Roe vs. Wade anniversary: Marking the 39th with marches and blogs


Sunday will be the 39th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Roe vs. Wade decision, extending a woman's right to privacy to include the right to have an abortion. The Jan. 22, 1973, ruling continues to shape politics even as it fractures the nation largely into two camps -- those who believe abortion is murder and those who believe it's a woman's right to choose whether to proceed with a pregnancy.

The anti-abortion and pro-choice movements are planning to mark the anniversary in vastly different ways.

The National Right to Life Committee, which has 3,000 chapters nationwide, will be holding a variety of events throughout the weekend and Monday. They will include rallies, marches and prayer vigils "just to make sure that people understand the law of the land in this country allows the killing of unborn children," said Carol Tobias, committee president.

The single biggest event is expected to be the annual March for Life, which will take place Monday morning in Washington and culminate in a rally at the National Mall. As many as 225,000 people have marched at the event in recent years. A mini-rally will be held Sunday afternoon outside the White House.

Meanwhile, pro-choice activists are being encouraged to hit the keyboards.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, is sponsoring the seventh annual Blog for Choice Day.

From the website: "Blog for Choice Day gets more people reading and talking about reproductive rights online on one of the most important days surrounding a woman’s right to choose: the Roe anniversary. Plus, it lets your readers and the mainstream media know that a woman's right to choose is a core progressive value that must be protected."

This year, participants are urged to answer the question: What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?

A NARAL media representative did not respond to a request for comment by the time this report was posted. 

The National Organization for Women has  posted notices about a number of pro-choice events on its website, including a "honk and wave" campaign in Florida, a "Rock for Roe" gathering in Las Vegas and a "Lady Liberty Ball" in Mississippi.

Although 39 years have passed since Roe vs. Wade became the law of the land, Tobias said, she and other activists feel more confident than ever that the decision will soon be overturned. "I have absoutely no doubt that it will change in my lifetime," she told The Times.

She said that states across the country have been successful at efforts to cut off government funding of abortion clinics, as well as requiring that women are given specific information about abortion procedures before the procedures take place. 

"Women have a right to know what is happening to them and their unborn child," she said. 

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File photo: Anti-abortion and pro-choice protestors rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004. Credit: Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Houston sailor held in death of woman who reportedly refused abortion

DeviaA 19-year-old sailor from Houston wanted in the death of a pregnant woman who reportedly refused to abort a child they had conceived last year was arrested Wednesday, authorities said.

Joseph Mike Devia was arrested in the Chicago area Wednesday morning, Jodi Silva, a spokeswoman for the Houston Police Department, told The Times.

Silva said Devia was taken into custody at a Navy training area at the Houston Police Department's request and was in the process of being turned over to local authorities late Wednesday for extradition to Texas.

Devia was arrested on suspicion of capital murder in the August 2010 death of Omoyeme Obehi Erazua.

Erazua's body was discovered on a Houston street. An autopsy showed she had been stabbed in the neck about 20 times.

A purse found with the body contained a cellphone that showed calls and text messages between Erazua and Devia indicating Devia believed he was the child's father. The messages also indicated Devia wanted Erazua to have an abortion and that she had refused, according to a complaint filed by the Harris County district attorney's office cited in the Houston Chronicle.

Erazua had been staying at the Mission of Yahweh women's shelter days before her death but left the facility Aug. 21 with several men, telephoning the shelter later that night to say she was stranded in Galveston, according to the Chronicle.

When investigators interviewed Devia in June, he denied knowing Erazua well, according to the complaint. He said Erazua called him the night before her body was discovered and asked him to pick her up downtown, but Devia said he told her he would pick her up at St. Joseph Hospital. When he got to the hospital, Devia said, he never found her.

Police took a DNA sample from Devia that matched blood found on clothes Erazua was wearing when her body was discovered, according to the complaint. The sample also showed Devia was likely the father of Erazua's child.


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Photo: Sailor Joseph Mike Devia, 19, of Houston was arrested at a Chicago-area training facility Wednesday. Credit: Houston Police Department

'Personhood' loses in Mississippi, but what now for the nation?

The abortion-banning "personhood" ballot initiative was rejected Tuesday by voters in Mississippi, a harsh blow for the nationwide movement that seeks to challenge abortion rights by defining "personhood" as beginning at the moment a human egg is fertilized.

Initiative 26, which would have amended the Mississippi constitution -- and banned abortion in all cases, including those of rape and incest -- was headed for certain defeat Wednesday. With 96% of precincts reporting, the no votes were at 58%, the yes votes at 42%, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Colorado voters rejected similar measures in 2008 and 2010. But with the Mississippi loss, the idea has now been voted down in what is, by some measures, the most conservative and religious state in the nation.

