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American Scene

- - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TEXAS

Court: State can enforce abortion law passed in 2010

AUSTIN — A Texas abortion law passed last year that requires doctors to show sonograms to patients can be enforced while opponents challenge the measure in court, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling that signaled that the judges believe the law is constitutional.

When the state would begin enforcing the law was not immediately clear. A spokesman for the attorney general's office said the matter was under review. The group that brought the case, the Center for Reproductive Rights, is weighing how to continue fighting the law and has 14 days to ask for a rehearing of the case.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary order against enforcing the law and then went further to advise U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks how he should ultimately rule in the case. Chief Judge Edith H. Jones used her opinion to systematically dismantle the argument that the Texas law infringes on the free speech rights of doctors and patients, the key argument against the law.

COLORADO

'Personhood' ballot measure challenged by Planned Parenthood

DENVER — Three registered voters, with support from Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and the Protect Families Protect Choices coalition, have filed papers asking the Supreme Court of Colorado to review a "personhood" amendment recently approved for the 2012 ballot.

The amendment "violates the single-subject requirement," said Leslie Durgin, Cathy Alderman and Amy Pitlik, who will file their full brief to the high court later this month.

Also, the title set by the state title board is "misleading," doesn't capture "the true meaning" of the initiative and will confuse voters, said the petitioners, who asked the high court to send the measure back to the title board with instructions to reject it or rewrite it.

The 125-word amendment, unofficially titled "Application of the Term Person," asks Colorado voters if constitutional rights should be extended "to all human beings at any stage of development."

If passed, the measure would prohibit most abortions, but it would have no effect on miscarriage, medical treatment for life-threatening physical conditions, or birth control and assisted reproduction activities that don't "kill an innocent person," according to Personhood Colorado, which sponsored the amendment.

OKLAHOMA

State ban on Islamic law unconstitutional, court says

OKLAHOMA CITY — An amendment that would ban Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law discriminates against religions and a Muslim community leader has the right to challenge its constitutionality, a federal appeals court said Tuesday.

The court in Denver upheld U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange's order blocking implementation of the amendment shortly after it was approved by 70 percent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010.

Muneer Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, sued to block the law from taking effect, arguing that the Save Our State Amendment violated his First Amendment rights.

The amendment read, in part: "The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia law."

Backers argued that the amendment intended to ban all religious laws, that Islamic law was merely named as an example and that it wasn't meant as a specific attack on Muslims. The court disagreed.

ILLINOIS

Study: Marijuana doesn't harm lung function

CHICAGO — Smoking a joint once a week or a bit more apparently doesn't harm the lungs suggests a 20-year study that bolsters evidence that marijuana doesn't do the kind of damage tobacco does.

The results, from one of the largest and longest studies on the health effects of marijuana, are hazier for heavy users, those who smoke two or more joints daily for several years. The data suggest that using marijuana that often might cause a decline in lung function, but there weren't enough heavy users among the 5,000 young adults in the study to draw firm conclusions.

Still, the authors recommended "caution and moderation when marijuana use is considered."

Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law although some states allow its use for medical purposes.

The study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Alabama at Birmingham was released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

WEST VIRGINIA

Mine company settles death cases with 29 families

MORGANTOWN — A mine company has settled wrongful death lawsuits with families of all 29 victims of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch disaster, an attorney for the estates of two miners said Tuesday.

Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources did not immediately confirm the agreement or otherwise comment, but attorney Mark Moreland said the final deals were cut Tuesday afternoon after a marathon mediation session. He said Alpha also settled lawsuits by at least seven miners who were injured in the April 2010 blast, the worst U.S. mine disaster in four decades.

Although some lawsuits had long since been settled, mediation of the final 13 began last week and continued through Tuesday. Mr. Moreland, who represented the estates of miners Ronald Lee Maynor and William Griffith, would not disclose the terms of the agreements, which will still require court approval.

From wire dispatches and staff reports