Tag Archive for: reproductive rights

Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide.

Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment.

Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea.



Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide

A federal judge in Amarillo, TX, heard arguments today in a case brought by anti-abortion groups seeking to ban the sale of the abortion medication mifepristone nationwide. Attorneys for the Texas-based organization Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine contends that the FDA used improperly approved the drug in 2000. The group argues that the FDA and did not adequately assess its use by girls under age 18 to terminate a pregnancy.

Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen used to abort a pregnancy, usually before 10 weeks gestation. More than half of all abortions in the US are managed with medication. Mifepristone also has several other approved uses that have nothing to do with abortion. These include treating uterine fibroids and managing symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome.

Department of Justice attorneys defending the FDA said that mifepristone has a proven track record of being safe and effective. The DOJ also argued that the challenge comes much too late as the drug was approved 23 years ago.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also filed an amicus brief in support of the FDA, saying mifepristone “has been thoroughly studied and is conclusively safe”.

Women’s health advocates say taking mifepristone off the market would force more women to undergo unnecessary surgical procedures. It would further overwhelm abortion clinics that are already struggling to meet the needs of women who often have to travel several states away.

Trump-appointed judge tried to keep hearing quiet

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who presided over the case, asked the attorneys involved early last week not to publicize when and where the hearing would be held. Kacsmaryk hoped to minimize press coverage and protests at the courthouse in this momentous case that could impact over 60 million women of child-bearing age in the US. The judge’s attempt to keep proceedings quiet backfired with women’s rights groups descending on Amarillo. One dressed as a kangaroo with a gavel, implying the hearing was a “kangaroo court”.

Kacsmaryk is a former Christian activist appointed to the federal bench by former Pres. Donald Trump. His court has become a venue of choice for lawsuits from numerous conservative groups. The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine incorporated in Amarillo just three months before filing suit, which many consider a case of “court shopping”.

Kacsmaryk did not issue a ruling today after four hours of arguments. The groups bringing the suit also asked Kacsmaryk for a preliminary order halting sales of the drug while their lawsuit proceeds. Kacsmaryk ended by saying he would “issue an order and opinion as soon as possible,” possibly suggesting he’s already made up his mind about the preliminary order. In anticipation of mifepristone becoming unavailable, healthcare providers are busy lining up viable alternatives.

The next stop for the losers in Kacsmaryk’s court would be the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. It’s possible the case could wind up before the Supreme Court. Even if the FDA ultimately prevails, an order from Kacsmaryk halting sales of mifepristone could complicate the lives of millions of women for months (not to mention people who use mifepristone to manage other medical conditions). 

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Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment

The state of Ohio has filed a civil suit against the rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment in East Palestine last month that was responsible for releasing more than a million gallons of toxic chemicals. The state is hoping to recoup the cost of the state’s costs from the disaster. The suit wants to hold the rail company financially responsible for damage to the state’s natural resources, the cost of state emergency response and economic harm to residents.

The suit refers to the East Palestine disaster as just one of a “long string” of derailments and hazardous material incidents for which Norfolk Southern is responsible. Norfolk Southern has been responsible for at least 20 derailments since 2015 involving the release of toxic chemicals, according to the filing. The state accuses Norfolk Southern of “recklessly endangering” residents and the environment, alleging multiple violations of state and federal laws regarding hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence.

Communities in western Pennsylvania were also affected by the disaster which took place less than a mile the other side of their border with Ohio. Last month, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro issued a criminal referral to his state attorney general regarding the disaster. The attorney general’s office is still investigating whether there was any criminal conduct on the part of Norfolk Southern, but no charges have been filed.

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Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea

Yesterday, an American MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed into the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, a Ukrainian territory Russia has occupied since 2014. US officials say that the crash was the result of an encounter with two Russian fighter jets. The drone became “unflyable” when one of the jets clipped its propeller. Prior to this, the jets had been dumping fuel over the drone to try to force it down. The Kremlin denies this version of events.

The US says the drone was in international airspace when the Russian jets attacked it, but Russia insists the the drone violated their (or Ukraine’s) air space. Russia claims that the presence of the drone is further evidence of direct involvement in the Ukraine war by the US military.

Both Russia and the US have announced that they’ll attempt to recover the drone. There’s a worrisome possibility of confrontation as the two sides try to get to the drone first. Joint Chiefs chair Gen. Mark Milley says he’s not sure if the drone is recoverable, claiming it sank under 4000-5000 feet of water. Milley also stressed the US has taken “mitigating measures” that would thwart Russia’s attempts to recover useful intelligence from the drone should they recover it. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed he has communicated with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu regarding the incident.

