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State & Regional Govt & Politics
Federal judge blocks Georgia anti-abortion law
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Federal judge blocks Georgia anti-abortion law

Federal judge blocks Georgia anti-abortion law

Federal judge blocks Georgia anti-abortion law

A federal judge handed an early win to abortion rights activists Tuesday by blocking Georgia’s restrictive law from going into effect — but it is only the first step as a lawsuit makes its way through the court system.

District Judge Steve C. Jones’ ruling stops House Bill 481 from taking effect Jan. 1 while the case plays out. Anti-abortion activists are hoping the case winds up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sued the state saying the law, which bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, violates a woman’s constitutional right to abortion as established by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

The new law would have outlawed abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

Jones said the U.S. Supreme Court has “repeatedly and unequivocally” upheld Roe v. Wade, saying a state may not ban abortion before a fetus is viable — established in Roe as between 24 and 26 weeks of pregnancy.

“What is clearly defined, however, is that under no circumstances whatsoever may a state prohibit or ban abortions at any point prior to viability, no matter what interests the state asserts to support it,” Jones wrote. “By banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, HB 481 prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy at a point before viability.”

ACLU of Georgia Legal Director Sean J. Young applauded Jones’ decision. The ACLU sued the state on behalf of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast and other abortion rights advocates and providers.

“The federal district court today fulfilled its oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” Young told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This abortion ban has been unconstitutional from start to finish, and today is a victory for the dignity of women throughout Georgia.”

Gov. Brian Kemp backed the new law, and his office said it was reviewing Jones’ decision.

“Despite today’s outcome, we remain confident in our position,” Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said. “We will continue to fight for the unborn and work to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow and prosper.”

Joshua Edmonds, the executive director of the anti-abortion Georgia Life Alliance, said he is looking forward to the case making its way through the court system.

“This is yet another demonstration of judicial activism against an overwhelming majority of Georgians who support protecting innocent life,” Edmonds said. “We will continue to fight to prevent Planned Parenthood and the ACLU from turning back the clock on human rights in Georgia.”

Anti-abortion activists have seized upon the opportunity created by last year’s appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, tilting the bench in the favor of conservatives.

There are already about 20 lawsuits involving abortion that the U.S. Supreme Court could consider that would challenge Roe v. Wade, but supporters of Georgia’s new law said they believe it is the one that will overturn the landmark ruling.

The ruling comes eight days after the ACLU argued in court that the law should not be allowed to go into effect.

Attorneys for the ACLU said the new law was essentially a ban on abortions, but lawyers for the state said the procedure still could be performed before cardiac activity is detected.

The ACLU also argued that the “personhood” components of the law were vague and made it difficult for their clients, abortion providers, to know when they would be in violation.

That language would have allowed parents, once a heartbeat is detected, to claim an embryo on their taxes as a dependent, and it would be counted toward the state’s population. Under the law, a court could also order a father to pay child support after a heartbeat is detected.

Jones wrote in his order that he agreed the language was too vague.

“HB 481 changes the definition of a natural person in Georgia, but defendants have been unable to point to any guidance for law enforcement or the judiciary on how to implement that change throughout the code,” Jones wrote.

In Georgia, later abortions would still have been allowed in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the woman is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth. To obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy because of rape or incest, a woman would have had to to file a police report.

Under current Georgia law, passed by the Legislature in 2012, abortions are allowed through 20 weeks of gestation, or about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

At least 15 states have considered versions of fetal cardiac legislation this year.

Georgia’s law received national attention when many in the movie industry threatened to boycott filming in the state if the court allowed HB 481 to go into effect.

Governors in Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio all have signed bills similar to Georgia’s. Federal judges have issued preliminary injunctions against laws in those states, and similar laws enacted in recent years in Iowa and North Dakota have also been struck down in the courts.

Staci Fox, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, called the order a “victory for the people of Georgia and the entire nation.”

“To Governor Kemp, we promised to see you in court, and we did,” Fox said. “But most importantly, to our patients, we promised to protect access to safe, legal abortion, and together we have.”

