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SCOTUS likely has no choice but to rule in favor of marriage equality no later than 2016.

The nation’s last unchallenged state same-sex marriage ban is about to lose that status.

“There will be a case filed challenging North Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban,” says Joshua Newville, a Minneapolis-based civil rights attorney who filed a suit Thursday against South Dakota’s ban on behalf of same-sex couples there.

Newville is in talks with advocates and attorneys in North Dakota and confirmed that either he or another attorney will bring a lawsuit against that state’s ban within six to eight weeks.

Until Wednesday, just three of the 33 states that ban same-sex marriage had not been sued over those policies. But same-sex couples sued Montana that day and South Dakota on Thursday, leaving only North Dakota’s unchallenged.

The same-sex marriage movement has enjoyed a streak of more than a dozen victories in federal courts since a pivotal Supreme Court decision last summer, striking down a central part of the Defense of Marriage Act and granting federal recognition to same-sex married couples. Since then, no state ban has survived a court challenge, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for same-sex marriage.

The latest two federal decisions, overturning bans in Oregon and Pennsylvania, were delivered last week with officials in both states saying they would not appeal those decisions. Same-sex couples are now allowed to legally marry in 19 states. More than 2 in 5 Americans live in such states, according to HRC.

Nancy Rosenbrahn, 68, hopes to be among them soon. She and her partner Jennie Rosenbrahn, 72, are the lead plaintiffs in the suit filed by Newville over South Dakota’s ban.

The road to taking on that prohibition began last summer. The two wondered what the Supreme Court’s DOMA ruling would mean for their own state’s constitutional ban, passed in 2006 by a 52 percent to 48 percent vote.

Then, after the Obama administration announced in February that it would no longer defend federal laws banning recognition of same-sex marriages, Nancy, whose last name then was Robrahn, decided it was time. She proposed to Jennie, whose last name at the time was Rosenkranz, and on April 26, after 27 years together, each said “I do.”

“I thought I would go to my grave never hearing that,” Nancy said. The wedding took place in Minneapolis and was officiated by Mayor Betsy Hodges. The two changed their last names to Rosenbrahn because, Nancy said, there wasn’t enough space on an official form for a hyphenated name.

She and Jennie were motivated to act because they felt their state should be part of the national movement to legalize same-sex marriage and they felt better protected than others to be a part of the challenge. South Dakota is among 29 states that lack an explicit ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. But because the pair own their home and a mobile-home business, they didn’t have to worry about any kind of retaliation from an employer or landlord.

North Dakota similarly lacks explicit protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation, a reality Newville has made clear to couples expressing interest in taking on that state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was passed in 2004 in a 73 percent to 27 percent vote.

That lack of protection from discrimination represents one of the next battles in the fight for gay rights, Rosenbrahn says. ”Marriage was the start, but it’s not the end.”

In all, 29 state constitutions and four state laws limit marriage to heterosexual couples, according to a list maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several of those bans have been ruled unconstitutional in federal court, with some same-sex marriages allowed to proceed even as states appeal those decisions. Some same-sex marriage advocates hope to use the state-by-state fight to secure a Supreme Court ruling in their favor.

Much has changed since DOMA was enacted in 1996. Just 27 percent of respondents to Gallup and Pew polls that year supported same-sex marriage. Support has since doubled. Pew now reports support of 54 percent while Gallup reports 55 percent support.

H/T: Niraj Chokshi at Washington Post

thepoliticalfreakshow:

Over the past several years, state legislatures have enacted a record-breaking number of abortion restrictions. That pace hasn’t abated during this year’s legislative sessions, as lawmakers are rushing to pass measures to shut down abortion clinics and create additional red tape for women seeking abortions. But even though the assault on reproductive rights has been steadily gaining ground, there’s one type of restriction that hasn’t been able to win enough support, even among some anti-choice Republicans.

So-called “fetal heartbeat bills,” a radical proposal to cut off legal abortion services at just six weeks — before many women even realize they’re pregnant — are failing in states across the country. Although the far-right abortion opponents who push six-week bans claim that the procedure should be outlawed after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected, they can’t always get their other colleagues to sign onto the effort.

