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Lawsuit filed challenging Alabama abortion ban

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Alabama and Planned Parenthood Federation of America filed a lawsuit on Friday challenging Alabama’s recent legislation that bans abortion in nearly all cases and punishes doctors who perform abortions.

The lawsuit is challenging House Bill 314 or the “Human Life Protection Act,” which bans all abortions in the state except cases where there is a serious health risk to the mother. The law makes it a Class A felony for any doctor to perform an abortion, carrying with it a threat of up to 99 years in prison. The legislation also labeled attempted abortions as a Class C felony.

The bill was approved and signed by Gov. Kay Ivey on May 15.

HB314 is one of several abortion restrictions being implemented by various states that was passed with the intent to challenge Roe v. Wade and force a ruling by the Supreme Court, which currently has a conservative majority after President Donald Trump appointed Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the court.

“Our patients at Alabama Women’s Center already have to overcome so much just to get to our doors, and this law further shames them, punishes providers like myself, and stigmatizes essential health care,” said Dr. Yashica Robinson, comprehensive women’s health specialist and owner of Alabama Women’s Center, who is a plaintiff in the case.  “Alabama has a long track record of passing laws designed to close clinics and push abortion care out of reach, and just like we have before, we will fight for our patients and do all we can to stay open and continue serving our community.”

In addition to Robinson, the plaintiffs in the case include Planned Parenthood Southeast and Alabama’s three abortion clinics, Reproductive Health Services, Alabama Women’s Center and the West Alabama Women’s Center.

Bills proposed in other states have included restrictions on how late in a pregnancy an abortion can be obtained, such as “heartbeat” bills that ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks, before many women know that they are pregnant. Alabama’s HB314 is the most restrictive law of them all. These bills sparked several protests across the nation, drawing thousands who oppose restrictions on abortion.

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Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, sponsor of HB314, said in a statement she expected a lawsuit to be filed by “ultra-liberal” groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and that the goal of the bill has always been to challenge the “constitutional abomination” of Roe v. Wade.

“This lawsuit is simply the first battle in what we hope will ultimately be a victorious effort to overturn Roe and protect unborn babies from harm,” Collins said. “Alabama’s state motto is ‘We Dare Defend Our Rights,’ and I am deeply proud that this Legislature, this governor, and this state are leading the charge to defend the rights of the unborn.”

However, Staci Fox, President and CEO at Planned Parenthood Southeast, said defending rights is the goal behind the push to defeat the law and keep abortion legal across the country.

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“Abortion has been safe and legal in this country for more than 45 years and we aim to keep it that way,” Fox said. “We are protecting the rights of our patients. We are defending the work of the brave folks who came before us. And we are fighting to take this country forward, not backwards.”

Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri have also enacted laws restricting abortion.

The ACLU has already obtained an injunction blocking the Kentucky ban. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood Federation of America have also filed suit against Ohio’s ban and are preparing a legal challenge in Georgia.

No abortion ban, including Alabama’s, is in effect and abortion remains legal with varying restrictions in all 50 states.

 

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Doug Jones praises end of state Democratic Party lawsuit

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Thursday applauded the end of a lawsuit over control of the state Democratic party. 

Montgomery County Circuit Judge Greg Griffin on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Alabama Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Worley, which means that state Rep. Chris England, who was picked to lead the state Democratic party by a reform group championed by Jones, is the party’s chair. 

“This is a great day for Alabama and her Democratic Party. Throughout much of last year, countless Democrats in our state worked to create a more open and diverse state party, while recognizing and being true to the crucial and historic role held by African-American voters,” Jones said in a statement Thursday.

“The by-laws of the Alabama Democratic Party now reflect the growing diversity in our state — including representation for Hispanic voters, Native American voters, Asian voters, voters with disabilities and voters from the LGBTQ community. And most importantly, the Alabama Democratic Party has dramatically increased leadership opportunities for young voters. Around 70 new caucus members were added to the state party Executive Committee last year—many of them young people from diverse backgrounds throughout the state. I’m proud to continue to work alongside a more unified, diverse and inclusive state party. 

“With the dismissal of this lawsuit, it is time that all who have been involved in this challenge, resolution, and expansion of the Democratic Party come together for a common good. Our state benefits from the ideas and engagement of a competitive two-party system. We have now demonstrated that we have the ability to be inclusive within our own party while working to expand the number and experiences of people who play a role in moving it forward.  

“Chairman Chris England and First Vice Chair Patricia Todd have my complete support and I call on Democrats throughout the state to unite behind them as we move forward in modernizing, re-invigorating, and expanding the Alabama Democratic Party.,” Jones said.

