ACLU, Planned Parenthood sue over Alabama abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Flag and Alabama State Flag fly over the Alabama Governor's Mansion as the state Senate votes on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States at the Alabama Legislature in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging a law enacted by Alabama last week that bans nearly all abortions and makes performing the procedure a felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison.

The lawsuit is one of several the groups have filed or are preparing to file against states that recently passed strict anti-abortion measures in an effort to prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that guarantees a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

“This dangerous, immoral, and unconstitutional ban threatens people’s lives and well-being and we are suing to protect our patients’ rights,” Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

The ACLU’s Alabama chapter and Planned Parenthood of America filed their complaint in federal court in Alabama on behalf of the Southern state’s three abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood Southeast.

Anti-abortion advocates expected legal challenges to Alabama’s new law, which will be the most restrictive in the nation when it takes effect in November, and say they welcome the chance to have a court test their conviction that a fetus’ right to life is paramount.

Also on Friday, Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed a bill into law that bans abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.

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.

The wave of anti-abortion legislation reflects a boost of confidence among anti-abortion advocates after Republican President Donald Trump nominated two conservative judges, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, to the U.S. Supreme Court, tilting the court’s political balance to the right.

Alabama state Senator Clyde Chambliss, a Republican, supports his state’s new law and said the whole point of the ban was “so that we can go directly to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe versus Wade.”

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood obtained an injunction from a judge in Kentucky in March, blocking that state’s abortion ban. The organizations have filed lawsuits in Ohio and are preparing to do so in Georgia, they said in a statement on Friday.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)

One Alabama officer dead, another critical, manhunt underway for shooter

Police Lights

(Reuters) – A manhunt was underway early Monday after an Alabama police officer was shot and killed, another critically wounded and a third injured at a trailer home park, officials said.

Lee County Coroner Bill Harris said the three officers were shot around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday while on a “routine domestic call” at the trailer park in south Auburn.

“When the officers arrived they encountered gunfire,” Harris said. “One was airlifted from the scene and he later died. The other two were transported. One is critical.”

Auburn police dispatchers said that the gunman was still on the loose early Monday and the search was ongoing.

The Alabama state police issued a “Blue Alert”, issued only in the death of a law enforcement officer, and it asked for help in catching a 29-year-old man last seen wearing body armor and a helmet.

No motive for the shooting was given.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alison Williams)

U.S. Supreme Court takes no action in Indiana abortion cases

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Supreme Court building is seen in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday took no action on appeals seeking to revive two restrictive Republican-backed abortion laws from Indiana, even as debate rages over a new measure in Alabama that would prohibit the procedure almost entirely.

Neither Indiana case was on the list of appeals on which the court acted on Monday morning. The court could next announce whether or not it will hear the cases on May 28.

If the nine-justice court takes up either case, it would give the conservative majority an opportunity to chip away at the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide and recognized a right under the U.S. Constitution for women to terminate pregnancies.

One of the Indiana laws requires fetal remains to be buried or cremated and bans abortions performed because of fetal disability or the sex or race of the fetus. The other law requires women to undergo an ultrasound examination at least 18 hours before they undergo an abortion.

Both Indiana measures were signed into law in 2016 by Vice President Mike Pence when he was Indiana’s governor and were struck down by federal judges the following year. The state of Indiana is appealing to the Supreme Court.

The Alabama law was signed by Republican Governor Kay Ivey last week but is not set to go into effect for six months. It would outlaw almost all abortions, including in cases of pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Exceptions would be allowed only to protect the mother’s health. Doctors who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison.

The Alabama law was written with the assumption that it would face legal challenges and could ultimately end up at the high court.

Conservative activists have long denounced the Roe v. Wade decision and hope that the conservative Supreme Court justices, who hold a 5-4 majority, will undermine or even overturn it.

Their chances of success were given a boost last year by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had backed abortion rights in two key cases. Kennedy was replaced by President Donald Trump’s conservative appointee Brett Kavanaugh, who has a thin record on abortion.

Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced this year in 16 states. Four governors have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

Kavanaugh and Chief Justice John Roberts, who has voted against abortion rights in previous cases, are seen by legal experts as the key votes to watch.

The high court has two other abortion cases on its docket that it will also act on in the coming months – attempts by Alabama and Louisiana to revive other previously blocked abortion restrictions.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bill Berkrot and Will Dunham)

Republican Alabama governor mulling nation’s strictest abortion law

The U.S. Flag and Alabama State Flag fly over the Alabama Governor's Mansion as the state Senate votes on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States at the Alabama Legislature in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S. May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

(Reuters) – Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday was mulling whether to sign the United States’ strictest abortion law, part of a multistate effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider women’s constitutional right to abortion.

The state’s Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would outlaw nearly all abortions, including in the cases of pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest, allowing exceptions only to protect the mother’s health.

The Republican governor is a strong opponent of abortion but has so far withheld comment on whether she would sign the bill.

If Ivey signs the bill, the law would take effect six months later. But it is certain to face legal challenge from abortion rights groups, which have vowed to sue.

Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced this year in 16 states, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

The Alabama bill goes further, banning abortions at any time. Those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

The Senate defeated a Democratic amendment that would have allowed legal abortions for women and girls impregnated by rape or incest.

Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged. Courts this year have blocked a restrictive Kentucky law and another in Iowa passed last year.

But supporters of the Alabama ban said the right to life of the fetus transcends other rights, an idea they would like tested at the Supreme Court.

The high court, now with a majority of conservative justices after Republican President Donald Trump appointed two, could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion.

Just this year, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect an embryonic heartbeat.

Opponents call the “heartbeat” legislation a virtual ban because embryonic cardiac activity can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

The National Organization for Women denounced Alabama’s ban as unconstitutional.

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has called for a sex strike under the social media hashtag #SexStrike in response to the campaigns against abortion rights, urging women to refuse sex with men “until we get bodily autonomy back.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Alabama Senate to vote on bill banning abortion

FILE PHOTO: The Alabama State Capitol building is pictured in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Alabama’s state Senate was due to vote on a bill on Tuesday that would outlaw nearly all abortions, but will first consider whether to allow the procedure for women and girls impregnated by rape and incest.

Debate on the strictest anti-abortion bill in the United States was set to begin in the Republican-controlled chamber at 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT). It would be the latest in a procession of anti-abortion bills across the country that activists are hoping will result in the issue going before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill previously passed the Republican-dominated Alabama House of Representatives. Republican Governor Kay Ivey has withheld comment on whether she would sign it but generally is a strong opponent of abortion.

The Alabama debate follows passage of anti-abortion laws in states that border it to the east and west, Georgia and Mississippi, creating what abortion rights advocates have warned would be a large “abortion desert.”

Legislation to restrict abortion rights has been introduced in 16 states this year, four of whose governors have signed bills banning abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.

Opponents called that legislation a virtual ban because fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

The Alabama bill goes further, banning all abortions except to prevent serious health risk to the mother. People who perform abortions would be subject to a Class A felony, punishable by 10 to 99 years in prison. A woman who receives an abortion would not be held criminally liable.

A Senate committee added an amendment that would create exceptions for cases of rape and incest, but the matter stalled on the Senate floor.

Debate will resume without the rape and incest amendment attached.

Anti-abortion advocates know any laws they pass are certain to be challenged in court, but they are hoping the matter will land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court, now with a majority of conservative justices after Republican President Donald Trump appointed two, could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion.

Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio have outlawed abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat.

Courts have blocked the Iowa and Kentucky laws, and the others face legal challenges.

Actress and activist Alyssa Milano has called for a sex strike under the social media hashtag #SexStrike in response to the campaigns against abortion rights, urging women to refuse sex with men “until we get bodily autonomy back.”