Last year, North Dakota and Alabama became the first states in the country to pass abortion restrictions banning the procedure after the detection of fetal heartbeat (although Arkansas’ ended up being amended to a 12-week ban). Perhaps observing that those two laws have both been blocked from taking effect because they blatantly violate Roe v. Wade, at least five state legislatures have declined to advance fetal heartbeat bans so far this year:

ALABAMA: Lawmakers in Alabama introduced a package of several anti-abortion restrictions, including a six-week abortion ban, on the same day in February. The legislature rushed to approve two of those measures before the state’s session came to a close this week, but the Senate didn’t take up the heartbeat ban. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R) said he’s waiting to see how the legal challenges to six-week bans in other states before Alabama passes its own version “and spends dollars we don’t have as a state.” The lawmaker who introduced the bill said she’s “very, very disappointed” that the legislature “didn’t have the fortitude” to approve it anyway.

MISSISSIPPI: Mississippi has been trying and failing to enact a heartbeat ban for several years in a row. Gov. Phil Bryant (R) has already indicated that he’s eager to sign one. “It would tell that mother, ‘Your child has a heartbeat,’” he told supporters at an anti-abortion event last year. But so far, this bill has repeatedly failed to make it out of committee. The state recently passed a 20-week abortion ban, but the heartbeat bill — which would have banned abortion at 12 weeks, like the one in Arkansas — remains a step too far.

KANSAS: Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas have decided to block a six-week abortion ban this year because they’re not interested in provoking a legal fight. Even though the legislature has strong GOP majorities, the politicians there are taking their cues from Kansans for Life, the most influential anti-choice group in the state. Kansans for Life doesn’t support the proposed fetal heartbeat ban because they’re nervous that a court battle would end up striking it down. “We’re just being cautious,” House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R) explained when asked why the legislature hasn’t scheduled a vote on the measure.

KENTUCKY: A fetal heartbeat measure was introduced again in Kentucky this session, after failing to advance last year, but abortion opponents haven’t had much luck this time around either. The measure is currently stalled in committee with little chance of passing. Pro-choice Kentucky lawmakers have been able to successfully block proposed abortion restrictions for several years in a row, so there’s little chance that a radical six-week abortion ban will make it through.

OHIO: Republicans in Ohio have long been divided over whether to adopt an aggressive anti-abortion strategy, and attempt to enact a harsh fetal heartbeat ban, or take a more subtle and incremental approach to chipping away at reproductive rights. This split has prevented the state from approving a six-week ban for the past several years, although it continues to be re-introduced. Senate President Keith Faber (R) says he won’t schedule a vote on the measure this session because he’s worried it will trigger a court challenge.

Indeed, legal battles over unconstitutional abortion restrictions come with a cost. North Dakota is gearing up to spend at least $600,000 to defend its stringent anti-abortion laws in court, while Kansas and Idaho have both accumulated legal fees in this area that top one million dollars.

In general, abortion opponents haven’t decided whether it’s better to continue gradually chipping away Roe v. Wade piece by piece, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban nearly all abortions. So far, feuds over this divide are bubbling to the surface in political races in Georgia and Kentucky. And some Republicans will need to adopt a particularly hardline stance against abortion if they want to court support from thecountry’s major anti-choice groups before the upcoming presidential primaries.

But so far, anti-choice lawmakers have actually had more success with the first, incremental strategy. That’s largely because radical restrictions like six-week bans, which are obviously extreme on their face, tend to capture headlines and spark outrage — while more subtle efforts to undermine abortion rights are able to slip under the radar.

Maps featuring Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin regarding how many clinics will close down in the states affected. 

Three of those mentioned were won by Obama both times (Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia) and a fourth (North Carolina) was won by Obama in 2008, then Romney in 2012.

(via Crooks and Liars: Rep. Cramer Blames Legalized Abortion for School Shootings)

A Republican congressman from North Dakota suggested to the graduating class at University of Mary earlier this month that the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks and multiple school shootings were all connected to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973.

In a video clip pointed out by The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel on Thursday, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) says that the ideal of American Exceptionalism has been “turned upside down.”

Cramer notes that Bismarck news anchor A.J. Clemente had been fired for uttering a “vulgarity on live television.”

