More ‘heartbeat’ abortion bans advancing in South, Midwest

Pro-choice demonstrators protest against anti-abortion demonstrators who are taking part in the March For Life event in London, Britain, May 11, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 May 2019
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More ‘heartbeat’ abortion bans advancing in South, Midwest

  • Alabama lawmakers postponed until next week a vote on a proposal that would make performing nearly all abortions a felony

WASHINGTON: If a new Mississippi law survives a court challenge, it will be nearly impossible for most pregnant women to get an abortion there.
Or, potentially, in neighboring Louisiana. Or Alabama. Or Georgia.
The Louisiana legislature is halfway toward passing a law — like the ones enacted in Mississippi and Georgia — that will ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant. Alabama is on the cusp of approving an even more restrictive bill.
State governments are on a course to virtually eliminate abortion access in large chunks of the Deep South and Midwest. Ohio and Kentucky also have passed heartbeat laws; Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature is considering one.
Their hope is that a more conservative US Supreme Court will approve, spelling the end of the constitutional right to abortion.
“For pro-life folks, these are huge victories,” said Sue Liebel, state director for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group. “And I think they’re indicative of the momentum and excitement and the hope that’s happening with changes in the Supreme Court and having such a pro-life president.”
For abortion rights supporters, meanwhile, the trend is ominous. Said Diane Derzis, owner of Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization: “I think it’s certainly more dire than it ever has been. They smell blood and that’s why they’re doing this.”
Already, Mississippi mandates a 24-hour wait between an in-person consultation. That means women must make at least two trips to her clinic, often traveling long distances.
Other states have passed similar, incremental laws restricting abortion in recent years, and aside from Mississippi, five states have just one clinic — Kentucky, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and West Virginia. But the latest efforts to bar the procedure represent the largest assault on abortion rights in decades.
Lawmakers sponsoring the bans have made it clear their goal is to spark court challenges in hopes of ultimately overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Those challenges have begun. Derzis’ attorneys are scheduled to go before a judge on May 21, seeking to prevent Mississippi’s heartbeat law from taking effect July 1.
A judge in Kentucky blocked enforcement of that state’s heartbeat ban after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of the clinic in Louisville.
Similar legal action is expected before bans can take effect in Ohio and Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the latest heartbeat bill into law Tuesday. Kemp said he welcomed the fight, vowing: “We will not back down.”
Georgia’s ban doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. But the impact was immediate.
An abortion clinic operated by The Women’s Centers in Atlanta began receiving anxious calls from patients soon after Kemp signed the law. Many callers had plans to travel from outside the state for abortions. Georgia’s heartbeat ban would have a wider impact because the state has 17 abortion clinics — more than the combined total in the other four Southern states that have passed or are considering bans.
“On a typical day we will see people from North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina — all over the region,” said Dr. Lisa Haddad, the Atlanta clinic’s medical director. “And my thought is we’re not going to see those people coming here because they assume it’s already illegal in Georgia.”
Dr. Ernest Marshall, co-founder of Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic in Louisville, said in an email that banning abortions before most women know they’re pregnant would “have a disproportionate impact on poor women and communities of color throughout the South.”
Advocates for abortion rights expect judges to halt enforcement of any new bans while lawsuits work their way through the courts. That could take years.
“These laws are blatantly unconstitutional,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which also has filed suit over Mississippi’s ban. “But if they were allowed to go into force, they would have devastating consequences for the residents of all of these states.”
If heartbeat bans are upheld, many women who are poor and have limited means to travel would have few options other than to try to terminate their own pregnancies, Haddad said, possibly using abortion drugs purchased online.
Others would have to drive or fly across multiple states, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
“People would go to Florida, people would continue to go to Memphis,” Nash said. “How many states do you have to cross before you can access abortion services? It exacerbates all the issues we’ve already seen around taking time off from work and having the money to travel.”
Proposed heartbeat bans failed to pass this year in several Republican-led states, including Texas. There, GOP lawmakers lost ground to Democrats in the 2018 elections, and some abortion foes were wary after courts struck down prior abortion restrictions in the state. Such efforts also fell short in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
Alabama lawmakers postponed until next week a vote on a proposal that would make performing nearly all abortions a felony. The measure has passed the state House, and the Senate suspended debate Thursday amid a heated dispute over whether exemptions for rape and incest should be stripped from the bill.
“You can’t put a price on unborn life,” Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said Wednesday, as a legislative committee heard testimony on the state’s proposed ban. “What you have to do is protect the people that live in this state and that includes unborn children.”
But Jenna King-Shepherd told Alabama lawmakers she believed the abortion she had at age 17 allowed her to finish college. She said her father, a part-time Baptist preacher furious about her pregnancy, drove her to the abortion clinic because he trusted her to make the right choice.
“I’m not asking you to support access to abortion,” King-Shepherd said. “I’m only asking you to let women, their families, their physicians and their God make this decision on how they want to start their families in private and trust them to do that.”


