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Alabama Senate Passes the Nation’s Strictest Abortion Ban

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  • Alabama’s Senate passed the strictest abortion law in the U.S., banning the procedure in all stages of pregnancy and making no exceptions for rape or incest.
  • Opponents say the law is unconstitutional and in direct opposition to Roe V. Wade.
  • However, many of the politicians who pushed this bill did so hoping it would bring the topic of abortion back to the Supreme Court, in an effort to try and overturn the landmark Roe V. Wade decision.

Update: Governor Kay Ivey has now signed the bill into law.

Alabama Law Moves Through Senate

The Alabama State Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that effectively bans abortion in almost all cases, marking what would be the strictest abortion law in the country if signed by Governor Kay Ivey.

The bill was passed by Alabama’s house last month. Gov. Ivey has not publicly indicated her support for it, but many leaders in the state believe she will sign it.

The bill bans abortion in every stage of pregnancy and does not make an exception for cases of rape or incest. It includes three exceptions: if the pregnancy poses a severe risk to the mother’s life, if the pregnancy is ectopic, or if there is a case of lethal fetal anomaly.

The bill also criminalizes abortion procedures. Any doctor who performs it could be charged with felony offenses and land up to 99 years in jail.

Democratic Responses

Democrats quickly condemned the movement of this bill, citing its direct opposition to Roe V. Wade, which is the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed women’s constitutional right to choose. The bill’s critics include 2020 candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called the ban “dangerous and exceptionally cruel.”

Fellow presidential runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) called the bill “unconstitutional.”

Democrats in Alabama also spoke in opposition of the legislation headed for its governor. State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-AL) went on CNN and called the bill “horrible.”

“I think that we raped women last night,” said Singleton. “We made women of Alabama the model of the new Roe v. Wade. I think that this is just a horrible bill.”

“I hate to think the fact that if someone would rape my daughter at 12 years old,” Singleton continued, “that is just sad to tell my daughter that she had to carry that baby for nine months here in the state of Alabama and look that rapist in the face for the rest of her life.”

On the Senate’s floor, Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-AL) also spoke out against the legislation her colleagues were passing.

“You don’t have to raise that child,” she said while debating a male Republican senator. “You don’t have to carry that child. You don’t have to provide for that child. You don’t have to do anything for that child — but yet, you want to make the decision for that woman, that that’s what she has to do.”

Alabama Republicans Support Bill

Republicans in the state spoke in defense of the legislation. Alabama State Sen. Clyde Chambliss (R-AL) said, “This bill has the opportunity to save the lives of millions of unborn children.”

Alabama’s Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-AL) said this bill aimed to speak on behalf of the beliefs of the state’s residents.

“Alabamians stand firmly on the side of life,” he said in a statement.

State Rep. Terri Collins (R-AL) said that this legislation is about more than just the laws it will enact in the state of Alabama. After the vote, she said it was about creating a larger debate around Roe V. Wade.

“This bill is about challenging Roe v. Wade and protecting the lives of the unborn, because an unborn baby is a person who deserves love and protection,” she said.

What Challenging Roe V. Wade Looks Like

Having states pass abortion laws with the intent of challenging Roe V. Wade is nothing new. Several states have recently proposed or passed abortion legislation knowing that it will likely be challenged in court.  

Both Ohio and Georgia recently joined Mississippi and Kentucky in passing fetal heartbeat bills, which ban abortion after a heartbeat can be detected. This happens around six weeks into a pregnancy, which opponents of the laws note is often before many women even know they are pregnant.

Organizations have already promised to take these to court. On Wednesday, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the bill in Ohio.

Legal experts argue that a lot of these laws could be appealed, and could end up in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Since the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court now swings in conservative favor with five right-wing justices and four liberal justices. This could mean that if the topic of abortion were to be brought to the Supreme Court, it is possible that Roe V. Wade may not be held up.

So, what would happen if Roe V. Wade were to be overturned? Well, a full and complete reversal of Roe V. Wade would likely not happen overnight. It would take years for a case to really land in the hands of the Supreme Court. However, the court could make a series of decisions that slowly chip away at it, and severely limit abortion rights.

To see the most severe results possible, let’s take a look at the country without Roe V. Wade. Overturning the ruling would not make abortion illegal nationwide, rather, abortion would become a state issue.

Some states already have regulations in place in the event that Roe V. Wade is ever overturned, most of which would ban abortion in most cases. According to the Guttmacher Institute, nine states have bans pre-Roe that would be retained, and six others have a post-Roe trigger law that would ban abortion immediately upon its reversal. There are seven states who have expressed intent to severely limit abortion rights.

Ten states would protect abortion rights. Nine would make sure the procedure is legal up to the point of viability, while one would protect the right throughout a full pregnancy.