"He’s been heralded by celebrities from New York to California as some sort of pop icon," the congressman complains. "We learned this week that the Pentagon is vetting its guide on religious tolerance with a group that compared Christian evangelism to rape, and advocated that military personnel and colluding chaplains who proselytize should be court-martialed."

Cramer adds: "Forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court sanctioned abortion on demand. And we wonder why our culture sees school shootings so often."

The North Dakota Republican goes on to reference the federal government’s decision to allow girls younger than 18 to purchase emergency contraception without a prescription.

"Now we learn our little girls can eliminate unwanted pregnancy by buying a pill at the drug store on their way to middle school," he laments. "Folks, our children will never disappoint us as long as we keep the bar really, really low."

"Innocent people in New York have airplanes flown into their places of work and marathoners in Boston are victimized by bombs, yet Christianity is singled out as bigotry in our public institutions!" he exclaims. "Because academics and politicians lack the courage to speak truth."

"We’ve normalized perversion and perverted God’s natural law to the point where the only thing not tolerated anymore is a stand for truth."

(via Worst First Day Ever? TV Anchor Fired After Profane Debut : The Two-Way : NPR)

I’m sure many of us have had pretty bad first days — at school, at a new job, a bad first date. But this weekend, we got word of a case that may take the cake.

A.J. Clemente was making his debut as weekend anchor for KFYR in Bismarck, N.D.

Just before his co-anchor made the big introduction and obviously unaware that he was live, he let a series of bad words fly, apparently because he was not succeeding at pronouncing the name of the London Marathon winner, Tsegaye Kebede.

h/t: NPR.org

Judge permanently blocks North Dakota ban on medication for abortions (via Raw Story )

A North Dakota District Court judge has permanently blocked a state ban on the use of medications for first trimester abortions. According to the RH Reality Check blog, Judge Wickham Corwin announced Thursday that he will be issuing a ruling to block a two-year-old ban on medication abortions on grounds…


 

Rival legal teams, well-financed and highly motivated, are girding for court battles over the coming months on laws enacted in Arkansas and North Dakota that would impose the nation’s toughest bans on abortion.

For all their differences, attorneys for the two states and theabortion-rights supporters opposing them agree on this: The laws represent an unprecedented frontal assault on the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.

The Arkansas law, approved March 6 when legislators overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, would ban most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward. On March 26, North Dakota went further, with Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signing a measure that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected and before some women even know they’re pregnant.

Abortion-rights advocates plan to challenge both measures, contending they are unconstitutional violations of the Roe ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.

"I think they’re going to be blocked immediately by the courts — they are so far outside the clear bounds of what the Supreme Court has said for 40 years," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

The center will be leading the North Dakota legal challenge and working in Arkansas alongside the American Civil Liberties Union’s state and national offices. Both Northup and ACLU lawyers say they have ample resources to wage the battles, and they expect victories that would require their attorneys’ fees to be paid by two states.

Dalrymple, in signing the ban, acknowledged that its chances of surviving a court challenge were questionable, but said it was worth the eventual price tag — at this point unknown — in order to test the boundaries of Roe.

North Dakota’s attorney general, Wayne Stenehjem, initially said lawyers from his office would defend any lawsuits but is now considering hiring outside help. His office is working on a cost estimate for the litigation that could be presented to lawmakers soon.

"We’re looking at a sufficient amount to adequately defend these enactments," Stenehjem said.

A lead sponsor of the Arkansas ban, Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert, said threats of lawsuits “should not prevent someone from doing what is right.”

He contended that the ban had a chance of reaching the U.S. Supreme Court through the appeals process and suggested that the victory predictions made by abortion-rights lawyers amounted to “posturing” aimed at deterring other states from enacting similar bans.

In both Arkansas and North Dakota, the states’ lawyers will be getting pro bono assistance from lawyers with Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group.

Mathew Staver, the group’s chairman, said supporters of the bans were resolved to fight the legal battles to the end, and issued a caution to the rival side.

"They ought to hold off on their celebrations," he said. "The cases have a long way to go through the court system."

The North Dakota ban is scheduled to take effect Aug. 1, along with two other measures that have angered abortion-rights backers. One would require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, the other would make North Dakota the first state to ban abortions based on genetic defects such as Down syndrome.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is reviewing its options regarding the latter two bills, but definitely plans to challenge the 6-week ban before Aug. 1. Northup said her team is pondering whether to file suit in state court or U.S. district court.

