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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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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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Employers Can Opt-Out of Birth Control Coverage, SCOTUS Rules

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  • In a Wednesday ruling, the Supreme Court decided 7-2 that employers can opt-out of birth control coverage on religious grounds.
  • Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees. Exceptions had initially been made to houses of worship, but a 2018 Trump Administration rule expanded that to include most employers, ranging from large public businesses to universities.
  • The court sided with Trump, ruling that his administration had the authority to provide religious exemptions.
  • Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor cast the two dissenting votes, claiming it could harm healthcare access for women in the workforce.

SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court sided with the Trump administration on Wednesday morning, ruling that employers can opt-out of providing birth control coverage on religious and moral grounds

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers have been required to cover cost-free contraception to their employees, though exemptions were made for houses of worship who could refuse for religious reasons. Exemptions grew in 2014 when Hobby Lobby won a Supreme Court case ruling that certain closely held corporations, like family businesses, could also refuse birth control coverage if it contradicted their religious beliefs. 

Wednesday’s ruling pertained to a 2018 Trump administration policy that would allow most employers – ranging from small private businesses, to universities, to large public companies – to opt-out of contraception coverage for religious reasons. That rule was challenged by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which claimed they would have to cover contraception costs to those who lost coverage under the Trump administration. 

The court’s decision responded to two cases: Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania and Trump v. Pennsylvania. In a 7-2 ruling, they sided with Trump. The two dissenting votes came from Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. 

Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote the opinion, said that the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”

“It is clear from the face of the statute that the contraceptive mandate is capable of violating the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],” he added.

Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote a concurring opinion, claimed that the administration was “required by RFRA to create the religious exemption (or something very close to it).”

Ginsberg’s Dissent

This could leave as many as 126,000 women without access to contraception within a year. According to Planned Parenthood, nine out of ten women will seek access to contraception at some point in their lives. While birth control is often used as a contraceptive, it is also used for a variety of other health reasons, including regulating menstrual cycles, lowering risks for various forms of cancer, and managing migraines, endometriosis and other ailments. 

“This Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets,” Ginsberg wrote in the dissent. 

Ginsberg claimed that the court’s usually balanced approach of not allowing “the religious beliefs of some to overwhelm the rights and interests of others who do not share those beliefs” was thrown away. 

“Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests,” she added.

Responses to Ruling

She was not alone in critiquing the rulings. The National Women’s Law Center called it “invasive, archaic, and dangerous.” The Center fears the ruling could have a larger impact on low wage workers, people of color, and LGBTQ people. 

Dr. Daniel Grossman, the head of a research group at the University of California, San Francisco called Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health also condemned the decision.

“No employer is welcome into the exam room when I talk to patients about their contraception options, why should they be able to dictate the method from their corner office?” he asked. 

On the other side, Tony Perkins, the President of the Family Research Council applauded the Supreme Court. 

“It should be common sense to allow a religious group to conduct themselves according to their religious convictions, and yet government agents have tried to punish them with obtuse fines for doing just that,” Perkins said in a statement. “We are pleased to see the Supreme Court still recognizes religious freedom.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Associate Press) (New York Times)

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