 

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Sheriffs want a database with all concealed carry permits

Brandon Moseley

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Monday the Alabama Sheriff’s Association announced their support for a bill that would create a statewide repository of information about concealed carry permits and would allow officers to check the validity of a concealed carry permit.

House Bill 308 is sponsored by State Representative Shane Stringer (R-Mobile).

“In the past 13 months, Alabamians have encountered a terrible onslaught of violent conduct towards law enforcement officers,” the Sheriffs announced in a press release. “We have suffered a record seven deaths of law enforcement officers in Alabama alone as a result of handgun violence. Recognizing this disturbing trend, the Alabama Sheriffs Association is announcing the creation of a new information system designed for the protection and assistance of all law enforcement officers in the State of Alabama. The Alabama Responding Officer Warning System (AROWS) is designed to verify the validity of an Alabama issued Concealed Carry Permit and will be automatically accessed by law enforcement through the L.E.T.S./ACJIC criminal justice information system any time an officer performs a traffic stop or engages in other law enforcement investigations. Among other data, it will contain critical information such as recent arrests for violent offenses to give officers a clear picture of the persons they are dealing with.’

House Bill 308, introduced in the Alabama Legislature last Thursday, codifies the AROWS system. It is sponsored by Representatives Stringer, Reynolds, Farley, Isbell, Marques, Pettus, Simpson, Sorrells, Shaver, McCampbell, Hanes, Ledbetter and Rich.

In addition to the statewide concealed carry permit repository, HB308 also standardizes the appearance, size and information content of all concealed carry pistol permits across the state to better assist officers in recognizing fraudulent concealed carry permits.

Montgomery County Sheriff Derrick Cunningham is the current president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association.

“We owe an absolute duty to every Alabama officer who puts his life on the line for us every day to see that he or she makes it home to their family safely,” Sheriff Cunningham said. “The AROWS system is a huge step towards arming him with as much information as possible to ensure that happens and we don’t suffer yet another officer shot or killed.”

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The Sheriffs have consistently opposed “Constitutional carry” laws that would end the state requirement that Alabama citizens must purchase a concealed carry permit from their local sheriff’s department. They also oppose legislation giving the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency the authority over managing a state database.

“In recent legislative sessions there have been efforts to remove the local sheriff’s ability to oversee the issuance, monitoring and revocation of pistol permits and transfer this duty to an overworked and understaffed state agency in Montgomery,” the Sheriffs wrote in a statement. “Sheriffs are in our communities, at our schools, in our churches and on our streets every day protecting and serving our citizens. They come in contact with both good law-abiding citizens as well as the bad ones. They know their constituents better than anyone and it is critical that he or she remain in this role.”

“We applaud the Alabama Legislature for their assistance in this effort,” the Sheriffs continued. “Members of both the House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate have been extremely supportive and helpful in making sure our law enforcement officers are kept safe. This collaborative effort between the Alabama Legislature and the Alabama Sheriffs is a great example of governmental entities collaborating to keep all Alabama citizens safe and well protected.”

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Alabama is already an “open-carry” state, where all citizens, who have not lost their gun rights, are entitled to wear their guns openly on their person. Covering the weapon with a jacket or blazer or putting it in a purse however requires having a concealed carry permit. Transporting a gun in a motor vehicle, including a motorcycle, unless it is unloaded and locked in a box out of reach also requires the purchase of a concealed carry permit. Alabama citizens who do not want to purchase a permit, but who still want to have a weapon with them in their vehicles can legally have a long gun (rifle or shotgun) with them.

Senate Bill 1 “Constitutional carry” is being sponsored by State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa). It has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Alabama Democratic Party lawsuit was back in court on Thursday

Josh Moon

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The dispute goes on forever and the lawsuit never ends. 

A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge on Thursday delayed a decision on whether he has the standing to settle an internal dispute within the Alabama Democratic Party but indicated that he’s leaning towards ruling that he does. 

Judge Greg Griffin said he would rule soon on the matter, but made no promise that the decision would come before Alabama’s primary elections on March 3. 

Thursday’s hearing was the latest in the seemingly endless fight over control of the ADP and was the next step in a lawsuit brought by former ADP chairwoman Nancy Worley. Worley and her supporters, which have proven to be a decided minority of the State Democratic Executive Committee, filed the lawsuit late last year after the Democratic National Committee invalidated her re-election as chair and forced the party to change its bylaws and hold new elections. 

Those new elections resulted in Rep. Chris England being elected as party chairman and former Rep. Patricia Todd being elected vice-chair. The new party leadership has the backing of the national party, which pulled funding from ADP because Worley and others refused to rewrite the state party’s bylaws to be more inclusive. 

