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Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Louisiana Abortion Law

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  • The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in June Medical v. Russo, the first major abortion case that will be heard by Trump’s appointees.
  • The case centers around a Louisiana law that says doctors cannot provide abortion services unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they provide care.
  • In 2016, the court ruled against a very similar Texas law in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
  • If the court sides with the law, there would likely only be one doctor left in Lousiana who could provide abortions.

June Medical v. Russo

The Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in what could be a historic case stemming from a controversial abortion law in Lousiana.

The law, known as Act 620, says doctors cannot provide abortion services unless they have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they provide care. Louisiana already has some of the strictest abortion laws in the United States. Currently, there are only three clinics in the state. If this law survives the court, there would likely only be one doctor in Louisiana who could provide abortions.

This case, June Medical v. Russo, is the first major abortion case being heard by the current makeup of the Supreme Court, including Trump’s appointees, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In 2016, the court heard a case involving a very similar law in Texas. It had the same rule about admitting privileges within 30 miles, but also included a piece mandating that clinics need facilities comparable to a surgical center. That case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, ended with the court ruling that the law was unconstitutional.

“The Court concluded that there ‘exists’ an ‘undue burden’ on a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the decision, “and consequently a provision of law is constitutionally invalid, if the ‘purpose or effect’ of the provision ‘is to place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.’” 

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt was considered a major win for abortion rights activists, but this win is now in jeopardy as the new Supreme Court makeup could lead to an opposite ruling in June Medical v. Russo.

SCOTUS Hears Arguments

The case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt brought up a lot in Wednesday’s arguments. Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Murrillo argued in favor of Act 620 and maintained that the law was not identical to the law in Texas, thus warranting a different decision.

“The law was different, the facts are different,” she said. “The regulatory structure is different. And the record is different. And all of those things dictated a different result.” 

Chief Justice John Roberts pressed her on if there were real differences in these laws state to state. Murrill insisted that the law “serves a greater benefit” in this case. 

She also said the law serves to protect the safety of women who could potentially face complications after an abortion. She said it is justified by “abundant evidence of life-threatening health and safety violations, malpractice, noncompliance with professional licensing rules, legislative testimony from post-abortive women, testimony from doctors who took care of abortion providers’ abandoned patients.”

On the other side, Julie Rikelman argued against the law as the representation for June Medical Services. She maintained that abortion in Louisiana is a low-risk procedure and that these extra measures do not need to be taken. 

“Abortion in Louisiana in the years before the law was extremely safe, with a very low rate of complications,” she explained. 

She also said that if something were to go wrong, patients are usually not in a situation that would be aided by this law. 

When complications do occur, it’s almost always after the woman [has left] the clinic,” she said.

As for Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, Rikelman claimed that the cases were the same and that the 2016 decision should be respected in this case. 

“This case is about respect for the Court’s precedent,” she said before explaining that the law does not have any medical benefit or support from the medical community.

“Nothing, however, has changed that would justify such a legal about-face,” she said. “In fact, even more medical organizations have joined the [American Medical Association] and [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] to say that admitting privileges impose barriers to abortion with no benefit to patients and that this impact is not state dependent.” 

After arguments were made, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, gave a statement further supporting the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision. 

“The arguments made clear that we are re-fighting a legal issue that we have already won and we’re refighting that legal issue because Louisiana is in open defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Whole Woman’s Health case,” she wrote. 

Pro-life advocates also spoke publicly about the case.

“We’re are excited to stand proudly alongside Louisiana women who are making sure their voices are heard because they have been hurt by the abortion industry,” Alexandra Seghers, director of education at Louisiana Right to Life told NBC.

Activists Gather in D.C.

As arguments were ongoing, pro-abortion activists gathered outside the Supreme Court to protest Act 620 in Louisiana and urge the court to deem it unconstitutional. Celebrities like Busy Philipps and Elizabeth Banks attended and spoke in front of the crowd. 

“Today we are taking the opportunity to present reproductive freedom, including abortion, for exactly what it is: no less than liberty itself,” Banks said. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer Sparks Controversy

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) also spoke in front of the pro-choice activists, which led to a spat between him and other politicians. Some thought his statements were threatening to the court. 

“Republican legislatures are waging a war on women, all women. And they’re taking away fundamental rights,” Schumer said to the crowd. “I want to tell you, Gorsuch; I want to tell you, Kavanaugh: You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.” 

Chief Justice Roberts issued a statement following this condemning the remarks. 

“Justices know that criticism comes with the territory, but threatening statements of this sort from the highest levels of government are not only inappropriate, they are dangerous,” he wrote. 

President Donald Trump also tweeted about Schumer’s comments, saying the Senator must “pay a severe price for this!”

On Thursday morning, Schumer expressed regret for his words on the Senate floor.

“I should not have used the words I used yesterday. They didn’t come out the way I intended them to,” he said. “In no way was I making a threat. I never — never — would do such a thing.”

A decision for June Medical v. Russo is not expected until June. Right now, it is unclear which direction it will lean in, though many speculate the justices will stand by the Louisiana law. The Center for Reproductive Rights, however, told BuzzFeed News that they were hopeful. Rikelman also told them that she was “cautiously optimistic.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vox) (New Yorker)

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College Board Changes AP African American Studies After Backlash From DeSantis Amid Education Culture War

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As requested by DeSantis, the College Board removed lessons on contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and reparations.


College Board Rolls Out Curriculum

The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement high school courses, announced an official curriculum framework for its new, landmark Advanced Placement African American studies on Wednesday.

The announcement, made on the first day of Black History Month, has faced scrutiny for seeming to scale back a number of relevant subjects that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state education officials had criticized.

In January, DeSantis said that the new course would be banned in Florida unless changes were made, arguing that a draft version of the course was “woke.” 