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Alabama Senate delays vote on strict anti-abortion bill

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

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Alabama’s state Senate on Thursday delayed until next week a vote on the strictest abortion bill in the United States after disagreement arose on the Senate floor about whether to allow women impregnated by rape and incest to have a legal abortion.

The Alabama debate follows passage of anti-abortion laws in states that border it to the east and west, Georgia and Mississippi, creating what abortion rights advocates have warned would be a massive “abortion desert.”

Anti-abortion legislators have introduced strict bills in states across the country, inviting legal challenges in hopes that a case will land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court now has a majority of conservative judges, including two appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, who could possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

Alabama’s House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would have banned abortion except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, which would make it the strictest state abortion law in the country.

After the bill moved to the Senate, the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday added an amendment by Senator Tom Whatley that would also include exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

When the matter came before the full Senate on Thursday, and it was evident there was no consensus on the rape and incest amendment, the Senate delayed the vote until Tuesday, said Kim Robertson, a spokeswoman for Whatley.

Debate on a version of the bill without the rape and incest amendment was set to begin at 4 p.m. Central Time (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, she said.

Georgia on Tuesday became the fourth U.S. state this year to outlaw abortion after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which abortion-rights advocates vowed to challenge in court.

Opponents called the legislation a virtual ban because fetal heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks, before a woman may be aware she is pregnant.

Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted heartbeat laws since mid-March, and Iowa passed one last year. Courts have blocked the Iowa and Kentucky laws, and the others face legal challenges.

Anti-abortion advocates have introduced measures in 15 states to ban the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, according to Rewire.News, a site specializing in the issue.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

Second wave of twisters in U.S. South turns deadly as storm pushes east

4-19-2019 Twitter photograph of Macron, MS twitter - Bryce Jones

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A second wave of tornadoes and thunderstorms to hit the U.S. South and Midwest this week turned deadly on Thursday with three people reported killed, as the storms pushed eastward on Friday, officials and media accounts said.

One person was killed after a tree fell on his vehicle in Neshoba County, Mississippi, Thursday afternoon, the local paper, the Neshoba Democrat, reported.

A second death was reported in St. Clair County, Mississippi, after a tree fell on a home, late Thursday, according to AccuWeather.

A third death was reported late Thursday in the Wattsville community, north of Pell City, Alabama, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported, after a tree fell on a home.

The deaths come in the wake of at least five people, including three children, who were killed last weekend in a storm system that drove more than three dozen tornadoes across the U.S. South.

Communities in central Texas and western Louisiana, already hit by flash floods and twisters in the first round last weekend, were hit once more by high winds, twisters, egg-sized hail and intense rain Thursday and Friday, according to AccuWeather and the NWS.

In the latest storm system, multiple possible tornadoes hit southwest and central Mississippi Thursday night and early Friday, the NWS said, but the damage will have to be surveyed before confirmation of twisters.

“We’re still under some severe storm warnings, tornado watches and flood warnings into this morning and the afternoon across a broad swipe of the U.S.,” said NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec early Friday.

“The severe thunderstorms will impact the deep South and southeastern U.S., through Georgia and the Florida panhandle, before it heads up the Atlantic Coast,” he said.

Flash flooding could remain a threat in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Saturday, the weather service said.

The storm system will lose much of its punch late in the weekend, but the East Coast should expect a soggy Easter, Oravec said.

Power outages were reported early Friday in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, affecting a total of about 91,800 homes and businesses, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.Us.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Mark Potter)

Bitter divisions on death penalty in U.S. top court exposed in Alabama showdown

Death row inmate Christopher Price is seen in this undated Alabama Department of Corrections photo obtained from Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., on April 10, 2019. Courtesy Alabama Department of Corrections/Handout via REUTERS

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court exposed its bitter divisions over the death penalty yet again early Friday as the justices voted on ideological lines to reject an Alabama inmate’s bid to delay his execution.

On a 5-4 vote with the court’s conservatives in the majority, the court reversed two lower court decisions that delayed the execution of Christopher Price, 46, for 60 days so he could proceed with his request to be executed by lethal gas instead of lethal injection.

