- 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.
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.