Education officials claimed that the class, which had been in the making for nearly a decade, violated a recent state law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation regulates public school instruction on race by banning critical race theory and any education that describes some groups as oppressed and others as privileged based on race or sex.

Democrats denounced DeSantis’ action as a political stunt and urged the College Board to maintain its principles.

According to reports, many historical topics like slavery largely remain intact from the previous draft. However, important contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer studies, reparations, and intersectionality — all of which Florida leaders objected to — were removed from curriculum requirements and are no longer part of the AP exam.

Instead, those areas of study have been downgraded to be part of a list of options students can pursue for a mandatory research project. The College Board also added a new research project idea to that list that will certainly please the right: “Black conservatism.”

It has additionally been reported that the organization pulled names of multiple Black authors the state education officials had flagged as problematic, including many famous and pioneering Black scholars who wrote about critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism. 

The College Board defended itself against criticism in a press release announcing the changes, claiming that the process of developing the framework “has operated independently from political pressure.”

DeSantis’ Ongoing Culture War

DeSantis’ attempts to influence the national curriculum of an AP course are just his latest in a much broader effort to control what is and is not taught in public schools.

Just one day before the College Board announced the revised course, the governor outlined what The New York Times described as “his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment.”

Specifically, he proposed a massive overhaul to higher education in the state that would defund and eliminate diversity and equity programs, mandate courses on Western civilization, and reduce tenure protections that are essential to ensure professors have freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the effects of another law DeSantis signed last year are now just beginning to materialize. The policy, which went into effect this July, requires every school book to be age-appropriate, “free of pornography,” and “suited to student needs.” 

To follow those guidelines, school books have to be approved by a certified media specialist who has undergone specific training.

Notably, the law also states that teachers can be charged with third-degree felonies if they “knowingly or unknowingly” give students access to a book that the specialists say is harmful — meaning that they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Last month, the state education department clarified that the rule does not just apply to school libraries, but also to any books a teacher keeps in their classroom too. 

Multiple outlets reported this week that records they obtained show at least two school districts have now directed teachers to either remove their books or hide them until review to avoid the possibility of going to jail.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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Biden Announces Plan to End COVID Emergency in May

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The decision would drastically change the government’s long-standing pandemic response and shift Americans’ access to COVID-related services.


Emergency Declarations at an End

In a statement Monday, The White House announced that it would be ending the COVID national emergency and public health emergency declarations on May 11.

The move will entirely restructure the federal government’s response to the pandemic to treat it as endemic and upend policies that have been in place for the last three years. Although more than 500 people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID on average each day — which is around two times the number of daily deaths during a bad flu season — life has largely returned to normal.

Most Americans are vaccinated, and even President Joe Biden himself said the pandemic was “over” back in September. The new announcement comes in part as a response to resolutions Republicans brought to the House floor last week that would end the declarations immediately.

“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House argued.

Lapses in Coverage and Care

Federal officials decided that a phase-out would make more sense because the U.S. has come to rely on several systems and benefits under the emergencies.

One of the most significant changes that will have the biggest impact on Americans in their day-to-day lives is access to COVID tests, treatments, and vaccines that have been free throughout the pandemic.

Once the emergencies end, a very complex wave of changes will take place that differs from person to person depending on their insurance — or lack thereof — and even possibly what state they live in.

Currently, people with private health insurance or Medicare coverage have been allowed eight free COVID tests a month and insurers had to cover those tests, even if they were administered out of network.

Once the emergency ends, some Americans will have to pay out of pocket, as well as for antiviral COVID treatments like Paxlovid. 

Notably, it has been reported that vaccines will still be included for all those people covered by both private and public insurance. That, however, may not be the case for those without insurance — a group that is also more likely to be the most affected by rising costs for tests and treatments.

Jen Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told The Washington Post that when the emergency declarations end, states that opted to provide Medicaid coverage for tests, treatments, and shots will lose the federal funds that matched costs at 100%.

“To me, that’s the biggest issue for the general public to think about,” she said. “The uninsured and underinsured have no guaranteed access to covid vaccines, tests or treatments.”

When it comes to vaccines, those costs could be significant. Moderna and Pfizer have both said they might charge as much as $130 per dose of vaccine once the federal government stops paying and the shots are transitioned to the private market. That figure is nearly quadruple what federal offices have paid for the doses.

The shift to the private market could happen fairly soon, especially because Republicans have refused Biden’s request that they put billions of dollars towards additional free COVID testing and shots to extend those efforts.

There could also be a spike in the number of uninsured or underinsured Americans because the $1.7 trillion spending bill passed last year ends a rule that banned states from kicking people off Medicaid, leaving millions at risk of losing coverage.

Other Possible Outcomes

Ending the declarations could also set up a battle around immigration because the Biden administration has said the move will bring an end to Title 42 — the Trump-era public health measure that placed restrictions on border crossings and other migrant policies.

Biden has previously tried to cut the program, but the Supreme Court kept it in place. House Republicans rejected the White House’s claim that the program would be terminated, arguing it is not tied to the public health emergency.

Beyond that, the termination of the declarations would require health providers to make numerous adjustments because many of the flexibilities they were allowed in a number of areas would be cut. 

As a result, the administration says a phase-out of those policies over the next few months is necessary, arguing that hospitals and nursing homes “will be plunged into chaos” if they are cut immediately. House Republicans, however, are insistent on moving forward their legislation that would do just that, though the Democratic-controlled Senate could block their proposals.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates

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The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.


Same War, New Battlefield

Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.

Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.

Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.

Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources. 

Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.

According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.

Xbox Under Fire

To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture. 

While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.

“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.

“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,”  Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.

Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”

The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.”  That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want

Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).

“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.

The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.

“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)

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