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News Brief: U.S.-Iran Tensions, Ala. Abortion Bill, Facebook Changes

May 15, 2019
Originally published on May 15, 2019 6:21 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

The U.S. military is saying that American forces in Iraq could face, quote, "credible and possibly imminent threats," unquote, from Iranian-backed militias.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Yeah. The New York Times reported yesterday that there could be plans to send as many as 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East if Iran attacks U.S. forces or American allies or accelerates its work on nuclear weapons. Here's what President Trump said when asked if that option was on the table.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully, we're not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that.

MARTIN: For its part, Iran says it doesn't want a war, but it won't renegotiate a nuclear deal it already negotiated. The Iranian government announced last week, it might even restart some elements of its nuclear program.

KING: NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre is with us in studio. Good morning, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So we are talking about the span of a week here in which things between the U.S. and Iran seem to have really deteriorated. What happened?

MYRE: Well, I - the couple of incidents we've had, where there've been several oil tankers, a couple belonging to the Saudis, that were damaged - relatively minor damage; there was a couple attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure - again, small-scale attacks. But this is certainly adding to this heightened sense of tension. The Pentagon is very wound up about this without explicitly saying where the threat might be coming from - from Iran - but, you know, what kind of potential attack might we be looking at? We - and we really saw this yesterday. There was a - the British general who's the No. 2 in the coalition in Iraq said he wasn't really seeing - he was asked several times and said, we're not really seeing any increased threat from Iran or its forces. And he was immediately - or not - within a couple hours rebuked by U.S. Central Command, which put out a statement saying, you know, this is - there is something serious. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also made some remarks yesterday pointing to that. Let's listen.

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MIKE POMPEO: The United States will continue to apply pressure to the regime in Tehran until its leadership is prepared to return to the ranks of responsible nations that do not threaten their neighbors or spread instability or terror.

KING: And Greg, then the State Department announced that it would pull out nonemergency personnel from Baghdad. Is there a connection there?

MYRE: I don't know at this point, really hard to say. Certainly, there's a lot of tension in the region. Iran has militias there. But we don't know exactly what the relationship is there.

KING: What are the Iranians saying about all of this?

MYRE: Well, I was in New York two weeks ago, where the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was, and he spoke with a small group of journalists, including myself. Now, he acknowledged these new U.S. sanctions are going to have an impact. The U.S. really cut into Iran's oil exports last year when it ramped up sanctions. Another round has come in just this month, and that's really hammering Iran. So they're really worried about the economic impact here.

KING: What are you going to be watching for next?

MYRE: A couple things - what is the exact nature of this threat? We still don't know. Iran has militias in the region, but we don't know what the nature of the threat is. And the U.S. and Iranian forces are in close proximity in the region. A small incident can be miscalculated or misinterpreted.

KING: NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre. Thanks, Greg.

MYRE: Thanks, Noel.

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KING: All right. The state of Alabama is poised to put into place one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the entire country.

MARTIN: Alabama's state Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill last night. It bans nearly all abortions at every stage of pregnancy. To say this bill is controversial is an understatement, really. The only exception to the ban is if a mother's life or the life of the unborn baby is at serious risk.

KING: NPR national correspondent Debbie Elliott has been following all this from Alabama. Debbie, good morning.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So one of the most restrictive laws in the country - what exactly does this - bills, I should say, in the country - what exactly does this legislation say?

ELLIOTT: Well, it criminalizes abortion. It makes it a felony for doctors to perform one, and they could face up to 99 years in prison if they're convicted. Women, however, would not be held criminally liable for having an abortion. This whole idea that there was no exception for rape and incest was really a sticking point in last night's debate in the Alabama Senate, and some Republicans even broke away with the party-line vote to protect victims of rape and incest. Here's Senator Cam Ward.

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CAM WARD: Well, I just - I've heard testimony from both a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old who were both raped incestually by a relative. And I have (ph) a father of daughters, and it just gives me pause. It gives me a lot of pause hearing those stories, hearing what they went through not to have those exceptions on there. And I know there's a legal argument otherwise, but I just personally believe that there should be those exceptions.

ELLIOTT: Now, that legal argument otherwise that he's talking about - sponsors of this bill say they wanted it clean. They want to try to establish legal human rights for a fetus in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which, of course, is the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that established a woman's right to abortion.

KING: OK. So their agenda is pretty clear. Now, this bill overwhelmingly passed through the state Legislature. Now it's up to Governor Kay Ivey to sign it. Is there any chance that she will not?

