First Thing: Anti-abortion mega-donors pour money into Alabama supreme court race

<span>Veronica Wehby-Upchurch and son Ladner Upchurch join hundreds of campaigners at a protest rally for IVF legislation.</span><span>Photograph: Mickey Welsh/AP</span>
Veronica Wehby-Upchurch and son Ladner Upchurch join hundreds of campaigners at a protest rally for IVF legislation.Photograph: Mickey Welsh/AP

Good morning.

A group connected to anti-abortion billionaire Trump mega-donors has funneled more than half a million dollars to an Alabama supreme court judicial candidate who said “embryos were human beings whose lives begin at fertilization”.

Alabama’s supreme court was thrust into the limelight earlier this month when eight of the court’s nine justices ruled that embryos created for in vitro fertilization (IVF) were “extrauterine children” in the eyes of the law.

The decision forced three of the state’s eight fertility clinics to stop providing advanced treatments, infuriated doctors, and left hundreds of would-be parents with few options for continuing treatment. At least one company that ships frozen embryos has paused business in the state, making it difficult to ship existing embryos elsewhere.

Donald Trump, now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has attempted to back away from the Alabama supreme court’s ruling. Trump reportedly sees extreme abortion bans as a threat to Republican victories. Republicans more broadly have struggled to respond to the decision.

  • Who is funding the candidate? The group funding Bryan Taylor, Fair Courts America, is connected to the anti-abortion mega-donors Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein. Fair Courts America represents the only outside group donating in Alabama’s upcoming primary race for supreme court chief justice, scheduled to take place next week.

Supreme court to hear Trump immunity claim in election interference case

The US supreme court agreed yesterday to take up the unprecedented claim that Donald Trump has absolute immunity from prosecution in the criminal case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, throwing into jeopardy whether it goes to trial before the 2024 election.

The justices set oral arguments for the week of 22 April to consider a recent ruling by a three-judge panel at the US court of appeals for the DC circuit, which categorically rejected Trump’s immunity claim in a decision earlier this month.

Trump’s criminal case will remain on hold until the supreme court rules on the matter, inserting it into the politically charged position of potentially influencing whether Trump will go to trial before the presidential election in November.

The unsigned order said the court intended to address at oral arguments “whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office”.

  • What else is happening? An Illinois state judge on Wednesday barred Trump from appearing on the Illinois Republican presidential primary ballot because of his role in the attack at the US Capitol on January 6, but she delayed her ruling from taking effect in light of an expected appeal.

‘War crimes committed by all parties,’ says UN rights chief

The UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, said war crimes had been committed by all parties in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, calling for them to be investigated.

“Clear violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, including war crimes and possibly other crimes under international law, have been committed by all parties,” Turk told the UN human rights council in Geneva. “It is time – well past time – for peace, investigation and accountability,” he added.

Türk, who was presenting a report on the human rights situation in Gaza and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said his office had recorded “many incidents that may amount to war crimes by Israeli forces” and there were also indications that Israeli forces have engaged in “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” in violation of international law.

He said Palestinian armed groups launching indiscriminate projectiles across southern Israel and the holding of hostages also violated international humanitarian law.

  • What is the US doing about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza? The US is considering airdropping aid into Gaza from US military planes because the deliveries of essentials into the area has become more difficult, according to a US official

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will step down as Republican leader in the US Senate at the end of this year, a move that will shake up US politics yet more in a tumultuous election cycle.

McConnell is 82 and the longest-serving Senate leader in history. He is also a highly divisive figure in a bitterly divided US and the subject of fierce speculation about his health after recent scares in public.

Aides said the decision to step aside, which McConnell announced on the Senate floor on Wednesday, was not related to his health.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” McConnell said. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

  • Who are the contenders to replace McConnell? His announcement opens the way for a likely contest between three Johns; the senators John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming. It is unclear which other senators could jump into the race.

In other news …

  • Ultra-processed food (UPF) is directly linked to 32 harmful effects to health, including a higher risk of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, adverse mental health and early death, according to the world’s largest review of its kind. In the US, more than half the average diet now consists of ultra-processed food.

  • Richard Lewis, Larry David’s co-star in Curb Your Enthusiasm and a beloved standup comedian, has died at the age of 76. Lewis said last year that he had Parkinson’s disease and was stepping off the standup stage. He died peacefully at his home after a heart attack, according to his publicist.

  • The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has said the west is attempting to “destroy us” and to “contain our development” in his annual address to parliament. He said: “They are absolutely determined to introduce division among us and weaken us.”

  • Four men go on trial today accused of involvement in the 2018 terrorist attack on Strasbourg’s Christmas market, in which a gunman killed five people and injured 11 others in an assault that was later claimed by Islamic State. The four French men, aged between 34 and 43, are accused of involvement by helping to procure weapons.

Stat of the day: ‘Biden needs to be pro-peace’ – Michigan anti-war campaign hails huge vote tally

A last-minute push by anti-war activists to reject Joe Biden over his steadfast support for Israel far exceeded expectations in the Michigan Democratic party primary on Tuesday night. Leaders from the grassroots campaign, called Listen to Michigan, said ahead of the primary that they would count 10,000 “uncommitted” votes – roughly Trump’s winning margin in Michigan eight years ago – as a victory. Instead they surpassed that goal by an order of magnitude, earning the support of more than 100,000 Democrats who checked the “uncommitted” box, and 13% of votes overall. That should weigh heavily on Democrats, who could lose the pivotal state – and even the presidency – in November if these sentiments persist.

Don’t miss this: Risotto crisis – the fight to save Italy’s beloved dish from extinction

Italy is Europe’s largest rice producer, growing about 50% of the rice produced in the EU. Most of its rice fields are in the Po valley, which stretches across much of the north of the country. It is in these fields that the unique risotto rice varieties, such as carnaroli and arborio, are grown. In 2022, the worst drought in 200 years hit the Po, Italy’s longest river. That year, Italy lost 26,000 hectares (64,000 acres) of rice fields and rice production dropped by more than 30%. Last year, the drought persisted and the crop from another 7,500 hectares of rice fields was lost. New rice varieties are offering a glimmer of hope but none are yet suitable for use in the traditional risotto recipe, writes Ottavia Spaggiari.

Climate check: ‘A Trojan horse of legitimacy’ – Shell launches a ‘climate tech’ startup advertising jobs in oil and gas

A sleek new startup promising to “advance the energy transition” launched earlier this month promising to “[connect] thousands of innovators across the globe to tackle difficult energy and climate challenges”. The venture, Onward, is owned by Shell, a company that brought in $28bn in profits from oil and gas last year. The company’s website says it is “accelerating pathways to energy innovation” and creating a “compelling, evidence-based picture of the benefits of a net-zero future”. However, despite an abundance of green imagery and language, much of the platform, which until recently was called Studio X, appears to focus on improving oil and gas outcomes, an analysis by Drilled and the Guardian has found.

Last Thing: Pigs don’t fly – Louisiana piglet rescued after being thrown in Mardi Gras

A piglet that was rescued after being tossed like a football near a Mardi Gras event in New Orleans was “pardoned” yesterday and has found a permanent home with a Louisiana lawmaker. The weeks-old pig – dubbed Earl “Piglet” Long, a play on the name of the 45th governor of Louisiana – was ceremoniously pardoned by the lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser, on the Louisiana State Capitol steps.

“He will live out his life without any threat of being thrown like a football or being part of jambalaya or boudin in someone’s kitchen here in Louisiana,” Nungesser said.

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