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400,000 LA Planned Parenthood users' data stolen in ransomware attack as Roe v Wade under attack

Planned Parenthood notified 400,000 patients at their Los Angeles location that their personal information - including clinical records, addresses and names - had been stolen by a ransomware hacker last month.

A letter was sent on November 30 and was announced by the nonprofit Wednesday, as the Supreme Court debates the fate of landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which protects abortion rights in the U.S. 

The Los Angeles branch of Planned Parenthood (PPLA) - a nonprofit that provides birth control, STD testing, STD treatment and services for LGBTQIA+ patients, as well as abortion services and referrals - said in an email to affected patients that it took computers offline and notified law enforcement as soon as it caught wind that the data had been stolen on November 24. 

A hacker managed to infiltrate their system between October 9 and October 17, LA Planned Parenthood said. Since then, the branch has 'taken steps to enhance our existing security measures and to help protect the information in our care, including increasing our network monitoring, engaging an external cybersecurity firm and hiring additional cybersecurity resources and talent to our team.' 

The motivation of the hack was unclear, and the amount the hackers demanded was undisclosed. 

But the letter sent to victims urged them to 'review statements you receive from your healthcare insurer and health care providers and to call the insurer or provider if they 'see charges for services [they] did not receive.' 

Pictured are anti-abortion activists outside a Planned Parenthood center in the Van Nuys section of Los Angeles in 2017. The personal information of 400,000 of the Los Angeles non-profit's patients was hacked in October, the provider announced 

Planned Parenthood supporters are pictured in Los Angeles in 2017. The non-profit  provides birth control, STD testing, STD treatment and services for LGBTQIA+ patients along with the abortion services and referrals that draw conservative ire

The Los Angeles branch of Planned Parenthood said in emails and letters to affected patients (pictured) that they took their computers offline and notified law enforcement as soon as they caught wind that the data had been stolen on November 24 this year

Ransomware is a type of malware that threatens to publish personal information that is stolen from databases.

It is unclear whether the Planned Parenthood plans to pay off the hackers that stole the names, addresses, contact information and medical records of their patients. 

John Erickson, the director of public affairs for PPLA, said that there was' no evidence that any information involved in this incident has been used for fraudulent purposes.' 

Allan Liska, a ransomware analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, told The Washington Post that no known ransomware groups had posted the stolen information on the Dark Web as of Thursday.

John Erickson, the director of public affairs for PPLA (pictured), said that there was' no evidence that any information involved in this incident has been used for fraudulent purposes'

'PPLA takes the safeguarding of patients’ information extremely seriously, and deeply regrets that this incident occurred and for any concern this may cause,' the organization said. 

'Planned Parenthood is the most trusted women’s healthcare provider in this country, and antiabortion extremists are willing to do anything to stop women from accessing the reproductive healthcare they are seeking,' said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, in 2015 when an abortion-critical hacking group posted the names and email addresses of hundreds of the non-profit's employees. 

Planned Parenthood's systems have been hacked before.

In 2020, the Metropolitan Washington wing of the organization had patients' personal and banking information breached, according to The Washington Post. 

News of the hack comes as many Americans worry that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that determined that abortion must be legal pre-viability.

What could happen if the Supreme Court sides with Mississippi 

The state is fighting to keep its ban on abortions after 15 weeks in place, and in a separate filing asked the high court to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.

Twelve states have already enacted 'trigger laws,' where if Roe is overturned, abortion in the state would be made illegal immediately without action from the legislature. 

Twenty-six states are likely to ban or restrict abortion quickly if such power is returned to the states. 

Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Texas have all passed heartbeat bills, but none except Texas' have gone into effect due to court intervention. 

The JWHO has said that since a law in Texas banning abortions after six weeks took effect Sept. 1, one-fourth of its patients come from the Lone Star State. 

 If the justices move to uphold the 15-week ban but not overturn Roe, the right to an abortion would likely remain in place but with a drastically shortened legal window.

Current precedent established by Roe allows abortions up until the point of fetal viability outside the womb, about 24 weeks. 

Mississippi's law would shave off roughly two months and also signal a green light that states like Texas that want shorter timelines could have a case 

The law also does not make exceptions for rape or incest - which if approved by the Supreme Court could be a feature of anti-abortion laws throughout the country. 

The six conservative Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed poised to uphold Mississippi's ban on abortions after 15 weeks in a decision that could overhaul Roe v. Wade after the most significant debate on a woman's right to choose in 30 years.

The Mississippi law, passed in 2018, directly contradicts the Roe v. Wade ruling, where the court decided that abortion must be legal pre-viability, or around 24 weeks. 

The question is whether or not all pre-viability bans are unconstitutional. 

Mississippi has asked the court to revisit Roe directly, as well as another landmark 1992 case that upheld abortion rights but allowed some restrictions, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.   

The three liberal justices on Wednesday claimed that overturning the landmark 1974 ruling was driven by political and religious motivations, suggested sticking with precedent and compared the physical reactions of unborn babies to brain-dead people.