India’s Rahul Gandhi urged to make ‘drastic changes’ after election loss

Updated 18 min 48 sec ago
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India’s Rahul Gandhi urged to make ‘drastic changes’ after election loss

  • Congress Party leader’s offer to resign is rejected after the election victory of PM Narendra Modi's BJP party
  • For the second time, the nationalist BJP thumped what was once India's dominant political party

NEW DELHI: India’s main opposition on Saturday urged its leader to make “drastic changes” following the party’s heavy and humiliating defeat in the recent general election.

It is the second consecutive time that Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress has been thumped by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the polls. Official data from the Election Commission showed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP increased its majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, from 282 seats to 303. Congress, on the other hand, nudged up its presence by a mere eight seats.

The loss also means that Congress has failed for the second time in a row to secure the minimum number of seats needed to be leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. 

Gandhi offered to resign in the wake of the routing. But his offer was rejected by the party’s working committee, which urged him to make “drastic changes” to revitalize the 134-year-old organization.

“We need Rahul Gandhi to guide us in these challenging times," Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala told reporters after the committee meeting. “The party will do a serious introspection about its defeat and it has authorized Rahul Gandhi to make drastic and constructive changes at all levels of the party’s organization. Congress is always committed to combat divisive and communal forces and stand up to the challenges of the time.”

The party has dominated India’s political landscape since the early 20th century and played a major part in the fight for independence, ruling for decades after 1947. The Gandhi family has also dominated the party. Congress has fared well in previous elections, winning outright or forming a coalition, until the rise of the right-wing and nationalist BJP juggernaut.

Prof. Mahesh Rangarajan, from Ashoka University, said the party was in serious crisis whether it was in terms of numbers, alliances or ideas.  “They need to go for serious introspection,” he told Arab News. “The way the BJP redefined itself in the 1980s, can Congress do that? There is a serious crisis and they need to admit it and try new responses to this crisis. 

“The BJP had two seats between 1984 to 1989 and was able to redefine the political debate. Congress is unable to redefine the contours of the political debate and enthuse adequate energy in the party. The irony is that Rahul Gandhi is the youngest leader among all the national parties, but it appears that the leadership has not been able to connect with any major section of voters, particularly the young who are large in number.”

Congress was able to add 10 million votes to its tally from the 2014 election. But this number fell far short of the votes hoovered up by the BJP, which got a bump of 50 million from the previous poll. 

Prof. Zoya Hasan, from Jawaharlal University, said the party’s “spectacular” defeat had more consequences than the one five years ago. 

“The party’s decline is not irreversible,” she told Arab News. “But in the long road ahead, it has to figure out what it actually stands for, and what it will take to stand up to Modi’s BJP.”

Modi’s stunning victory was hailed by India’s A-list, including cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Salman Khan.

On May 23, when the votes were counted, Rahul tweeted that he “accepted the verdict of the people of India” and congratulated the prime minister. He lost his own parliamentary seat, in a constituency long-held by his famous family.

Young activist and Congress member Angellica Aribam was undeterred by the dismal performance of the party and its leader.

“I cannot and do not foresee a Congress without Rahul Gandhi. What needs to change, though, is the organizational machinery,” she tweeted on Saturday.

She said the party needed to “recapture” the imagination of young India.

“In the history of India, whenever Congress was written off, it has re-emerged with new vigor,” she told Arab News. “These are testing times for us but we also know that we will rise again. The BJP champions pseudo-nationalism but Congress believes in the constitution, which doesn’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of caste, religion or gender. We will continue to remain an inclusive party. What we need to redefine is our organizational machinery not our core beliefs.”