As for whether or not Americans want Roe V. Wade upheld, a Fox News poll back in February showed general support for it. About 57 percent of responders said they wanted to let the ruling stand, while 21 percent said they wanted it overturned.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Reuters) (Washington Post)

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FDA Finds Violations and Unsanitary Conditions at Emergent J&J Plant as Lawmakers Open Investigations

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  • The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that it found numerous safety violations at Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant responsible for ruining more than 15 million Johnson & Johnson Vaccines.
  • The FDA said it watched security footage of employees ignoring cross-contamination protocols and improperly handling medical waste. It also found brown and black residue on the floors and walls of the plant, respectively. 
  • Separately, top House Democrats launched an investigation into how Emergent won contracts to manufacture two COVID-19 vaccines and whether or not those contracts were the result of an improper relationship between the plant and a former Trump administration official.
  • Democrats are also investigating Emergent’s role as the country’s only provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.

The FDA’s Unforgiving Report

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a damning inspection report Wednesday on Emergent Biosolutions, the Baltimore manufacturing plant that ruined 15 million Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

Among a multitude of violations, inspectors workers hadn’t been properly trained. They also found that medical waste had been improperly handled, saying “such waste was transported through the warehouse before disposal and has the potential to contaminate the warehouse and adjacent areas.”

For example, it found that employees had used their gloved hands to put waste into bags, that they drug the waste through hallways, and that they even allowed it to touch walls.

Made worse was the fact that the FDA found peeling paint on the walls of several sensitive work areas, with inspectors noting that they found paint flecks all along the floors around the walls. As the agency reported, that peeling — as well as additional wall damage — “impacts the firms’ ability to adequately clean and disinfect the area.”

Moreover, inspectors said they found an unknown brown residue attached to the walls, as well as a black residue on the floor.

Through reviewing security footage, inspectors said workers repeatedly failed to follow procedures that were meant to prevent vaccine cross-contamination.

Notably, that backs up information that had been previously reported, particularly that those 15 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines were ruined because of cross-contamination with AstraZeneca’s vaccine. That said, it’s important to note that none of those vaccines were ever distributed to the public because the FDA never gave the plant approval to do so.

It’s possible that the report also describes the event that specifically led to the vaccine cross-contamination, as it mentions that through security footage, it watched an employee travel from one area of the plant where one vaccine was being made, to another area of the plant where the other vaccine was being made — all without that employee changing their protective gear. 

With that finding, the FDA said Emergent didn’t properly investigate its workers’ movements as a potential cause of contamination. More broadly, it also noted that even after the plant was made aware of the contamination, it only performed routine cleaning and didn’t take further decontamination steps.

Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role in Winning Vaccine Contracts

Alongside the FDA’s recent report, top House Democrats have now launched an investigation into how Emergent won several multi-million dollar contracts.

Those lawmakers are specifically looking into what role Dr. Robert Kadlec played in helping the company obtain the contract and if it was influenced by Kadlec’s previous role as a consultant for Emergent. 

Kadlec was the assistant secretary for preparedness and response under former President Donald Trump, and as this group of Democrats alleges, Kadlec “appears to have pushed for this award despite indications that Emergent did not have the ability to reliably fulfill the contract.”

Those Democrats went on to say that after Kadlec’s confirmation, Emergent obtained millions in contracts from his agency — including some that “were awarded without competitive bidding.” In fact, the Trump administration ultimately awarded $628 million to the plant, even though it had fallen short on federal investigations.

Emergent also reportedly tried to encourage oversight of the stockpile to be shifted from the CDC to an office under Kadlec’s control. 

“We are concerned by the costs to taxpayers and the potential impact on our nation’s vaccination efforts caused by Emergent’s failed attempts to manufacture these vaccines,” the Democrats said. 

Congress Investigates Emergent’s Role as Sole Anthrax Provider

It doesn’t end there. Those lawmakers are also looking into Emergent’s role as the country’s sole provider of the anthrax vaccine in the Strategic National Stockpile.

“Emergent has raised the government purchasing price of the anthrax vaccine by 800% since acquiring the drug in 1998,” they said. “As a result, through most of the last decade, nearly half of the SNS’s budget has been spent purchasing Emergent’s anthrax vaccine.” 

When Emergent acquired that anthrax vaccine license in 1998, the vaccine was selling for about $3.35 a dose. Today, it’s over $30.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (CNBC)

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Ohio Police Fatally Shoot Black Teenage Girl

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  • Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl, was fatally shot by a Columbus police officer Tuesday afternoon.
  • Police released body camera footage that appears to show Bryant lunging at two other women with a knife before the officer opened fire.
  • Members of Bryant’s family disputed parts of the police department’s version of events, including Bryant’s aunt, who said the teen called police and was trying to defend herself from people who had come to her foster and threatened her with physical assault.
  • The incident came just before a Minnesota jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, exacerbating frustrations over repeated police killings of Black people in America.  

