- 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)
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.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities
The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.
Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”
Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.
Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.
The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone.
During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program.
“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”
Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.”
“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference.
“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”
Goals of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act
Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act.
“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.
“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.”
Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.
Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change.
“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”
While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children.
“Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”