- 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)
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.