Ma’Khia Bryant Shot by Police

Columbus police shot and killed a Black teenage girl Tuesday, shortly before the verdict against Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, adding tension to existing conversations about excessive use of force from police against Black people.

The girl was identified as 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant by a spokesperson for Franklin County Children’s Services, who said she had been in foster care. 

During a news conference late Tuesday night, Columbus police said the shooting happened after they received a 911 call around 4:30 from someone who said that women were trying to stab them before hanging up.

The law enforcement officials also played segments of body camera footage from the officer who fired the shots, which they said showed the victim lunging at two others with a knife.

In the graphic video, the officer is seen getting out of his car as Bryant appears to chase someone who falls onto the sidewalk. She then lunges at another person, and the officer yells “get down” three times before quickly firing at least four shots at the teenager.

Bryant collapses on the ground, and the bodycam video shows a knife next to her as officers attempt CPR. People at the scene immediately start screaming, and one man can be heard yelling, “You didn’t have to shoot her! She’s just a kid, man!”

“She had a knife,” the officer responds. “She just went at her.”

Police officials said Bryant was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Notably, they did not identify the officer who shot her, though they did say he would be pulled off patrol duty while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation conducts an inquiry.

Some of Bryant’s family members contradicted elements of the police report. Her aunt, Hazel Bryant, told The Daily Beast that adult women had come to the foster home and started an altercation with her niece, who called the police.

Hazel claimed that Ma’Khia grabbed the knife to defend herself and was fending off a physical assault when the police arrived. She also told a local outlet that the teenager had dropped the knife before she was shot, but the slow-motion capture of the video shown by the police appears to show the knife in her hand at the time.

Protests & Response

According to local reports, shortly after the shooting, a group of roughly 60 people gathered at the site to demonstrate but dispersed around 10 p.m. Others protesters also took the streets of downtown, with many gathering in front of the Columbus Police Department headquarters.

The shooting quickly sparked a widespread response on social media and #MKhiaBryant became a trending Twitter hashtag. Many argued that the shooting, which coincided so closely with the Chauvin verdict, shows that single instances of police accountability do not change systemic problems.

“The emotional contrast between the #DerekChauvinVerdict and the killing of #MaKhiaBryant is exactly why we must not use small wins to justify the end of large fights!” tweeted Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP. “We must stay steadfast in our pursuit of #PoliceAccountability WE NEED #PoliceReformNOW”

Other users also condemned the officer for immediately shooting Bryant instead of trying to de-escalate the situation or use other tactics like a Taser. Some asserted that if police can arrest white men who commit mass shootings without killing them, they can do the same for a Black teenager with a knife.

“In a world where the police can safely apprehend white male mass shooters. I would really like to know why a trained police officer assumed that the only way to deescalate a fight, where a 16 year old black girl had a knife, was to immediately shoot her dead,” one user wrote.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Daily Beast) (The Columbus Dispatch)

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USDA Extends Free Meals for All Students Through June 2022

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  • The U.S Department of Agriculture will extend free meals for kids at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.
  • The move will bring much-needed relief to families across the country as an estimated 12 million children are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The extension also gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems without having to scramble to process a massive influx of free lunch applications at the start of the year.

USDA Call for Free Lunch Extension

The U.S Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that it will extend free meals for children at schools and daycare facilities through the 2021-2022 school year.

In the early days of COVID-19 last March, the USDA implemented Child Nutrition waivers that cut through barriers to allow kids to eat free even outside of normal school settings and meal times.

Those waivers also allowed schools the flexibility to adapt their own programs to better meet the needs of their families. For instance, they allowed parents to do a curbside pickup of multiple days of food at once for students learning from home, even without the student being present. In many cases, they allowed for meals to be dropped off at a student’s home if they continue to learn virtually part- or full-time.

The USDA even increased the school’s meal reimbursement budgets to allow for healthier options and cover bigger costs that came due to added transportation and labor, as well as pandemic-related supply shortages for to-go boxes, Personal Protective Equipment, and more.

These waivers were only supposed to last until Sept. 30, which left a ton of families uncertain about what to do after that as many continue to struggle financially.

Helps Remove Extra Burdens

Now, the extension will bring much-needed relief to families across the country because according to the USDA, an estimated 12 million kids are experiencing food insecurity amid the coronavirus pandemic.

While celebrating more free meals for students, school nutrition groups have also pointed to the fact that this gives schools time to prepare and improve their current meal distribution systems after the surge in need this current school term.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations for the School Nutrition Association, the trade group for school food-service manufacturers and professionals, told The Washington Post, “Schools aren’t going to have to scramble to collect applications from families that are eligible.

“At the start of every school year, this is a huge task for administrators to collect and process the applications, a task made bigger because during the pandemic there are more families eligible who may never have applied before.”

It also means fewer “touch points” like keypads that take pin numbers to prove free meal eligibility. 

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (The Washington Post) (EdSource)

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