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Texas and Ohio Move to Halt Abortions During COVID Outbreak

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  • Texas has announced that non-urgent medical procedures and surgeries must be halted as hospitals respond to the coronavirus, including abortion as one of the impacted medical services.
  • Ohio leaders made the same call, but providers like Planned Parenthood believed the wording in letters they received still allow them to provide the procedure.
  • Pro-choice advocates believe that abortion should be considered essential because it is a time-sensitive and non-elective procedure.
  • But those in favor of the mandates in Texas and Ohio believe this is necessary to help increase care capacity for coronavirus patients.

Texas Pauses Abortion Access

States like Texas and Ohio are listing abortion as one of the non essential medical procedures and surgeries that must be delayed while hospitals respond to the coronavirus outbreak.

On Sunday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an order to postpone medical procedures that were not immediately necessary in order to increase hospital bed capacity. The following day, the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement saying that this includes “procedures that are not immediately medically necessary such as orthopedic surgeries or any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demands for hospital beds and has created a shortage of personal protective equipment needed to protect health care professionals and stop transmission of the virus,” the statement further explained. According to Paxton’s office, postponing these procedures will free up these tools so they can be used for doctors and patients facing problems created by COVID-19. Any failure to comply with this order can lead to penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.

Ohio’s Mandate

Texas is not the only state to make a mandate of this nature. Over the weekend, Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost sent a letter to Women’s Med Center and a Planned Parenthood chapter saying they, too, had to stop abortions for the time being. 

“You and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions,” the letter said, according to CBS News, which obtained a copy. “Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.”

Yost’s letter did not state specific punishments but did say that if facilities do not follow these instructions, “the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures.”

However, some providers found the language in Yost’s mandate flexible enough for them to still be able to carry out abortions. Planned Parenthood’s Southwest Ohio Region chapter released a statement saying they would still be providing the service. 

We are complying with the Ohio Department of Health’s order regarding personal protective equipment, which requires hospitals and surgical facilities to stop providing non-essential surgeries and procedures and take other steps to reduce the use of equipment,” they wrote. “Under that order, Planned Parenthood can still continue providing essential procedures, including surgical abortion.”

Uncertainty in Other States

Other states have taken measure to pause non essential healthcare, including Maryland. In terms of abortion, Maryland did not make it clear if abortion was deemed non essential or not. According to a Washington Post reporter, when Governor Larry Hogan was questioned about whether or not it did, he “appeared to say yes.”

There have been no specific clarifications on this, though. His office also made remarks suggesting that he would not be the deciding factor on whether or not this measure includes abortion.

Louisiana was also among the many states putting a hold on non emergency procedures, and a pro-life organization in the state said this would stop abortions at one of the few remaining providers in the state. The Center for Reproductive rights denied this and said that clinic was in fact still open.

Responses 

Putting abortion access on the chopping block during an already politically tense moment has led to frustration for many. Some believe that cutting back on the procedure is an unproductive solution to helping care core COVID-19 because only 4% of abortions are done at hospitals, according to the Abortion Care Network.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology also released a joint statement defending access to abortion during these times. Their message was put out before states like Texas and Ohio announced their plans in hopes of preventing states from taking these measures. 

“Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care,” the joint statement read. “It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, an organization at the center of a major ongoing Supreme Court case, also released a statement condemning these kinds of rules. 

“Emergency actions during a global pandemic should advance health and safety for us all, not force people to delay much-needed care and possibly exacerbate their health situations by doing so,” Miller wrote. “Patients cannot wait until this pandemic is over to receive safe abortion care.”

On the other side, some pro-life advocates think temporarily banning the procedure is necessary to help treat coronavirus patients. Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life told the New York Times that when Texas made this mandate, leaders were not “singling out any particular procedure or any segment of the health care industry.”

“The bottom line is, these abortions must be delayed,” he said. 

Pro-Life Louisiana released a statement of their own, encouraging abortion providers to not give the service. 

“We suggest that instead of fighting Louisiana emergency health and safety regulations, the abortion facilities pitch in to fight COVID-19 and its effects by donating much-needed personal protection equipment to local emergency rooms,” it wrote. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (The Hill)

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Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices

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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)

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Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances

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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)

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U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide

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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.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)

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