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Texas Judge Rules Medical Coverage of HIV Preventative PrEP Violates Religious Freedoms

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The ruling could also potentially end more than 100 different preventative services utilized by over 151 million Americans.


PrEP Mandate Ruling

A federal judge in Texas ruled Wednesday that Christian-owned companies cannot be required to cover HIV-preventative drugs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because it violates their religious freedoms.

The case in question centers around pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, better known as PrEP, which, if taken properly, reduce the risk of contracting HIV sexually by as much as 99%.

Under a mandate in the ACA, most health insurance plans are required to cover the cost of PrEP for adults who are at high risk of getting HIV, which disproportionately impacts gay and bisexual men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gay and bisexual men accounted for 70% of ALL new HIV infections in 2019.

In 2020, Steve Hotze, a Republican mega-donor and the owner of the Christian for-profit corporation Braidwood Management Inc., filed a lawsuit claiming that covering PrEP “facilitates and encourages homosexual behavior, intravenous drug use and sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman.”

Hotze argued that his company’s required compliance law violated his religious freedoms. In the Wednesday ruling, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor agreed, writing that the PrEP mandate violated Braidwood’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Potential Impact on Broader Preventative Care

O’Connor also ruled that the panel of experts that make recommendations about what kinds of preventative care must be covered by the law, called the Preventive Services Task Force (PSTP), is also itself unconstitutional.

The panel, the judge argued, goes against the Constitution because its recommendations are binding even though its members are volunteers who are not appointed by the president or confirmed by the Senate.

O’Connor’s decision is highly significant because the PSTP makes recommendations for all preventative care, meaning this decision will not just jeopardize access to PrEP, but also access to other essential preventive services.

According to the most recent government data, more than 151 million Americans had access to free preventative services recommended by the panel. This includes more than 100 services like cancer and heart disease screenings, routine vaccinations, pediatrician visits, prenatal care, and contraception.

If PSTP is determined to be unconstitutional, all those services that insurers and group health plans are required to provide for no cost could be at risk.

“If Judge O’Connor’s decision stands, you wouldn’t have the standardization anymore,” Katie Keith, director of the Health Policy and the Law Initiative at Georgetown University’s law school told The New York Times. “You would go back to pre-A.C.A., when each employer, each insurance company picked and chose the preventive services they were going to cover, and the cost-sharing they were going to provide.”

That said, according to The Times, O’Connor’s ruling does not take effect immediately, and legal experts say the Biden administration would likely appeal. But an appeal — especially one that makes it all the conservative Supreme Court — may be exactly what O’Connor desires.

The judge has been working tirelessly to get rid of the ACA and its essential healthcare protections for years, having previously ruled that the entire act was unconstitutional in 2018.

The Supreme Court struck that decision down 7-2 last year, but the justices might find this newest case more favorable because it follows up on a 2014 decision where the high court ruled 5-4 that a company can not be required to provide employees with coverage for contraception.

The case was brought by the conservative craft store Hobby Lobby, which filed a lawsuit similarly claiming that the ACA requirement that companies cover birth control violated its religious rights by making it complicit in what it considered “sinful” behavior.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TPR)

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Privacy Concerns Rise in Florida Over Menstruation Questions on Digital Student-Athlete Physicals

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Ever since the overturn of Roe V. Wade, activists have been concerned about how period tracking data can be used against women.


Outrage and Concerns

Florida schools require student-athletes to complete an annual physical evaluation form before being allowed to participate in sports, including questions about female menstruation. Recently, school districts have shifted these forms into a digital format using a third party, causing privacy concerns for parents and activists alike. 

As headlines started to circulate the news, many online began expressing outrage. Lawyer Pam Keith, who ran for U.S. House of Representatives in 2020 referred to Florida as a “police state for women” on Tuesday morning. Other tweets have called this practice “dystopian” and “tramping on women’s rights.”

In Florida, these questions have been on the student-athlete physical evaluation form for approximately 20 years. Now that some school districts have shifted from paper copies to digital formatting with the third-party software company, Aktivate, criticisms have resurfaced across the state. Abortion rights activists, in particular, are worried about menstrual information being used to prosecute someone for getting an abortion. Others vocally oppose storing this information online, citing parents’ rights over their children’s data. 

Florida’s Policy

These questions relating to menstruation are labeled as optional on the document. However, some have expressed concern that athletes will feel obligated to answer them in order to ensure their eligibility to play. 

Florida schools have all of the medical data collected by these physicals sent back to the district from the physician. This is in sharp contrast to the policy of other states that simply require the physician’s approval for the athlete to be cleared to play. 

“I don’t see why school districts need that access to that type of information,” pediatrician Dr. Michael Haller said to The Florida Times-Union. “It sure as hell will give me pause to fill it out with my kid.”

See what others are saying: (Forbes) (The Palm Beach Post) (The Florida Times-Union

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Navy SEAL Recruits Sprayed With Tear Gas in “Horrific” Leaked Video

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The revelation comes after the Navy launched an investigation into SEAL training practices last month in response to the death of a recruit.


