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Judges Block 3 States From Limiting Abortions During Pandemic

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  • Judges in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama lifted restrictions that were placed on abortion procedures as the coronavirus emergency continues. 
  • The states deemed that all nonessential medical procedures should be postponed as facilities handle the virus, and they either explicitly included abortions in this category or remained unclear. 
  • After abortion clinics and rights groups filed lawsuits, judges across all three states ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on Monday and temporarily blocked the abortion bans. 
  • The groups protesting the bans celebrated, while some state officials threatened to appeal.

Bans Put in Place

Federal judges in Texas, Ohio, and Alabama have blocked restrictions that were set on abortions after the states deemed the procedure nonessential during the coronavirus health crisis. 

Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to postpone all medical procedures that are not immediately necessary in an effort to free up hospital space and equipment for COVID-19 treatment. 

A statement from the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, released the following day, specified that this included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.”  Failure to comply with the order could have led to penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days in jail.

Similar mandates were issued by Ohio and Alabama officials earlier this month. Ohio’s Attorney General Dave Yost issued a letter to several clinics ordering them to temporarily stop providing abortions as well. In Alabama, an order was issued broadly limiting medical procedures during the outbreak. The Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office suggested abortion clinics could face prosecution under this order. 

Hundreds of abortion appointments across these states were canceled following these bans, and legal action was swiftly taken. 

The lawsuit in Texas was filed last week by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing abortion providers in the state.

On Monday, abortion rights groups and providers — including Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — filed lawsuits against officials in Ohio and Alabama to block coronavirus-related abortion bans. 

Similar lawsuits were filed in Iowa and Oklahoma on Monday. 

Abortion Bans Deemed Unconstitutional 

Federal judges sided with the plaintiffs in the Texas, Ohio, and Alabama lawsuits on Monday when they lifted the temporary abortion restrictions in each state. 

Texas came first, when District Court Judge Lee Yeakel granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the ban from affecting abortion clinics across the state. 

“The attorney general’s interpretation of the Executive Order prevents Texas women from exercising what the Supreme Court has declared is their fundamental constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable,” Yeakel wrote.

Yeakel added he would “not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent ‘except-in-a-national-emergency clause'” in its previous abortion rulings.

Yeakel’s order expires on April 13, when he has a hearing scheduled on the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

Later Monday night, Texas Attorney General Paxton said his office would appeal the ruling “to ensure that medical professionals on the frontlines have the supplies and protective gear they desperately need.”

According to a press release Tuesday, Paxton followed through on his word and filed for “immediate appellate review” in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Also on Monday, in Ohio, District Court Judge Michael Barrett sided with abortion rights groups and issued a two-week temporary restraining order on the state’s ban. 

Barrett wrote an abortion ban would cause “irreparable harm” that does not outweigh the state’s reasoning for the order. 

In a statement, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the Health Department’s order was to “save lives in light of the COVID-19 public health emergency” and he will be taking action to achieve that goal, “be it an emergency appeal, a trial on the preliminary injunction, a more specifically drawn order or other remedy.”

Then in Alabama, District Court Judge Myron Thompson ordered the suspension of the state’s ban on abortion until April 13.

“Because Alabama law imposes time limits on when women can obtain abortions, the March 27 order is likely to fully prevent some women from exercising their right to obtain an abortion,” Thompson wrote Monday. 

“And for those women who, despite the mandatory postponement, are able to vindicate their right, the required delay may pose an undue burden that is not justified by the State’s purported rationales,” Thompson added.

Dr. Yashica Robinson, an Alabama OB/ob-gyn and plaintiff in the case, told CNN she was “thrilled” by the decision and criticized the state order as “an attempt to attack access to essential health care under the guise of pandemic response.”

Plaintiffs in the Ohio and Texas cases had similar joyous reactions. 

Chrisse France, the executive director of one of the clinics that received a letter from Yost’s office, told CNN she was “relieved” by the ruling. 

“Everyone deserves to have access to safe, timely care and a delay of only a few weeks can make abortion completely inaccessible,” France said. 

“This ruling sends a message to other states: Using this pandemic to ban abortion access is unconstitutional,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement after the Texas ruling was announced.

Other states, including Kentucky and Mississippi, are also still considering abortions as nonessential procedures during the coronavirus crisis. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Reuters) (CNN)

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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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Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”

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Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.


New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer

Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.

“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”

Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.

Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”

“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.

Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.

Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.

“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”

Mysterious Escape

Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.

Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.

Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.

It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.

During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”

At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.” 

See what others are saying: (CNN) (ABC News) (NPR)

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