But Chief Justice Roberts questioned why 15 weeks is 'not enough time' for a woman to choose, Brett Kavanaugh hinted that abortion rights should be left up to the states and Amy Coney Barrett brought up alternatives to termination including adoption.

The justices will now debate the case - Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization - and release their final opinion in the coming weeks in a decision that will have vast ramifications across the country.

Thirty-three people were arrested as a swarm of pro-life and pro-choice protesters gathered outside the court on Wednesday while oral arguments kicked unfolded inside.

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart opened by telling the court that the landmark 1972 case Roe v. Wade and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey 'poison the law' and that Mississippi is looking to unequivocally overturn them. 

Meanwhile the liberal justices on the court attempted to claim overturning Roe would undermine public confidence in the government and the apolitical high court. 

Roberts also briefly clashed with liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who tore into Mississippi's opening arguments and accused the state of bringing the case forward not because of its legal basis but because of who was on the bench. 

 Pro-abortion rights and pro-life activists began gathering outside the Supreme Court in the early morning hours. Some impassioned protesters brought props such as a small replica of a fetus while others brought white boxes labeled 'abortion pills' which they enthusiastically gulped down in front of cameras and fellow activists.

Police had already set up barriers as the crowds gathered, a sign of the high tensions expected over today's case.

Alveda King, niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was seen amid this morning's demonstrations urging the Supreme Court to 'heal our land of the epidemic of abortion.'

Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi wrote on Twitter that his staff was handing out coffee to pro-life protesters in the chilly December weather. 

The court's six conservative-leaning justices and three liberal-leaning justices will decide the fate of Roe v. Wade

Some protesters brought unusual props such as a small model of a fetus 

Progressive lawmakers are also there to stand with pro-choice activists. Rep. Pramila Japayal of Washington, who previously revealed she had an abortion herself, addressed the crowd along with Rep. Barbara Lee of California and Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado. 

'If you are here today, you are in the struggle for justice and I want to thank every single person that has stood up, that has spoken out and organized to fight against these dangerous attacks on choice,' Japayal said to applause.

The law, Mississippi's Gestational Age Act, was passed in 2018 and only allows abortions 15 weeks after conception in 'medical emergencies' and 'severe fetal abnormality.' It makes no exceptions for rape or incest. 

On the other end of the suit is Jackson Women's Health Organization, the only legal abortion clinic in the entire state.

The Jackson Women's Health Organization. The JWHO, as the state's only abortion clinic, is suing because it is directly affected by the law

 The hearing came after the high court earlier heard arguments on Texas' new abortion law, which bans the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected, around 6 weeks, but attempts to bypass judicial restraints by making private citizens the enforcers. Any private citizen can sue anyone who aided an abortion and is subject to compensation. 

Legal experts had thought the court might weigh in on the case before hearing the Mississippi arguments, but no decision has been made. 

During arguments, the court appeared to be in favor of blocking the law due to its enforcement measures. 

Four of the nine members on the highest court -- Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberal justices -- had voted previously to halt enforcement of the Texas Heartbeat Act, which makes no exception for rape or incest.

Two conservative justices appointed by former president Donald Trump -- Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett -- appeared inclined after two hours of oral arguments to also vote to block the novel Texas law.

Roe v. Wade: The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion nationwide but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since. 

The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy. 

Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother's life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment.

So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade, to protect McCorvey's privacy.

Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court handed down the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected under the 14th Amendment. 

In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental 'right to privacy' that protects a woman's liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

 …nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law

The landmark ruling saw abortions decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions which individual states could decide on. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimester but not the third (typically beyond 28 weeks). 

Impact 

Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory which would mean fewer women would become seriously - or even fatally - ill from abortions carried out by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. Moreover, the freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the equality fight for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest would be able to have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.

However, pro-lifers contended it was tantamount to murder and that every life, no matter how it was conceived, is precious. Though the decision has never been overturned, anti-abortionists have prompted hundreds of states laws since then narrowing the scope of the ruling.

One such was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.   

McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe

Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)

Following the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe. McCorvey became a leading, outspoken pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working at a women's clinic where abortions were performed.

However,  she performed an unlikely U-turn in 1995, becoming a born again Christian and began traveling the country speaking out against the procedure.

In 2003, a she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling with the U.S. district court in Dallas. The motion moved through the courts until it was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court in 2005.

McCorvey died at an assisted living home in Texas in February 2017, aged 69. 

'The Heartbeat bill'

Multiple governors have signed legislation outlawing abortion if a doctor can detect a so-called 'fetal heartbeat,' part of a concerted effort to restrict abortion rights in states across the country.

Under the ban doctors will be prosecuted for flouting the rules.

Abortion-rights supporters see the 'heartbeat bills' as virtual bans because 'fetal heartbeats' can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not be aware they are pregnant.

Anti-abortion campaigners have intensified their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, hopeful they can convince the right-leaning court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.

Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted 'heartbeat laws' recently, and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Other states have similar legislation pending.

Similar laws has also been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky, though they have been blocked by courts from going into effect as legal challenges have been brought against them.