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Federal Judges Block “Fetal Heartbeat” Laws in Two States, Limit Restrictions on Abortion Pills

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  • A federal judge blocked Georgia’s controversial “fetal heartbeat” law, which bans abortions after six weeks, before most people know they are pregnant. 
  • The judge claimed this rule was unconstitutional and was created to “de facto ban abortion.”
  • A similar but even stricter version of this law, which made no exceptions for rape or incest, was also temporarily blocked in Tennessee just an hour after the governor signed it. Now, the rule could only go into effect after a lawsuit filed against the state is heard.
  • In another case, a U.S. District Judge also suspended a rule that required patients to go to a clinic or hospital in order to get an abortion pill. Many thought this was a risk due to the pandemic, and now, for the duration of the public health emergency, people can receive that medication in the mail.

Georgia Law Deemed Unconstitutional

As strict abortion laws across the country continue to pose a threat to Roe v. Wade, three individual court rulings on Monday morning upheld abortion rights across different cases. 

Back in 2019, Georgia passed a “fetal heartbeat” law, which bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Heartbeats can usually be heard six weeks into a pregnancy, however, most people do not even know they are pregnant after just six weeks. Because of this, the legislation was hit with lawsuits and backlash

The law has been held up in court and was temporarily blocked by District Judge Steve C. Jones in October. On Monday morning, Jones officially deemed this law, H.B. 481, unconstitutional. 

“The Court rejects the State Defendants’ argument that the statutory purpose solely concerns ‘promoting fetal well-being,” he wrote, explaining that the context surrounding the law “lends support to Plaintiffs’ argument that the purpose of H.B. 481 was to ban or de facto ban abortion.

Jones also wrote that women have a constitutional liberty to have some freedom to terminate a pregnancy, and he vowed that it was the court’s duty to uphold such liberties. 

The lawsuit was brought forward against the state by lead plaintiff SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, an organization committed to fighting for reproductive rights. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed the suit, along with several other groups. 

“This win is tremendous, and it is also makes a very bold statement,” Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong, said in a statement. “No one should have to live in a world where their bodies and reproductive decision making is controlled by the state. And we will continue to work to make sure that is never a reality in Georgia or anywhere else.”

The Georgia Life Alliance has promised to appeal the ruling. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp also said the fight to “protect the innocent unborn” in the state is not done. 

Tennessee Law Temporarily Blocked

In Tennessee, a similar, but even stricter rule was temporarily blocked by a federal judge just an hour after Governor Bill Lee signed it. This legislation not only banned abortions after six weeks, but it also made no exceptions for rape or incest, and only offering flexibility if the mother’s life was in danger. 

This law also requires doctors to give the mother information about the fetus, allow them to hear a heartbeat, conduct an ultrasound, and more before going through with the procedure. Doctors would also have to refuse the procedure at any time if they knew the reason for the abortion had to do with the fetus’ sex, race, or a diagnosis of down syndrome. Clinics would have to post signs saying that it is possible to reverse a chemical abortion, despite the fact that there is no medical consensus on whether or not this is even true. 

When signing the law, Lee called it “arguably the most conservative, pro-life piece of legislation in the country.”

However, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood both filed a lawsuit against the state over the legislation. The law remains in legal limbo until a hearing for the suit is held and cannot go into effect unless it is deemed constitutional. 

Abortion Pill Access Ruling

Monday’s third major ruling came from U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland, who suspended a federal rule that requires a person to physically visit a hospital or medical office in order to obtain abortion pills.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other groups sued the Food and Drug Administration to overturn the rule, citing that it is a risk for patients to do so during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Several states tried to intervene in the suit, but Judge Chuang rejected their efforts. 

Now, those seeking an abortion via mifepristone and misoprostol, the two pills in question, can receive the mediation in the mail or via delivery for the duration of the public health emergency. 

“The In-Person Requirements, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, place a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a medication abortion and that may delay or preclude a medication abortion and thus may necessitate a more invasive procedure,” Judge Chuang wrote. “Particularly in light of the limited timeframe during which a medication abortion or any abortion must occur, such infringement on the right to an abortion would constitute irreparable harm.”  

According to the Associated Press, more than 4 million people in the U.S. have used mifepristone and misoprostol to end an early pregnancy. In 2017 these pills accounted for 39% of all abortions in the U.S. 

“People should not be forced to risk unnecessary exposure to a deadly virus in order to access essential medication that has a proven track record of safety,”  Alexis McGill Johnson the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

Suspending the FDA’s in-person requirements on mifepristone is an important step toward health equity as we continue to weather this public health crisis.”

See what others are saying: (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (Tennessean) (Associated Press)

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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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