Worley filed her initial lawsuit prior to the elections in which she was booted out of her position, and Griffin, who was widely criticized for his handling of the case, granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the Reform Caucus of the ADP from meeting. That decision by Griffin was immediately overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court, in a rare, late-Friday evening emergency ruling. 

However, the ALSC did not rule on whether Griffin had standing to settle a dispute within the state party. The court left that question up to Griffin, which was why Thursday’s hearing was held. 

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The entire thing seems to be an exercise in futility at this point. 

The ADP has moved on, with England certifying candidates and DNC officials clearly recognizing him as the rightful party chair. The DNC has no desire to work with Worley, who was stripped of her credentials for failing to follow directives and bylaws of the party. 

Even if Griffin creates a reason to invalidate England’s election, it doesn’t seem to matter much. The DNC has validated it, and it accepted the ADP’s new bylaws and changes to leadership structure. 

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If Worley were to prevail in court, it’s unclear exactly what she would win.

 

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Legislation would limit death penalty appeals

Eddie Burkhalter

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Alabama Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth on Tuesday discussed legislation that would reduce the length of some death penalty appeals. 

“Over the last 13 month, seven Alabama law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty by violent criminals, which is a new record and obviously not one the state of Alabama is proud of,” Ainsworth said during the press conference at the Alabama State House on Tuesday. “Back the blue has got to be more than just a slogan. Actions must follow words.” 

Ainsworth said that death row inmates in Alabama serve approximately 14 years on average before executions are carried out, and that there needs to be a “fair but expedited process in Alabama.” 

The proposed legislation would prevent the Alabama Supreme Court from hearing death row appeals in capital murder cases, and would stop all such appeals at the state Court of Criminal Appeals level. 

The bills would also require the criminal appeals court to expedite death row appeals when possible, and would reduce the amount of time a person has to appeal such convictions to the U.S. Supreme Court, Ainsworth said. 

“This legislation still affords a thorough appeals process, and all the protections guaranteed to them under the U.S. Constitution,” Ainsworth said. “It has been designed to provide both equal justice to inmates, and swifter justice to their victims.” 

State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, a candidate for a seat on the state Supreme Court and sponsor of the senate’s version of the bill, said during the press conference that while overall crime rates have been declining, murders in Alabama have increased 25 percent over the last three years. 

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“I’ve always been an advocate for criminal justice reform, but let me tell you something, public safety is first and foremost, Ward said. “…I think this is a reasonable bill. It still provides for due process.” 

State Rep. Connie Row,R-Jasper, is sponsoring the bill in the House and said that as a former police chief she recognizes the value of the lives of those who serve the public. She also worked with crime victims in capital cases, she said, and in “capital cases it’s seeing if you can live long enough to see justice served in a death penalty case.” 

The bills also add language that would allow the Alabama Department of Corrections to conduct executions at facilities other than the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, where the state’s death chamber is currently located. 

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ADOC commissioner Jeff Dunn said in January that all death row inmates were being moved to Holman, while the majority of the prison’s areas for other incarcerated men was being closed due to concerns over maintenance problems in a tunnel that carries utilities to those portions of the prison. The death row section of Holman was to remain open, Dunn said. 

There are 175 people serving on the state’s death row, according to Alabama Department of Corrections statistics

Attempts Tuesday to reach staff at the Equal Justice Initiative for comment on the legislation were unsuccessful. The Montgomery legal aid nonprofit works to exonerate death row inmates, among its other initiatives. 

According to the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center 167 incarcerated people on death row in the U.S. have been exonerated and released from prison since 1973. Among those formerly on death row, six were scheduled to die by execution in Alabama. 

The last Alabama death row inmate exonerated was Anthony Hinton, freed in April 2015 after spending 30 years on death row for the 1985 murders of two fast food supervisors in Birmingham. 

The only evidence presented at Hinton’s trial was ballistics testing state prosecutors said proved the bullets that killed the two men came from a gun Hinton’s mother owned. 

Hinton lost appeals for a decade before the Equal Justice Initiative took up his case. Subsequent ballistics testing by the nonprofit in 2002 proved that the bullets weren’t a match for the firearm, but the state declined to re-examine the case. 

It took another 12 years for Hinton’s appeal to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the lower court’s ruling and granted a new trial. 

The judge in his new trial dismissed the charges after the state’s prosecutors determined through additional testing that the bullets could not have come from Hinton’s mother’s gun. 

A 2009 study by professors at the University of Colorado and published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology found that 88 percent of the leading criminologists in the U.S. polled did not believe the death penalty effectively deters crime.

Of the leading criminologists polled in the study, 87 percent said that speeding up executions would not add a deterrent effect on crime.

 

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