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Texas: Man sues three women for helping his ex-wife get an abortion.

Biden rushes to calm depositors after two banks collapse in two days.



Texas: Man sues three women for helping his ex-wife get an abortion

Marcus Silva of Galveston, TX, is suing three friends of his ex-wife, Brittni Silva, seeking $1 million in damages from each friend for helping Brittni to obtain abortion pills. Silva is suing them for wrongful death and conspiracy. He also intends to sue the manufacturer of the abortion pill his ex wife used when he learns what brand it was.

Attached to the lawsuit is a series of text messages between Brittni and two of the women. Brittni had filed for divorce in May 2022, the month before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Then in July 2022, Brittni discovered that she was pregnant. The text messages reveal efforts by two of Brittni’s friends to help her obtain abortion medication.

First, they sent her information about Aid Access, an organization based in Austria which sends abortion medications in the mail. After deciding that the legalities around receiving abortion medication in the mail were “murky”. Eventually, they found out they could obtain the medication in Houston, and a third woman delivered the medication to them.

Brittni then self-managed the abortion at home, concealing both the pregnancy and the termination from her estranged husband.

“Either way, he will use it against me”.

Brittni Silva (left) with two of the defendants dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

The texts also reveal why Brittni, who already had two daughters with Marcus, chose to terminate the pregnancy secretly. She feared Marcus would use the pregnancy to trap her in a marriage she was apparently desperate to leave.

Brittni confided to her friends that she was in a toxic relationship. She says “I know either way he will use it against me. If I told him before, which I’m not, he would use it as a way to try to stay with me. And after the fact, I know he will try to act like he has some right to the decision.”

In one of the texts, a friend warns Brittni, “Delete all conversations from today. You don’t want him looking through it”. The lawsuit cites this as proof the defendants sought to “destroy evidence of their crimes“.

The Silvas’ divorce was finalized in February. According to the suit, Marcus “recently learned of the defendants’ involvement in the murder of his child, and he brings suit against them for wrongful death and conspiracy”.

Marcus also alleges that 3 months after the abortion, the defendants “celebrated the murder” by dressing up as characters from the TV show “The Handmaid’s Tale” for Halloween. The show is based on the dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood and depicts a world where women are the property of men and birth control is outlawed.


“State-sanctioned harassment”

Opponents of the Heartbeat Act and Texas’ other restrictive abortion laws have warned that the laws could enable rapists and abusers to further isolate their victims by harassing those who would help them.

Silva’s lawsuit included pictures of his ex-wife’s cellphone. The snooper’s thumb is visible at left.

Silva’s filing included pictures taken by someone of Brittni’s cellphone showing texts between her and her friends. The filing doesn’t say who took these photos or when. 

Former Texas lawmaker Wendy Davis issued a statement from Planned Parenthood Texas, saying the lawsuit “We are outraged, but we are not surprised“. The lawsuit a “direct result of the dangerous policies championed by Governor Greg Abbott and his supporters. It is state-sanctioned harassment and we will not stand for it,” Davis said.

Jonathan Mitchell, a former Texas solicitor general, is representing Marcus Silva in the suit. Mitchell was also the architect of Texas’ Heartbeat Act, which allows anyone to sue a person who helps a woman obtain an abortion after 6 weeks’ pregnancy. The suit was filed in state court in Galveston County, where Silva lives.

Joanna Grossman of the SMU Dedman School of Law in Dallas called the lawsuit “absurd and inflammatory”. No matter the outcome of the suit, Grossman says, the plaintiff and his attorneys will have succeeded in further isolating vulnerable women and girls who need help.

“Who is going to want to help a friend find an abortion if there is some chance that their text messages are going to end up in the news?” Grossman said.  “And maybe they’re going to get sued, and maybe they’re going to get arrested, and it’s going to get dropped eventually. But in the meantime, they will have been terrified”.

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Biden rushes to calm depositors after two banks collapse

Over the course of two days, Silicon Valley Bank in California and Signature Bank in New York collapsed. Silicon Valley Bank, which largely served tech start-ups and venture capital-backed firms, suffered a massive bank run starting on Wednesday when they announced a bid to raise $1.75 billion to strengthen their liquidity. This became necessary because the bank had been forced to sell off billions of dollars in investments at a loss due to recent Federal Reserve rate hikes.