ELLIOTT: You know, she says she's going to review it before she says anything about it, but she's likely to sign it. She's a conservative politician. She has a record against abortion, and sponsors of the bill say they really expect her support.

KING: Debbie, other states have recently passed restrictive abortion laws - not as restrictive as Alabama's - but Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio. Is this part of a coordinated effort of some sort?

ELLIOTT: Yeah. You're seeing a wave of these laws, particularly in the South and the Midwest - for example, laws that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Courts have already found some of those to be unconstitutional. And now Alabama's legislation is even more restrictive, as you say, at any stage of a pregnancy, and it will be challenged. The ACLU of Alabama has put the state on notice it will sue. But Republican State Senator Clyde Chambliss, who sponsored the bill, says that's the whole point.

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CLYDE CHAMBLISS: What this bill is designed to do is to go to the Supreme Court and challenge that particular precedence that said in 1973 that abortion is legal, on demand essentially anytime, anywhere, for any reason.

ELLIOTT: So anti-abortion groups are saying they believe the makeup of the Supreme Court, with two of President Trump's appointees now, makes this the right time to take on Roe. Abortion providers, meantime, say this is just playing politics with women's lives. Staci Fox of Planned Parenthood Southeast says Alabama politicians will, quote, "live in infamy for this vote." And they say they plan to make sure that every woman knows who to hold accountable should this become law.

KING: All right. So it sounds like it is shaping up at some point for a legal fight.

ELLIOTT: That's what they're hoping.

KING: NPR's national correspondent Debbie Elliott. Debbie, thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome.

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KING: Facebook has just announced a new restriction for its livestreaming features.

MARTIN: Yeah. They announced this change yesterday. And essentially, it says that users of Facebook would be banned from posting on Facebook Live - just for a period of time - if they had violated the company's user rules in some way. And this is coming, of course, after the horrendous attack in New Zealand, the attack on the mosques in Christchurch a couple of months ago. The gunman had livestreamed that massacre. New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, at the time issued a call to address the issue.

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PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: The security risks that we've experienced means that it is time for companies and governments to come together to address the issues we experienced on the 15 of March.

MARTIN: Jacinda Ardern is in Paris today, where she is expected to push governments and also these tech companies to commit to combating the spread of extremism on social media.

KING: Heather Kelly is CNN San Francisco technology editor. She's been following this story carefully. Good morning, Heather.

HEATHER KELLY: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

KING: So this is one change that Facebook is making, but it seems as though it may be significant. Walk us through what exactly is changing about their policy.

KELLY: Sure thing. So it's actually a very narrow and specific new rule that they're kind of enacting here. It is going to only apply to Facebook Live. And they're also being a little vague about it. But anybody who violates certain policies will get kind of a one-strike rule, and immediately, they will be banned from Facebook Live for a set period of time. It sounds like they're going to start with 30 days. A second strike could be longer. And eventually, they could be kicked off of Facebook Live or even Facebook itself. And what's interesting is Facebook isn't actually saying which rules will kind of fall into this. It does say that anybody violating its dangerous organizations and individuals policy could be banned from Facebook Live, and that's essentially anybody that is basically supporting a terrorist organization or posting a link to a terrorist organization, perhaps without enough context to make it really clear where they stand.

KING: Facebook, as Rachel pointed out, says they're doing this because of this massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand. The man who committed those attacks livestreamed them on Facebook. Would these changes have stopped him or someone like him from being able to post? Do we know that?

KELLY: Facebook told me yesterday that this would've actually applied to the shooter. If these rules had been enacted before - he had apparently violated some Facebook rules - we don't know which - previously, and he would have had a ban on his Facebook Live streaming. What's interesting, though, is, you know, hypothetically, if that did happen, he would have known that he would ban - he was banned. He could have started a new account. He could have found a way around it. We don't really know how it would play out in that hypothetical.

KING: Facebook is often slammed for not taking responsibility when things like this happen on its platforms. Does this policy seem to point to a shift in taking responsibility?

KELLY: Again, it's such a narrow policy; it's really hard to read too much into it. It does address one kind of way that somebody might broadcast hate speech on the platform, but there are tons of other ways that people are kind of using Facebook to spread hate speech, conspiracy theories, all sorts of what it kind of calls hateful speech. And it's not really going to address all of those or fix all those. It's just fixing this one situation that happened exactly two months ago.

KING: CNN San Francisco technology editor Heather Kelly joining us via Skype. Heather, thank you so much.

KELLY: Sure thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ASC'S "SIMPLE THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.