled her to an unsuccessful run for governor.

Sierra Club urges Wisconsin lawmakers to repeal Gogebic mining law

The Sierra Club on March 30 renewed its call for the Wisconsin Legislature to repeal 2013 Act 1, the measure written by Gogebic Taconite to enable its now-abandoned proposal. The measure gutted environmental protections to ease the way for the project.

The Sierra Club in a statement issued on March 30 said the measure should be repealed in its entirety.

Said the environmental advocacy group: the iron mining law is based on the scientific falsehood that iron mining cannot cause acid mine drainage caused by the presence of sulfide minerals. Numerous independent geologic studies have proven that there are significant quantities of sulfide minerals in the Penokees at the proposed Gogebic Taconite (GTac) mine site. This fact proves that the reductions of environmental protections along with severe limits on the public’s right to participate and challenge permits were unjustified.    

“GTac has abandoned its proposal after demanding certainty in permitting that only this law could give it. That fact gives the Legislature a rare opportunity to fix the huge mistake it made when it approved such damaging legislation based on false information. GTac lied to the public and the legislature to get its way and made a lot of promises it couldn’t keep.  Let’s fix this law now before the next fly-by-night company shows up,” said Dave Blouin, Sierra Club John Muir Chapter mining committee chair.

The ferrous mining law was overwhelming opposed at each public hearing held by the state. And more than 75 statewide, local and national conservation and environmental organizations — the Sierra Club, Wisconsin Resources Protection Council, Trout Unlimited, the Wisconsin Association of Lakes, the Izaak Walton League of Wisconsin, the River Alliance of Wisconsin, the Penokee Hills Education Project, the Mining Impact Coalition of Wisconsin, Clean Wisconsin, the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council — opposed the legislation.

Polling showed a majority of state residents opposed the law, which established broad and comprehensive reductions in environmental protections and citizen involvement to enable the mining proposal. The law, for example, established that the destruction of wetlands through mining and for dumping wastes into, was presumed necessary.

The law also reduced protections for lakes, streams, groundwater and air.

What do you know about e-cigarettes? At a glance…

ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES: The battery-powered devices made of plastic or metal heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale. Some models are disposable, and some are designed to be refilled with cartridges or tanks containing what enthusiasts call “e-juice.” Some e-cigarettes are made to look like a real cigarette with a tiny light on the tip that glows like the real thing.

WHAT’S IN THEM: The ingredients in the liquid used in most e-cigarettes include nicotine, water, glycerol, propylene glycol and flavorings. Propylene glycol is a thick fluid sometimes used in antifreeze but also used as a food ingredient.

SELLING POINTS: Users say e-cigarettes address both the addictive and behavioral aspects of smoking. Smokers get their nicotine without the thousands of chemicals found in regular cigarettes. And they get to hold something shaped like a cigarette, while puffing and exhaling something that looks like smoke without the ash, odor and tar.

THE WORRIES: Scientists haven’t finished much research on e-cigarettes, their safety and whether they help smokers quit, and the studies that have been done have been inconclusive. The federal government is pouring millions of dollars into research to supplement independent and company studies looking at the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products – as well as who uses them and why.

GROWING MARKET: The industry has rocketed from thousands of users in 2006 to several million worldwide, leading to the rise of more than 200 brands. Sales have been estimated to reach nearly $2 billion in 2013.

ARRAY OF FLAVORS: While some e-cigarette makers are limiting offerings to tobacco and menthol flavors, others are selling candy-like flavors like cherry and strawberry – barred for use in regular cigarettes because of the worry that the flavors are used to appeal to children.

Illinois governor signs medical marijuana bill

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Aug. 1 signed the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act into law. Illinois is now the 21st state to enact such legislation.

“As Nelson Mandela once said, ‘Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future’,” Quinn said, according to a news release. “Over the years, I’ve been moved by the brave patients and veterans who are fighting terrible illnesses. They need and deserve pain relief.”

State Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, and Sen. William Haine, a Democrat from Alton, sponsored the bill, which the governor said contained the nation’s strongest restrictions regarding the use of medical marijuana.

“Patients afflicted by the most unbearable conditions finally have a compassionate answer to their cries for help,” said Haine, a former prosecutor. “This program alleviates suffering and provides strong safeguards against abuse. We are ensuring only those suffering from the most serious diseases receive this treatment.”

Before signing the bill, Quinn consulted with Illinois citizens, including Jim Champion of Somonauk, a veteran of the 101st Airborne who is living with multiple sclerosis.

“I use medical cannabis because it’s the most effective medicine in treating my muscle spasticity with few side effects,” Champion said. “My wife shouldn’t have to go to drug dealers for my medicine. Neither of us deserve to be criminals.”

The new law enacts restrictions on the 22 cultivation centers to ensure professional licensing, 24-hour surveillance and inventory control.

The cultivation centers, one for each state police district, must comply with local zoning laws and be located at least 2,500 feet from day care centers and schools.

Illinois, under the law, will not permit patients or caregivers to cultivate cannabis.

But eligible patients can purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every 14 days. There will be no more than 60 licensed dispensaries, which must comply with rules established by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The law specifies 35 medical conditions for eligibility, including muscular dystrophy, cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS.

And the prescribing physician and patient must have an established relationship.

Minors and people with felony drug convictions or psychiatric conditions do not qualify.

Patients may not be police officers, firefighters, probation officers or school bus drivers.

And patients who drive while impaired by medical cannabis face the same penalties as those who drive while impaired by prescription drugs.

The law also provides for taxing medical cannabis at the same rate – 1 percent – as pharmaceuticals. And a 7 percent “privilege tax” will be imposed on the cultivation centers and dispensaries.

The legislation should create some jobs – each of the 22 cultivation centers likely will hire 5-10 staff, each of the 60 dispensaries will employ 10-20 staff and hundreds of new jobs in related industries will be created.

The law takes effect on January 1, 2014 and is a four-year pilot program.

Supporters of measure include the Illinois Nurses Association, Protestants for the Common Good, Illinois State Bar Association, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, United Food and Commercial Workers, ACLU of Illinois, AFL-CIO, Community Renewal Society, Illinois Eye Center, 270 physicians from across the state and many others. A CBS poll taken in 2012 found 83 percent of Americans support legalizing medical cannabis.

Report: 32 Missouri school districts considered book bans

Recent efforts to restrict Missouri students’ classroom or library access to certain books have met with mixed results, new research by the University of Missouri School of Journalism shows.

Bans or restrictions have been considered on more than 50 books in 32 Missouri school districts since 2008. Graduate journalism students relied on more than 560 public records requests to compile the data.

The banned books include Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” in Republic, though the district later reversed its decision.

In another case, a parent in the Jackson school district unsuccessfully sought a ban on “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

And in Camdenton, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner” was removed as required reading in an honors English class but remained on the school’s library shelves.

Twelve of the 53 documented challenges resulted in a book’s removal, with another 11 challenges resulting in restrictions.

Twenty-nine challenges were unsuccessful. The result of one challenge wasn’t reported.

The North Kansas City school district reported seven challenges, the highest number among districts to respond. Seventy-one of the students’ 566 Sunshine Law requests to each of the state’s local school districts went unanswered.

The reasons for book challenges include concern over sexual themes and language, violent content, racial slurs and religious references. Other taboo topics involved self-injury, drugs and alcohol.

Nationwide, the American Library Association lists 1,647 book challenges from 2008 through 2011 and more than 6,300 over the past two decades. Most involved K-12 schools, but others involved books in prisons, theaters, museums and university libraries.

Banned Book Week, organized by the ALA against such censorship efforts, takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 6.