Abortion-rights activists contend that Tuesday's vote put a brake on the momentum that the Colorado-based group Personhood USA is seeking to build with efforts to put similar measures on numerous statewide ballots in 2012, including in California.

"Even in a conservative state, tonight's vote reaffirms that people do not want government intruding in personal decisions best made by a woman, her family and her doctor," the ACLU's Jennifer Dalven said in a prepared statement Tuesday night. "This is the third time an amendment like this has failed. Legislators around the country should listen to the voters of Mississippi and stop playing politics with women's health."

In a phone interview, ACLU staff attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas added: "This is just another nail in the coffin for this really extremist movement."

Many supporters of Personhood USA are fed up with what they see as an incrementalist approach to banning abortion in the U.S., but other pro-life leaders have argued that their strategy could backfire, with federal courts striking down any state abortion bans and possibly strengthening abortion rights with new, stronger rulings.

The group, in a statement on its website, does not appear to be deterred, noting that a quarter of a million Mississippi voters supported Initiative 26.

"We vow to continue on this path towards affirming the basic dignity and human rights of all people because we are assured that it is the right thing to do, and we are prepared for a long journey," the statement said. "...A personhood amendment, recognizing everyone as a legal person, is the right thing to do. It is always right to protect our citizens. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'The time is always right to do what is right.'"


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Mississippi attempts to define the start of personhood

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Photo: Parents against Mississippi Initiative 26 attend a rally at the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., on Oct. 27. Credit: Barbara Gauntt / The Clarion-Ledger / Associated Press

Haley Barbour's complex take on Mississippi 'personhood' measure


On Tuesday, Mississippians will go to the polls to decide the fate of Initiative 26, the proposed constitutional amendment that would ban all abortions by defining personhood as beginning at the moment of fertilization.

The measure has been highly controversial, in large part because of the disagreement over what else it might do. Opponents and some in the medical community say it could ban some forms of birth control pills, drastically reduce the success rate for in vitro fertilization, and hamper doctors' ability to respond to problem pregnancies.

For a little wisdom and insight on the topic, many Mississippians will likely look to Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour leaves office in a few weeks due to term limits, having crafted a legacy as a credentialed conservative whose practical streak sometimes puts him at odds with those who prefer principles-first orthodoxy. Last year, for example, Barbour made waves in conservative circles for praising the illegal immigrants who helped rebuild the Mississippi coast after Katrina.

So where does the anti-abortion but practical Barbour stand on the initiative? Well ... Mississippians can be excused if they have a hard time figuring that out.

According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the group opposing the initiative, Mississippians for Healthy Families, has been blasting out robocalls that begin: "Please hold the line for a message from Republican Gov. Haley Barbour about Initiative 26."

It then uses a recording of Barbour's appearance on a national TV program in which he stated he had "concerns" about the "ambiguity" of Initiative 26.

On Friday, however, Barbour called those calls misleading, saying they were made without his permission. In fact, despite his reservations, Barbour voted for the initiative on his absentee ballot, he told the Associated Press. "I voted for it. I struggled with it," Barbour said Thursday.

Barbour was asked about the issue Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," and said he still had concerns about the treatment of ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. Often those pregnancies are terminated to avoid threats to the woman's life.

However, Barbour also stated his belief that "life begins at conception." "I'm not a physician or a theologian," he added. "I just don't know any other way -- any other time you can say life begins other than at conception."

If the initiative passes, it will almost certainly face a federal court challenge. Some anti-abortion leaders have been wary of lending their support to the Mississippi initiative because they fear new court rulings that could in fact strengthen the abortion right granted under Roe vs. Wade.

The "Meet the Press" segment, which also featured an appearance by Democrat Bill Richardson, offered a preview of the way the Mississippi initiative may reverberate beyond the state, with Democrats using it as an example of a GOP out of touch with women's issues.

Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, noted that similar personhood initiatives were "sprouting out" in other states, calling them a "huge assault on women's rights in the Republican parties." "The extreme right wing of the Republican Party has taken over to the point where we now have an amendment in several states that criminalize a woman's right to choose, that prevents in-vitro fertilization, that prevents birth control, even in cases of rape or incest," he said.

Barbour said he was "surprised" by Richardson's analysis "that Republican women are doing bad in our primaries since a Republican woman won the primary and succeeded him as governor of New Mexico."


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Photo: Outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour speaks at the Mississippi Economic Council's Hobnob Mississippi gathering in Jackson on Nov. 2. Credit: Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press

Texas gun instructor won't train Muslims, Obama supporters


A wildly popular clip shows Texas handgun instructor Crockett Keller coolly informing listeners that Muslims and Barack Obama supporters are not welcome at his firearms classes.

The clip came from a radio ad Keller, 65, aired on a country station near his home in Mason, Texas, about 100 miles west of Austin. It has been viewed more than 37,000 times on YouTube, sparking debates among viewers about terrorists and rednecks.