In Arkansas, where the 12-week ban would take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, abortion-rights lawyers plan to file their challenge in federal court within the next few weeks.

Bettina Brownstein, who will be representing the ACLU of Arkansas in the case, said the U.S. district court with jurisdiction over Little Rock had issued rulings in past abortion-related cases that gave her confidence of victory this time.

"Eventually it could go to U.S. Supreme Court on appeal, but that would take a while, and they may not want to hear it," she said. "It’s a question of how much money the state wants to spend."

Northup chided officials in both Arkansas and North Dakota for their willingness to spend taxpayers’ money on difficult and divisive legal cases.

"It’s important that the citizens of those states realize that every dollar spent to defend blatantly unconstitutional laws is taxpayers’ dollars wasted," she said.

Attorneys’ fees for the upcoming cases are impossible to estimate at this stage, but Northup said her organization received $1.3 million in fees from Alaska after that state lost a recent case regarding an abortion-related law.

The last few years have been intensely busy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU and other abortion-rights legal groups as Republican-controlled legislatures have enacted scores of laws seeking to restrict access to abortion. At least two dozen such measures are currently the target of lawsuits, said Northup, who vowed that her organization “will not let unconstitutional laws go unchallenged.”

Some of the recent laws place new requirements on abortion clinics, others require abortion providers to perform certain procedures or offer state-mandated counseling before an abortion can take place.

At least 10 states have passed bills banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. One of those laws, in Idaho, was struck down by a U.S. district judge on March 6, while the laws in Georgia and Arizona have been temporarily blocked by judges pending further court proceedings.

Abortion-rights advocates, while eager to defeat the new bans in North Dakota and Arkansas, worry about the impact of the broader surge of restrictions.

"I don’t believe these bans are going to take effect, but the danger is that they make the other laws look reasonable," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. "The ultimate goal is to take this decision away from a woman and her doctor and give it to the politicians."

One of the most frequent targets of the anti-abortion laws is the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which — in addition to providing a range of other health services — is the nation’s leading provider of abortions.

Planned Parenthood’s president, Cecile Richards, said she found it frustrating that women “continue to be a political punching bag.” But she saw an upside to the wave of anti-abortion legislation: more members and more donations for her organization.

"These attacks have served to energize our supporters," she said. "We’ve gained 2 million members in the past two years."

There’s new energy on the other side as well.

The tough North Dakota laws have been welcomed by the protesters who gather weekly in Fargo outside the state’s lone abortion clinic.

Among those on hand for the latest protest at the Red River Women’s Clinic was Scott Carew, 50, who had brought two anti-abortion posters nailed to pieces of wood.

"Certainly, we’re proud of the governor standing up for life," Carew said. "We’re going to keep standing up for life until we can’t stand up anymore."

H/T: Yahoo! News

Mark that another causality in the war on women.

The North Dakota legislature has placed a “personhood” amendment on the ballot in 2014 so voters can decide whether to adopt the most sweeping abortion ban in the country, according to media reports.

The personhood measure, which cleared both houses of the legislature on Friday, would guarantee “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” Opponents say it would prohibit all abortion in the state and may also outlaw birth control.

"The North Dakota legislature has taken historic strides to protect every human being in the state, paving the way for human rights nationwide," said Keith Mason, the president of Personhood USA, which supports the amendment.

Abortion rights groups swiftly criticized the move.

h/t: TPM LiveWire

North Dakota lawmakers voted on Friday afternoon to pass a “personhood” abortion ban, which would endow fertilized eggs with all the rights of U.S. citizens and effectively outlaw abortion. The measure, which passed the Senate last month, passed the House by a 57-35 vote and will now head to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s desk.

The personhood ban will have far-reaching consequences even beyond abortion care, since it will charge doctors who damage embryos with criminal negligence. Doctors in the state say it will also prevent them from performing in vitro fertilization, and some medical professionals have vowed to leave the state if it is signed into law.

The measure is so extreme that some pro-life Republicans in the state have come out against it, planning to join a pro-choice rally in the state capital on Monday to oppose the far-right abortion restriction.