It was the third time in recent weeks the court has divided 5-4 on a death penalty case, with the conservatives in the majority each time.

The court’s order was released too late for the execution to take place, so Alabama will have to set a new execution date. State officials did not immediately respond to questions about their plans on Friday.

The court said in its order that Price had waited too long to pursue his claim.

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the liberal justices, called the litigation an example of arbitrary administration of the death penalty. He wrote that Price’s claim failed because of a “minor oversight” by his lawyer when filing evidence to support his argument.

“To proceed in this way calls into question the basic principles of fairness that should underlie our criminal justice system,” Breyer wrote.

He also noted that the justices were due to meet Friday morning and could have discussed the issue then instead of acting in the middle of the night. The three other liberal justices on the nine-justice court joined Breyer’s opinion.

Price was convicted and sentenced to death in 1993 for killing William Lynn, a minister, in his home in Bazemore, Alabama, on Dec. 22, 1991, as he assembled Christmas presents with his wife.

On Thursday, Chief U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose granted Price’s attorneys the 60-day stay and gave the state until May 10 to respond to their arguments that the three-drug protocol risked causing Price significant pain and that nitrogen hypoxia would reduce that risk.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution did not guarantee a condemned prisoner “a painless death,” paving the way for the execution of convicted murderer Russell Bucklew, who sought to die by lethal gas rather than lethal injection because of a rare medical condition.

In that majority opinion, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch took aim at the tactics of death penalty defense lawyers who frequently file last-minute applications to delay executions.

The court in February voted 5-4 to allow the execution of a Muslim convicted murderer after Alabama denied his request to have an imam present, saying he waited too long to file his lawsuit.

In March, however, the court blocked the execution of a convicted murderer whose request to have his Buddhist spiritual adviser present at the execution was denied by Texas..

Six executions in the United States scheduled during the first three months of 2019 have been stayed or rescheduled.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

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)

U.S. says Alabama state prisons ‘routinely’ fail to protect inmates from abuse

A U.S. flag and an Alabama State flag wave in the wind in Dauphin Island, Alabama, U.S., September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday accused Alabama’s state prisons of regularly violating the constitutional rights of male inmates by failing to protect them from violence and sexual abuse.

In a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, prosecutors and the country’s top civil rights law enforcement official said they had evidence the state was violating prisoners’ Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

“We have reasonable cause to believe that Alabama routinely violates the constitutional rights of prisoners housed in the Alabama’s prisons by failing to protect them from prisoner-on-prisoner violence and prisoner-on-prisoner sexual abuse, and by failing to provide safe conditions,” the letter said.

The review looked into prisons housing only male inmates.

The letter, which cited overcrowding and “serious deficiencies” in staffing levels and supervision, ordered the prison system to correct the problems within 49 days or the state could face a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The Justice Department said it also had the option of having U.S. Attorney General William Barr intervene in related private lawsuits against the state prison system.

The letter was signed by Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. attorneys for the southern, northern and middle districts of Alabama.

The investigation was first initiated in October 2016, at the tail end of the Obama administration, and before Jeff Sessions, who is from Alabama, became the attorney general under President Donald Trump in early 2017, the department said.

The Alabama governor acknowledged the Justice Department’s findings and said the state’s Department of Corrections had been actively working to fix the issues.

The department “has identified many of the same areas of concern that we have discussed publicly for some time,” Ivey said in a statement on her official website.

“Over the coming months, my administration will be working closely with DOJ to ensure that our mutual concerns are addressed and that we remain steadfast in our commitment to public safety.”

The state’s Department of Corrections had been working to bolster the hiring and retention of correctional officers, to prevent prisoners from sneaking contraband into its facilities, and was replacing outdated prisons, the governor said.

The Justice Department said it preferred to resolve the issues with Alabama through a “more cooperative approach” in order to avoid litigation.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Bernadette Baum)