"If you are a socialist liberal and/or voted for the current campaigner in chief, please do not take this class," Keller says in the ad. "You've already proven that you cannot make a knowledgeable and prudent decision as required under the law. Also, if you are a non-Christian Arab or Muslim, I will not teach you this class. Once again, with no shame, I am Crockett Keller."

Keller, who runs a store in Mason that sells, among other things, guns, did not return calls Tuesday. But in an interview with the Associated Press he defended the ad, saying he was inspired to make it after being "flabbergasted" by neighbors who left the state to campaign for President Obama and his own concern about training Muslims.

"I got to thinking, 'Hmm, I'm arming the enemy,' " Keller said.

The ad stopped airing last week.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety told The Times it was investigating Tuesday whether to revoke or suspend Keller's license to teach concealed-handgun courses.

"Conduct by an instructor that denied service to individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion would place that instructor's certification by the department at risk of suspension or revocation," the department said in a statement released to The Times.

Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he encouraged state officials to investigate Keller's comments, although he was unsure what power the state had to intervene.

Carroll, who owns a hunting rifle and has hunted deer and owned other firearms, called Keller's comments "disturbing on so many levels."

"He’s not alone. There’s a lot of people who feel like he does" due to misconceptions about Islam, Carroll said, but "the state has guidelines and regulations -- that should be all he’s worried about following."


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Video: Crockett Keller, 65, a central Texas firearms instructor, recently aired an ad for his classes banning Barack Obama supporters, Muslims and non-Christian Arabs. The ad went viral this week, drawing criticism and the attention of state regulators. Credit: YouTube

Restrictive abortion law takes effect in North Carolina

One of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws went into effect Wednesday in North Carolina after a federal judge temporarily halted the law's most controversial requirement — that a woman getting an abortion must first view a narrated ultrasound image of the fetus.

U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Eagles ordered a preliminary injunction late Tuesday, ruling that the ultrasound requirement likely violates patients' First Amendment rights.

She upheld other sections of the law, including a 24-hour waiting period to provide information on abortion risks and alternatives.

The American Civil Liberties Union and four pro-choice groups contended in a lawsuit filed last month that requiring women to view ultrasound images and providing an opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat promotes government-mandated ideology. Proponents of the law, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in July over the veto of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, say the requirement would promote childbirth and protect women from emotional trauma.

Judge Eagles ruled that state officials "have not articulated how the speech-and-display requirements address the stated concern in reducing compelled abortions, and none is immediately apparent." The First Amendment prohibits government directives on "both what to say and what not to say," she wrote.

She added: "The Supreme Court has historically taken a dim view of content-based speech compelled by the government."

The "A Woman’s Right to Know Act" requires the state to provide information to women seeking abortions, including any medical risks or "adverse psychological effects" of abortions. The state Department of Health and Human Services put the information online Wednesday.

The provision halted by the judge calls for abortion providers to show ultrasounds to a woman at least four hours before her abortion, with "a simultaneous explanation of what the display is depicting, which shall include the presence, location and dimensions of the unborn child within the uterus.”

Legal challenges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Texas and Oklahoma. North Carolina is the third state to require a provider to place ultrasound images in a woman’s line of sight and to describe them in detail.

Abortion providers in North Carolina already are required to perform ultrasounds prior to an abortion to determine the age of the fetus.

At least 20 states have passed laws that require ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. Eagles, who was nominated by President Obama last year, noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down statutes that require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and salute the flag, or compel people to display state mottoes on license plates.

She said the North Carolina abortion law "goes well beyond" requirements that patients give informed consent to medical procedures. The ultrasound provision could compel "an unwilling speaker to deliver visual and spoken messages to a listener who is not listening or looking," the judge wrote.

Eagles said the provision is "likely to harm the psychological health of the very group the state purports to protect."

The ultrasound injunction will remain in place at least until Dec. 5, when Eagles will hear more arguments in the case.


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ACLU challeges new N.C. abortion law in court

The American Civil Liberties Union and four other groups sued to challenge a new North Carolina law requiring abortion providers to display and describe ultrasound images of a fetus.

The suit, filed in federal court Thursday, alleges that the statute violates the constitutional rights of women and healthcare providers and intrudes on women’s private lives.

"Politicians have no business forcing healthcare providers to push a political agenda on their patients," Bebe Anderson, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which joined in the suit, said in a statement.

The statute, passed by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in July over the veto of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, also requires a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion.

The suit seeks an injunction to block the law, which is set to take effect Oct. 26.

Legal challenges have temporarily blocked similar laws in Texas and Oklahoma. At least 20 states have passed laws that require ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, and North Carolina is the third state to require a provider to place ultrasound images in a woman’s line of sight and to describe them in detail.

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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal

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