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health

current:

States slowly chipping away at Roe vs. Wade: How far will they go?

The landmark decision Roe vs. Wade of 1973 gave women the right to have an abortion until “viability” (which is defined as when a fetus could live outside the mother) which is generally thought to be after 22-24 weeks, or about 6 months. But in the last few years, and especially, it seems, just in the last month, lawmakers in various states across the country are passing laws that contradict Roe’s standing. While these states are most likely setting themselves up for costly lawsuits in their states, pro-choice activists are afraid that this was their plan along—to bring the fight back to the Supreme Court. Here are some states we should keep our eye on.

Kansas: On Tuesday, a bill was passed in the Kansas house which, among many things, would require doctors to inform their patients of the link between breast cancer and abortions. Here’s the thing, that link is totally bogus. Institutions like the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society don’t believe in it, and other studies have completely debunked it. Oh, and that same bill? It wouldn’t allow rape and incest victims to get late term abortions. 

Missouri, Texas, Alaska: These states already have some form of law that requires a patient to be informed of that medically-incorrect breast cancer link.

North Dakota: Just this Friday, the North Dakota senate approved a law that would ban abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks (and that’s with an invasive vaginal ultrasound). It’s the strictest proposed abortion ban in the country. The bill is on its way to the Republican governor for signature. The North Dakota legislature is also attempting to further abortion bans by considering a “personhood amendment” which would define life as beginning at conception, which could essentially outlaw abortions altogether.

Arkansas: Just two weeks before the North Dakota legislature, Arkansas instituted an abortion ban after 12 weeks, which is the time when you can hear a heartbeat with an abdominal ultrasound. The Democratic governor vetoed the bill, but his veto was overridden in the legislature. It will go into effect this summer.

Nebraska: In 2010, Nebraska banned abortions after 20 weeks with the claim that fetuses feel pain. That law set off a wildfire, with other states like Oklahoma, Indiana and Louisiana passing similar “fetal pain” bills. Conversely, a judge in Idaho struck down that state’s take on the law just this month.

So why is a debate we had and settled on 40 years ago creeping back into political discourse? And will these states eventually erode Roe v. Wade altogether? And can they legally get away with it? Elizabeth Nash, states issue manager and the Guttmacher Institute, will tell us everything when she stops by “The War Room.” Tune in Wednesday night @ 6E/3P on Current TV for more.

(via reagan-was-a-horrible-president)

Not to be outdone by Arkansas lawmakers — who recently overrode their governor to impose a 12-week abortion ban, the strictest in the country — abortion opponents in North Dakota want to go even further.

So far this year, anti-choice lawmakers in Arkansas and North Dakota have practically tripped over each other to see which state can impose more abortion restrictions. Arkansas initially pulled into the lead by imposing two stringent restrictions, a 20-week abortion ban and, later, a stricter 12-week ban. But North Dakota may be ready to raise the stakes once again. Republican lawmakers are advancing a “fetal heartbeat” measure to outlaw the procedure after just six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even realize they’re pregnant, and they expect to have enough support to push it though:

House Bill 1456 would make it a felony for a doctor to perform a nonemergency abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as five or six weeks. House Bill 1305 would prohibit abortions sought because a fetus has been or could be diagnosed with any genetically inherited defect, disease or disorder.

The Republican-led state Senate will vote today on the measures, said state Representative Bette Grande of Fargo, who co-sponsored the bills in the Republican-controlled House, where both have passed. Grande said she expects the Senate to approve both and the governor, also a party member, to sign them.

“The heartbeat is society’s marker for life,” Grande, a Republican, said by telephone from Fargo.

So-called “fetal heartbeat” bans are blatantly unconstitutional. Even though Roe v. Wade guarantees the right to legal abortion services until the point of viability, typically around 23 or 24 weeks of pregnancy, heartbeat bans narrow that window by as much as 17 weeks.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only egregious affront to reproductive rights that women in North Dakota have to worry about. State lawmakers are also considering an even more radical “personhood” measure that would outlaw abortion altogether, as well as some forms of contraception. And, despite the fact that there’s just one abortion clinic left in the state, anti-choice Republicans are attempting to advance legislation that would force it to close its doors.

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health