BALANCED COVERAGE

The debate over abortion is divisive, and these types of controversial stories receive special treatment.

We always try to present as much information as possible so readers can reach their own conclusions. To do that, we present multiple points of view.

Today’s story includes comments from one of the state’s leading advocates for abortion rights, Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, as well as Joshua Edmonds, the executive director of the anti-abortion Georgia Life Alliance.

The story also includes the reasoning U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones applied in his order blocking Georgia’s fetal cardiac bill from going into effect Jan. 1. That includes problems with enforcing the “personhood” components of the law, House Bill 481.

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News

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Lawmakers urge suspension of Trump’s July 4 military parade amid pandemic Update 6:09 a.m. EDT May 27: Calling the scheduled event a “vanity project,” members of Congress representing the capital region petitioned the defense and interior departments Tuesday to suspend plans for U.S. President Donald Trump’s second annual July 4 military parade, The Washington Post reported. Muriel E. Bowser, mayor of the District of Columbia, is preparing to reopen portions of the nation’s capital, while both Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have already relaxed some social distancing policies, yet stay-at-home orders remain in place in all three areas. “Given the current COVID-19 crisis, we believe such an event would needlessly risk the health and safety of thousands of Americans,' they wrote in the letter to the department chiefs. “Further, this event would come at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars while we are facing an unprecedented economic downturn due to the pandemic.” Read the lawmakers’ complete letter to the defense and interior departments. “The American people have shown tremendous courage and spirit in the fight against this global pandemic just as our forefathers did in the fight to secure our independence, and both deserve celebration on America’s birthday this year,” White House spokesman Judd Deere wrote in an email to the Post. Worldwide coronavirus deaths top 350K Update 4:46 a.m. EDT May 27: The global death toll attributed to the novel coronavirus reached 350,752 early Wednesday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. The United States – with nearly 1.7 million cases, resulting in 98,929 deaths to date – remains the nation with the highest number of infections and virus-related deaths. Brazil now reports the second-highest number of cases worldwide with 391,222, while the United Kingdom’s 37,130 virus-related deaths rank as second highest globally. Trump gives NC governor 1 week to decide if RNC stays in Charlotte amid coronavirus concerns Update 3:27 a.m. EDT May 27: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Tuesday dismissed President Donald Trump’s tweets threatening to move the Republican National Convention from Charlotte. “I’m not surprised by anything I see on Twitter,” Cooper said. “It’s OK for political conventions to be political, but pandemic response cannot be.” According to WSOC-TV, the governor said state health officials will continue to work with convention organizers to draft guidelines that will ensure the event can be conducted safely during the coronavirus pandemic. In a series of tweets Monday morning, the president threatened to pull the event out of North Carolina if Cooper doesn’t immediately sign off on allowing a full-capacity gathering in August, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus has infected more than 62K US health care workers, CDC reports Update 2:10 a.m. EDT May 27: An estimated 62,344 health care professionals in the United States have contracted the novel coronavirus to date, resulting in at least 291 deaths, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed. The latest figures represent a nearly seven-fold increase in less than six weeks. According to CNN, the CDC last highlighted the number of cases among health care workers April 15, revealing a total of 9,282 cases at that time. US coronavirus cases approach 1.7M, deaths near 99K Update 12:40 a.m. EDT May 27: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States surged toward 1.7 million early Wednesday across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, there are at least 1,681,212 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 98,916 deaths.  The hardest-hit states remain New York with 363,836 cases and 29,302 deaths and New Jersey with 155,764 cases and 11,194 deaths. Massachusetts, with 93,693 cases, has the third-highest number of deaths with 6,473, while Illinois has the third-highest number of cases with 113,195. Only 16 states and territories have confirmed fewer than 6,000 cases each. 