The Worst Birthday Ever

In September 2021, Navy SEAL recruits were forced to sing “happy birthday” while standing amid a thick cloud of tear gas as part of their training, a leaked video reveals.

The footage, which was obtained by investigative reporter Mathew Cole and published by CBS News, comes from California’s San Clemente Island, where SEALs are trained.

For over a minute, instructors are seen dousing the recruits in the chemical, sometimes from just inches away, as they struggle to sing. Reports say they were singing so that they could not hold their breath, which regulations incidentally warn may cause a person to pass out.

Although exposure to tear gas is a common right of passage for military recruits, who must learn how to properly don a face mask, it is meant to be sprayed from six feet away to prevent burns and last for no longer than 15 seconds.

The recruits in the video are seen coughing, heaving, and crying out in agony after the gas subsides, and one appears to pass out.

A Navy admiral has reportedly launched an investigation into the video to determine whether the instructors sprayed the gas for too long and from too close, and if they did, whether they were simply unaware of the proper procedure or intended to abuse and punish the recruits, which could be a criminal offense.

Cole wrote in a Twitter thread that he showed the footage to current and retired senior SEAL officers, who described the exercise as “horrific,” “abusive,” “pointless” and “near torture.”

“Current and former SEAL students say they were told the purpose of the exercise, which cause extreme pain, was to simulate how they would react to bullet wounds in combat,” he said. “They were told by BUD/S instructors it was a ‘rite of passage’ and given three attempts to complete it.”

The Death of Kyle Mullen

“The source who provided the video did so because they wanted the Navy, Congress and the public to know that the February 2022 death of Kyle Mullen was not an isolated incident,” Cole Continued.

Mullen was a 24-year-old Navy recruit who arrived in California for the SEALs rigorous selection course in January. In his third week, he reached what’s known as Hell Week, a five-day-long slog through an infamously brutal training regiment that’s killed at least 11 men since 1953.

Trainees spend at least 20 hours per day doing physical exercises, running a total of more than 200 miles, and are allowed just four hours of sleep across the entire week.

Hell Week is meant to test a recruit’s mental and physical resilience, as well as their commitment to becoming a Navy SEAL. Critics, however, argue it is excessively harsh, pointing to the concussions, broken bones, dangerous infections, and near drownings suffered by some recruits.

When Mullen completed Hell Week, he called his mother Regina, who told CBS News her son seemed to be having trouble breathing.

A few hours later, he died with the official cause being pneumonia, which Regina attributed to the freezing water he was submerged in during training.

She also said he admitted to using banned performance-enhancing drugs, something many aspiring SEALs resort to so they can cross the finish line.

Even with drugs, however, around 90% of trainees fail to complete the selection course, with most dropping out during Hell Week.

The same day Kyle died, one of his fellow trainees had to be intubated, and two more were hospitalized.

The Navy launched an investigation into the SEALs selection course last month in response to Kyle’s death.

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

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Lawyer Claims That LAPD Officer Who Died In Training Was Targeted For Investigating Other Officers For Rape

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The late officer’s family has filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles.


Press Conference Reveals New Allegations

A lawyer for the family of Los Angeles Police officer Houston Tipping, who died in May during a training exercise, claimed on Monday that Tipping was targeted for reporting an alleged sexual assault by four other police officers last year. 

In May, Tipping sustained serious injury — including a broken spine — during training, which resulted in his death three days later. The LAPD released a statement saying his injuries came from a fall taken during a segment of training that involved grappling another officer. 

His family, however, filed a complaint — and later a lawsuit — against the city of Los Angeles. The lawsuit states that Tipping was, “repeatedly struck in the head severely enough that he bled.”

During a Monday press conference, his family’s lawyer, Bradley Gage, claimed that the injuries Tipping sustained could not have been the result of grappling.

“There is no way grappling would have caused those kinds of injuries the way the LAPD portrays it,” he said. “What would cause those injuries is if somebody picked a person up, slams them down onto their head and their neck onto a hard surface.”

An Alleged Cover-Up

According to Gage, an officer that Tipping had reported last year for an alleged sexual assault was also present at this training exercise. 

“The allegation is that in July of 2021, four police officers were involved in the sexual assault of a woman from the Los Angeles area. A report was taken by Officer Tipping,” he said. “And the female victim claimed that she was raped by four different people, all LAPD officers. She knew the names of some of those officers because they were in uniform and had their name tags on. The name of one of those officers, with the name tag, seems to correlate with the names of one of the officers that was at the bicycle training” 

The attorney went on to confirm that he is alleging this unnamed officer is responsible for Tipping’s injuries. 

Later in the press conference, Gage stated that the police department is likely trying to cover-up these misdeeds.  

“I’m sure that these actions are being covered-up. The thought of a code of silence or a cover-up by a police department should not be shocking or surprising to anyone,” he said

Although the initial lawsuit by Tipping’s family included the wrongful death and other civil rights violations, with this new information, the family and the attorney has decided to file a supplemental. This supplemental will cover the whistler blower retaliation, destruction of evidence, and the initial wrongdoing of the rape case. 

See what others are saying: (FOX 11 LA) (Washington Post) (LA Times)

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