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Iowa lawmakers pass most restrictive abortion legislation

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican lawmakers with control of the Iowa statehouse fast-tracked a bill early Wednesday that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, sending what could be the nation’s most restrictive abortion legislation to the governor.

Critics say the so-called “heartbeat” bill would ban the medical procedure before some women even know they’re pregnant, and it sets the state up for a legal challenge over its constitutionality.

“How dare we think that the privacy and decisions of a woman and her medical choices are up to us to determine?” said Rep. Vicki Lensing, an Iowa City Democrat, during House floor debate that began Tuesday afternoon and stretched into the early hours of Wednesday. “I am personally offended by this bill that seems to second-guess a woman’s ability to make an unintended and difficult decision.”

The measure was passed with nearly back-to-back chamber votes along party lines, culminating in approval in the Senate chamber shortly after 2 a.m. The bill now heads to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is anti-abortion but hasn’t said publicly if she will sign it into law. Her press secretary, Brenna Smith, indicated in an email the Republican was open to signing it.

“Governor Reynolds is 100 percent pro-life and will never stop fighting for the unborn,” Smith said.

Image: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds greets U.S. Vice President Mike Pence
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, greets Vice President Mike Pence before speaking at a “Tax Cuts to Put America First” event in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on March 6, 2018.Nati Harnik / AP file

The legislation passed overnight has some exemptions, allowing abortions after a detectable heartbeat in order to save a pregnant woman’s life, and in some cases of rape and incest. Another provision prohibits some uses of fetal tissue, with exemptions for research.

Republicans at the Iowa Capitol have long sought to approve legislation that would further restrict abortion, and their flip of the state Senate chamber in the 2016 election gave them a trifecta of GOP power for the first time in nearly 20 years. Last session, they passed a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. A three-day waiting period for abortions remains on hold amid litigation.

During Tuesday night’s debate, Republicans praised the legislation.

“A baby has become something we can throw away. This bill says it’s time to change the way we think about unborn life,” said Rep. Sandy Salmon, a Janesville Republican.

If passed, the legislation could face challenges claiming it violates U.S. Supreme Court rulings, including Roe v. Wade. Some Republicans say they want the bill to abolish the landmark 1973 ruling that says women have a right to terminate pregnancies until a fetus is viable.

“I would love for the United States Supreme Court to look at this bill and have this as a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Jake Chapman, a Republican from Adel.

Several states have attempted to advance abortion bans in recent years. Mississippi passed a law earlier this year banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s on hold after a court challenge. A federal appeals court, whose territory includes Iowa, rejected heartbeat bills passed in 2013 in North Dakota and Arkansas. The U.S. Supreme Court then declined to review the cases.

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Murkowski reverses course, will vote to confirm Barrett to Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, reversed course on Saturday and said that she now plans to vote in favor of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s final confirmation to the Supreme Court, which is expected to happen early next week.

Murkowski had initially said that she opposed voting on a nominee before the November election. Her vote in favor of Barrett all but ends any long shot hopes Democrats had of convincing some moderate and vulnerable Republicans to side against Barrett’s confirmation.

“I believe that the only way to put us back on the path of appropriate consideration of judicial nominees is to evaluate Judge Barrett as we would want to be judged: on the merits of her qualifications,” Murkowski said on the Senate floor Saturday afternoon.

“And we do that when that final question comes before us. And when it does, I will be a yes,” she said.

Murkowski, appearing to acknowledge that a vote for Barrett could be seen as a break from her previous opposition to a pre-election Supreme Court vote, said that she would still vote against a procedural hurdle on Sunday that will advance the nomination past a filibuster to the final vote.

“What I can do now is be consistent with the precedent that I have set for myself and oppose a process that I said should not move forward, and I’ve done that,” she said.

Murkowski opposed the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018. She is up for re-election in 2022.

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Brexit breakthrough as trade talks could enter crucial new phase next week

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BREXIT negotiations could go into a crucial “tunnel” phase as early as Monday as a trade deal looks to be within reach.

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Supreme Court sides mostly with Republicans in last-minute voting cases

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court has faced a stream of last-minute appeals over election procedures since the spring, and most of the time it has rejected calls to allow less restrictive voting measures despite the pandemic.

That has generally meant that Republicans prevailed in seeking to block changes that would make it easier to vote, especially in casting mail-in ballots. Of 11 election-related cases filed as emergency appeals since April, Republican interests won in eight.

The court rejected Democratic efforts to lift an age eligibility requirement for mail ballots in Texas, or allow curbside voting and waive the witness requirement for mail ballots in Alabama, or suspend the witness requirement in South Carolina. And it put a hold on lower court orders that would have made it easier to get initiative measures on the ballot in Idaho and Oregon.

“I think a deference to the states is at work here,” said Edward Foley, an expert on election law at Moritz College of law at The Ohio State University.

That could explain why the court reached opposite conclusions on mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

On Oct. 20, the court rebuffed a Republican attempt to block a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that allows mail ballots to be counted if they arrive up to three days after election day. By contrast, the court granted a GOP request to block an extension on the mail ballot deadline that was ordered by a federal court in Wisconsin during the primary.

“The Pennsylvania case was coming from the state’s own judiciary rather than a federal court,” Foley said, and the state’s top election official was not supporting the Republicans.

Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington, who frequently argues election cases in federal court, agrees.

“There seems to be some feeling on the Supreme Court that state election officials should be left alone to make their judgment,” he said.

At the same time, he added, that has tended to allow Republicans to prevail, limiting voting opportunities.

In August, the Supreme Court denied an effort by Republicans to block lower court rulings that suspended the witness requirement for mail ballots in Rhode Island, but state officials supported that rule change making voting easier. And in October, the court rejected a Republican appeal seeking to block ranked-choice voting in Maine. There, too, the change was endorsed by the top court in the state, not by a federal judge.

Two more rulings could come at any time ahead of Election Day Nov. 3 from the U.S. Supreme Court, on Republican efforts to block lower court rulings that extend the mail ballot deadline in the presidential battleground states of Wisconsin and North Carolina.

Judge Amy Coney Barret’s confirmation by the full Senate is expected Monday, so she could jump in and vote on any of those pending emergency appeals, as well as others that will undoubtedly come before Election Day.

The vote in the Pennsylvania case was 4-4, one vote short of the number needed to grant a stay of a lower court ruling. Barrett’s arrival removes the possibility of further ties.

A third factor may also be at work in the court’s unwillingness to allow last-minute rule changes.

When the court ruled for Republicans in the South Carolina case, maintaining the signature requirement for mail ballots, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that the Supreme Court has for years tended to disfavor such changes.

“This court has repeatedly emphasized that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election rules in the period close to an election,” he wrote.



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