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U.S. judges rule on state abortion bans as many act to ensure reproductive rights

Click to play video: 'Biden signs executive order aimed at protecting U.S. abortion rights'
Biden signs executive order aimed at protecting U.S. abortion rights
U.S. President Joe Biden said Sunday that he was considering whether to declare a public health emergency to free up federal health resources to promote abortion access. However, he advised he had only asked medical officials in his administration to determine if he had that authority– and what impact it would have. He also told those protesting for abortion access to "keep protesting. Keep making your point." – Jul 8, 2022

A Utah judge on Monday granted a request from Planned Parenthood to delay implementing the state’s trigger law banning most abortions, as implications of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade reverberate nationwide.

With the decision, abortion remains legal up to 18 weeks in Utah, which is among a group of states where abortion rights have been thrown into limbo amid the legal and political challenges shaping the post-Roe landscape with states now holding the power to restrict abortion.

“What I’m really doing is saying we have serious things to talk about,” Judge Andrew Stone said after granting an injunction delaying the trigger law.

He said the status quo should remain in effect until a challenge from the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliate can be heard fully.

Read more: Biden says he’s considering declaring health emergency for abortion access

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Meanwhile, a Minnesota judge declared most of that state’s restrictions on abortion unconstitutional. In Michigan, a campaign turned in a record-breaking number of signatures so voters can be asked on the November ballot whether to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. And federally, the Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services said Monday that hospitals “must” provide abortion services if the life of the mother is at risk, saying federal law on emergency treatment guidelines preempts state laws in jurisdictions that now ban the procedure without any exceptions. Currently, even states with the most stringent abortion bans allow exceptions when the health of a mother is at risk, though the threat of prosecution has created confusion for some doctors.

Last month’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that found the right to abortion was protected by the U.S. Constitution. The issue reverted to the states, setting off new court battles and ballot initiatives as many states act to curtail or ban abortions.

Utah is among more than a dozen states with trigger laws designed to limit abortion upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The decision on Monday comes two weeks after the court put a temporary hold on the law, which bans most abortions with exceptions for rape, incest or maternal health. Stone, who was appointed by a Republican governor, blocked its enforcement for 14 days after the state’s branch of Planned Parenthood sued. His decision effectively extends the temporarily hold placed on the law and allows Planned Parenthood clinics to continue providing abortions until the case is resolved.

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Attorneys for Utah argued language in the state constitution allowed for abortions to be banned and said delaying the implementation of the trigger law would amount to overruling the will of Legislature and Utah voters. Julie Murray, Planned Parenthood’s attorney, said not delaying the implementation of the law could open its staff to criminal charges and hurt roughly 200 patients with scheduled appointments in the month ahead.

Stone granted a preliminary injunction, which would let Planned Parenthood clinics continue to provide abortion care — up to 18 weeks of pregnancy under another recently passed limit — until the court rules on the constitutional questions.

Click to play video: 'Could Canadian doctors face legal issues providing abortion services to Americans?'
Could Canadian doctors face legal issues providing abortion services to Americans?

The judge in Minnesota declared most of the state’s restrictions on abortion unconstitutional, including a 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that both parents be notified before a minor can get an abortion. Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan also struck down requirements that only physicians can perform abortions and that abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals. His order took effect immediately, meaning the limits can’t be enforced.

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Gender Justice and other abortion rights groups argued the restrictions were unconstitutional under a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court holding that the state constitution protects abortion rights. The judge called that case “significant and historic” and said it’s unaffected by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“These abortion laws violate the right to privacy because they infringe upon the fundamental right under the Minnesota Constitution to access abortion care and do not withstand strict scrutiny,” Gilligan wrote.

The ruling is expected to benefit patients from restrictive states who could go to Minnesota for reproductive health care. Providers have been preparing for a surge in patients from neighboring upper Midwest states, and even farther away.

Opponents of abortion rights condemned the decision. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said the laws challenged in the case are “common sense measures that support and empower pregnant women” and striking them down blocks residents from “enacting reasonable protections for unborn children and their mothers.” A Republican attorney general candidate called on the Democratic attorney general to appeal.

Read more: More states move to protect travelling abortion patients from prosecutions back home

In a Louisiana state court Monday, legal efforts to stave off the permanent closure of the state’s three abortion clinics were renewed. A New Orleans judge refused last week to extend a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of the state’s abortion ban, saying the case belonged in Baton Rouge.

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Attorneys for a north Louisiana clinic and an abortion rights group are now seeking a new restraining order from a Baton Rouge judge. Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office says a temporary restraining order cannot be renewed once it has expired.

Alongside lawsuits to challenge bans, abortion rights supporters are trying to add ballot questions to enshrine abortion rights in state constitutions.

More than 750,000 signatures were turned in by the campaign in Michigan on Monday — close to double the number needed. The Democratic governor and attorney general in the battleground state have both made abortion rights a centerpiece of their reelection campaigns.

“The number of signatures showed that here in Michigan we trust women. We trust people. We trust doctors, not politicians, to make decisions about our body, our pregnancy and parenthood,” Reproductive Freedom for All spokesperson Shanay Watson-Whittaker said during a news conference in Lansing.

The signatures still must be verified and validated. A judge has temporarily blocked a 1931 Michigan law that would make abortion a felony except when “necessary to preserve the life of such woman.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said that the law is invalid under the due process and equal protection clauses of the state constitution. The injunction, which stems from a Planned Parenthood lawsuit, could be revoked at any time.

Last week, backers of a last-minute effort to enshrine abortion rights in the Arizona Constitution failed to collect enough signatures to make the November ballot. In California, voters will decide in November whether to guarantee the right to an abortion in their constitution. Democrats who control the government in California fear the state’s abortion laws could be vulnerable to legal challenges.

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