While the bank’s investment portfolio was being stretched thin, its customer base was in the “bust” end of a boom-bust cycle. Tech start-ups that had received huge investment during the pandemic are now stagnating and are depending more and more on savings to meet payroll and other demands. When the bank announced its asset sell-off and recapitalization plans this week, it spooked investors and then depositors. On Thursday alone, depositors withdrew over $40 billion from SVB. Then California shut it down.

Signature Bank collapsed the day after when their depositors got spooked by the SVB failure. Signature bank has ties to the volatile crypto currency sector which is also facing a post-pandemic decline.

Depositors spent an anxious weekend wondering whether they’d be able to access their funds. Many had deposits in the bank that were greater than the $250,000 limit covered by FDIC. Today, President Biden assured depositors of both SVB and Signature that they would be made whole using funds from an insurance plan both banks were paying into. This, Biden stressed, was “not a bailout”. In the strictest sense, it is a bailout of depositors, but not of the banks’ management or investors, as happened in 2008. 

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Why do these bank failures keep happening and how could it be prevented?


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Texas: Five women sue after abortion bans put their lives at risk.

DOJ moves to block merger between discount airlines JetBlue and Spirit.

Was Mexico kidnapping a case of mistaken identity?



Texas: Five women sue after abortion bans put their lives at risk

Five women from Texas have filed a lawsuit demanding greater clarity for medical exceptions in Texas’ various abortion bans. All of Texas’ anti-abortion laws contain exceptions for preserving the life of the mother. However, according to women’s health advocates, these exceptions are written in a way that is deliberately vague and that make it unclear when a medically-necessary abortion is permitted.

The laws have discouraged healthcare providers in the state from providing or even suggesting abortions to their patients, even when there is no viable alternative. That lack of clarity put the lives of these five women, and countless others, at risk. Two healthcare providers have also joined them in the suit. 

Click here to read the women’s stories

Women and healthcare providers in many states that have laws banning abortion have faced similar problems. Most healthcare providers have interpreted the laws to mean an abortion is only permissible once the mother is at the point of death. Even in situations where a fetus cannot survive, such as when the mother’s water breaks prematurely, medical practitioners won’t provide abortions until the fetus no longer has a detectable heartbeat.

Putting off abortions in these situations puts mothers at risk of sepsis and other deadly complications. If an infection becomes too advanced, it can also necessitate a hysterectomy, an outcome that can be avoided with early intervention.

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DOJ moves to block merger between discount airlines JetBlue and Spirit

In a rare move, the Department of Justice has sued to block a proposed merger between two discount airlines, JetBlue and Spirit. The DOJ argues that this merger will decrease competition and raise prices for travelers on all routes that these two airlines serve, whether or not they’re flying with one of the discount airlines.

According to Attorney General Merrick Garland, “Spirit’s own internal documents estimate that when it starts flying a route, average fares fall by 17%. And an internal JetBlue document estimates that when Spirit stops flying a route, average fares go up by 30%”.

The merger between JetBlue and Spirit would create the nation’s 5th largest airline. Thanks to decades of buyouts and consolidation in the airline industry, 80% of the US air travel market is controlled by just four airlines.

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Was Mexico kidnapping a case of mistaken identity?

After a four-day ordeal, two Americans kidnapped in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas last week were released yesterday. Two friends that were traveling with them did not survive injuries from an initial shooting. Now theories abound as to why these four Americans, one of whom was there for a medical procedure, fell victim to this attack in the first place, and why they were held captive for so many days.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in several Mexican states. Usually, people traveling alone on a remote road are grabbed, forced to withdraw a large amount of money from an ATM, and then let go unharmed. However, ransom does not appear to have been the motive in this case. 

Some have raised the possibility that members of the Gulf cartel, which has long dominated this area, mistook the four Black Americans for rival Haitian gang members. As the political and economic situation in Haiti has worsened in recent years, thousands of Haitians have relocated to Mexico. Some Haitian gangs that smuggle drugs or people have also gained a foothold in this part of Mexico. Officials have not commented on this theory, but have said they believe the kidnapping resulted from a “misunderstanding”.

Mexican drug war analyst Alejandro Hope also speculates that the Gulf cartel members soon realized their mistake. Fearing that the full force of both American and Mexican law enforcement would soon come down on them, Hope says the cartel likely tipped off their local law enforcement and government connections to the location of the safehouse where the captives were. 

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Jackson: suspect arrested after 7 fires, 2 at historical Black churches. Big wins for abortion, healthcare ballot initiatives. Brazil military rejects election fraud claims after Bolsonaro defeat.