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  • Hard Rock Stadium in Miami has hosted six Super Bowls since it opened in 1987 and is scheduled to host the college football national championship game in January 2021. Now, the Miami Dolphins plan to turn the football field into a drive-in movie theater holding up to 230 cars, the Sun-Sentinel reported. It’s a way to maintain social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic while still providing outdoor entertainment. The screenings on the field are part of Outdoor Theaters at Hard Rock, a sports and entertainment complex, the newspaper reported. The drive-in events will be inside the stadium, while the open-air theater will at the stadium’s south plaza. Some of the events will include Miami Dolphins’ content from the team’s history, classic films, concerts and commencement ceremonies, the Sun-Sentinel reported. Does that mean 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” will be a featured event? Officials are not saying. However, it’s likely the Dolphins’ 1972 perfect season and highlights of the team’s five Super Bowl appearances will be included. Food and beverages can be purchased through an online ordering and payment system and delivered to cars, ESPN reported. Restroom access will be provided. Fans can put their names on an email list to be notified when tickets are available, the network reported. “We’ve spent several weeks planning this to be able to provide people with a safe option to go out and enjoy movies, classic Dolphins content, concerts, and celebrate 2020 graduates,” Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium Vice Chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel said in a statement. “It’s a fundamental human need to physically experience and celebrate events and experiences together, and we’re trying to provide options for everyone where they can be safely socially distant and socially present at the same time.” The programming schedule is not yet available, but a spokesperson told the Sun-Sentinel the venue would be open “in the coming weeks.”
  • Wednesday is the day that vacationers may find out the status of their travel plans as Walt Disney World and SeaWorld officials are scheduled to present their reopening plans to Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force after COVID-19 forced the closings of the theme parks in March. WFTV reported the presentation would be done virtually Wednesday morning. The presentation will include when the parks can reopen. The plans must be endorsed by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis, WFTV reported. Last week the shopping and entertainment complex Disney Springs held its first phase of reopening with selected stores and restaurants that were shut since mid-March. Visitors are required to undergo temperature screenings, wear masks and abide by social distancing, park officials said in advance of Disney Springs reopening. Walt Disney World employs about 77,000 workers and is the biggest employer in central Florida, The Associated Press reported. Universal Orlando unveiled its plans to reopen last week, hoping to open the gates to visitors on June 5, the AP reported. Legoland Florida will reopen June 1. As for the West Coast, Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and SeaWorld San Diego, can reopen in California’s phase 3, The Orange County Register reported. Kate Folmar, California’s Health and Human Services Agency spokesperson, said they could reopen in stage 3 if the rate of the spread of the coronavirus and hospitalizations remain stable. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the third stage of reopening California could come within weeks, the Register reported.
  • On Tuesday, the Justice Department closed investigations into stock trading by Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia. Following Tuesday’s news, Sen. Loeffler joined Atlanta’s Morning News and spoke with host Scott Slade about the investigation. >>Listen to the full interview below. The Associated Press reports that the senators came under scrutiny for transactions made in the weeks before the coronavirus sent markets downhill. >>Read more from The AP here.
  • For people alarmed with social distance violators during the coronavirus pandemic, a Wisconsin company may have the solution. EmbedTek, located in Waukesha, has developed a social distancing alarm, which would allow businesses to monitor their employees and ensure workers stay more than 6 feet apart. Dan Aicher, the company’s CEO, said the U.S. Navy is interested in his product, WISN-TV reported. “We’re putting in an alert so it’ll vibrate whenever you’re within 6 feet of another person,” Aicher told the television station. Kent Tabor, EmbedTek’s technology officer, said the alarm is very accurate. “This technology is accurate to an inch to 2 inches,' Tabor told WISN. “People know that they’re being monitored, so if all a sudden the rules are, ‘Do not get within 6 feet of somebody,’ and all of a sudden the data key shows that every five minutes you’ve went and talked with every single person, got within 3 feet of everybody in the building, that puts everybody at risk.' While the monitor tool will be valuable, Aicher said the contact tracing could be even more helpful. ”It’ll keep a record going,' Aicher told WISN. “And, if there’s an issue, someone’s ill, they’ll be able to pull the device and pull the tracking of what contacts they had.' Aicher suggested the device could be embedded in the identification cards of college students. “This could be one piece of that puzzle,' Aicher told the television station. “They could know with whom that student had engaged with or been close to in the last 10 days or whatever period they wanted to look at.” EmbedTek officials said they expect to have the device in production by the end of the summer, WISN reported.