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The Supreme Court has concluded three days of historic hearings on President Obama’s healthcare reform law, the Affordable Care Act. The court will now decide whether to strike down the key provision requiring most Americans to buy health insurance and determine whether the rest of the law can stand. On Wednesday, justices focused their questioning on the practical consequences of overturning the law. A decision is not expected until June.
Newly released video from the night of Trayvon Martin’s shooting is further undermining the claims of Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman, that he acted in self-defense. Surveillance video at the police station where Zimmerman was briefly detained after the killing shows Zimmerman had no blood or bruises on his body. Zimmerman has maintained he shot Martin after Martin punched him in the nose, knocked him to the ground, and slammed his head into the pavement.
The Trayvon Martin case continues to make waves across the United States and stir calls for an end to racial profiling. In Washington, Democratic Congressmember Bobby Rush of Illinois was removed from the House floor after he delivered a speech wearing a hooded sweatshirt as Trayvon had worn when he was shot.
Bobby Rush: "Racial profiling has to stop, Mr. Speaker. Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum. The Bible teaches us, Mr. Speaker, in the Book of —"
Gregg Harper: "The member will suspend. The member — the member will suspend. The chair must remind members of clause five of rule 17. The member is out of order. The chair will ask the sergeant-at-arms to enforce the prohibition on decor. The chair must remind members that clause five of rule 17 prohibits the wearing of hats in the chamber when the House is in session. The chair finds that the donning of a hood is not consistent with this rule. Members need to remove their hoods or leave the floor."
The Arab League has given backing to a plan by international envoy Kofi Annan for a ceasefire in Syria. At a meeting in Baghdad, Arab League foreign ministers said they backed Annan’s six-point proposal that includes a withdrawal of Syrian forces from heavily populated areas. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he accepts the plan, but fighting has continued. Speaking in Kuwait, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he will work with the Arab League to push for a ceasefire.
Ban Ki-moon: "Now I am going to meet with key leaders in Baghdad and discuss with them how United Nations and League of Arab States can work together in helping (the) joint special envoy’s diplomatic efforts to get this six-point proposal implemented, as was pledged by President Assad."
A new study shows U.S. attacks in Yemen have increased dramatically over the past year. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, strikes on alleged militants in Yemen are now occurring at the same rate as the CIA drone program in Pakistan. At least 26 U.S. military strikes have taken place in Yemen, most of them since May 2011. The Yemen strikes have killed hundreds of people, including at least 54 civilians.
The Obama administration has suspended food aid to North Korea over a satellite launch planned for next month. Testifying before a House panel, State Department official Peter Lavoy said North Korea had violated a pledge to refrain from missile launches under a deal reached with the United States earlier this year.
Peter Lavoy: "It’s been very important to us to delink humanitarian assistance, and including nutritional assistance and other kinds of activities such as operational remains recovery operations, from politics and from North Korea’s provocative behavior. That’s been our intent all along. However, when we recently reached this deal, this did prohibit North Korean missile launches."
West African leaders are expected to arrive in Mali today to demand a return to constitutional order after a military coup ousted the president last week. Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, have suspended Mali’s membership and may call for the speaker of Mali’s parliament to become interim president. Meanwhile, thousands took to the streets in Mali’s capital of Bamako to show support for the takeover and the new constitution written by coup leaders.
Clashes on the border of Sudan and South Sudan have reportedly come to a halt after three days of heavy fighting in the worst violence since South Sudan declared independence last July. The violence broke out just days before a scheduled summit between the presidents of the two nations. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir canceled the summit, citing the unrest.
A new report from Human Rights Watch says women escaping abuse in Afghanistan are facing harsh government persecution. Hundreds of women have been jailed for fleeing domestic abuse, forced prostitution and violent attacks. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth criticized Afghan courts for targeting women.
Kenneth Roth: "Now the Afghan Supreme Court has said that the crime of running away can be found in sharia (Islamic law), but when we looked around the world, no other government thinks that running away is in sharia. Afghanistan stands alone in that interpretation. This misuse of the made-up crime of running away is emblematic of the difficult position that women find themselves in Afghanistan today."
An Oklahoma judge has struck down a state law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, view the ultrasound image and then have the image described to them in detail. District Judge Bryan Dixon said the law is unconstitutional because it applies only to abortion care, not to other forms of medicine. Also in Oklahoma, a State House panel has approved two abortion bills, including one that critics say could potentially threaten many forms of birth control by making a fertilized egg a legal human being. The second bill would require abortion providers to offer women a chance to listen to the fetal heartbeat before an abortion. Both measures now head to the full House for a vote.