Jackson: Suspect in custody after 7 fires, two at historically Black churches

Tuesday morning, 7 arson fires broke out within a two-mile radius near Jackson State University. Around 2:30 am, fires started at two historically Black churches, two homes, two businesses and a baseball field house belonging to JSU. The Jackson Fire Department responded to the blazes and was able to extinguish them with no injuries.

Initially, there were fears that this was a racially-motivated incident. But yesterday, police arrested a suspect, 23-year-old Devin McLaurin, who is Black. McLaurin has been charged with felony malicious mischief and is being questioned by the FBI. So far, no motive for the arson is apparent. 

The 60-year-old Greater Bethlehem Temple Church was damaged but not extensively. However, the 85-year-old Epiphany Lutheran Church, one of the state’s oldest historically Black Lutheran churches, was gutted. The Epiphany fire raged for 4 hours as firefighters struggled to put it out.

Lloyd Caston, an elder at Epiphany, was called to the scene around 4:30 am to find the church “fully enflamed”. “I was hurt,” Caston said. “There wasn’t nothing we could do but sit and watch. That was it.” Eventually, the fire, “destroyed the church and everything in it”. Epiphany had just completed renovations in March. 

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Will Oregon get a right to healthcare? Big wins for abortion rights and healthcare in ballot initiatives

Even though several races across the country haven’t yet been called, it’s already clear that Democrats fared much better in the midterms than many anticipated. At moment, it looks like the Republicans may win a small majority in the House, but Democrats are currently favored to retain their small majority in the Senate. Control of the Senate may come down to the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker.

Tuesday was also a good night for supporters of progressive priorities like abortion rights, healthcare access and climate resiliency.

Abortion on the ballot

Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont have approved ballot measures that enshrine the right to access an abortion in their state constitutions.  are all protect abortion rights, according to CNN projections. In Kentucky and Montana, voters rejected measures that would have further restricted abortion access.

So far, voters in both red and blue states have backed abortion access in every instance where citizens had the opportunity to vote on it directly. This was also true in Kansas when primary voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed their Republican state government to pass laws further restricting abortion access.

Affordable healthcare

South Dakota was one of several states to opt out of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. On Tuesday, South Dakotans voted 56% to 44% to expand Medicaid in the state. Currently, childless South Dakotans are not eligible for Medicaid and even families with children must have very low incomes, around $1000 a month for a family of four. The ballot measure will expand access to adults making less than $19,000 a year. About 42,500 South Dakotans will benefit from the expansion.

In Oregon, the results for ballot initiative Measure 111 remain too close to call. With 70% reporting, the ‘yes’ vote stands at 50.3% and the ‘no’ votes stand at 49.7%. Measure 111 states that it is the “obligation of the state to ensure that every resident of Oregon has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care as a fundamental right”. The measure does not spell out what defines “affordable” healthcare or how to pay for it. Those details would be up to the state’s legislature.

New York passes $4.2 billion environmental bond act

New Yorkers have voted to authorize the state to seek $4.2 billion by issuing bonds. The money will go towards climate resiliency projects and pollution reduction. The measure also requires the state to set aside 40% of the funding for disadvantaged communities who are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. 

In rough outline, the measure allocates: 

  • $1.5 billion for pollution reduction; wetland protection; retrofitting; green energy projects; zero-emission school bus fleets; and urban forestry programs
  • $1.1 billion for shoreline restoration; safeguarding flood-prone infrastructure; and ecological restoration programs
  • $650 million for land and fish hatchery conservation
  • $650 million for sewage infrastructure; reducing storm and agricultural runoff; and addressing algae blooms

Recent disasters have shown that aging infrastructure, particularly around New York City, is becoming more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Some may remember dramatic footage of NYC subways flooding due to the rain brought by remnants of Hurricane Ida last year. The funding will also help restore or establish green spaces in the city to combat deadly heat pockets. 



Brazil military rejects election fraud allegations after Bolsonaro defeat

A 63-page report from Brazil’s Defense Ministry has found no evidence to support allegations of voter fraud in the election that recently ousted Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has yet to concede to the winner, left-wing former President Lula Da Silva. The report dashed hopes of Bolsonaro supporters who had called on the military to put a halt to the transfer of power. The military has taken on greater power and standing under Bolsonaro, but its leadership has been conspicuously quiet in the lead-up to and aftermath of the elections.

In the days following the election, Bolsonaro supporters set up blockades with large trucks along Brazil’s major highways. Bolsonaro himself eventually emerged to ask his supporters to end the disruptive protests. However, a hardcore contingent continues to demand the military take power. 

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Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, paving way for state abortion bans. What it means for Mississippians. UN: Israeli forces, not Palestinian militants, killed journalist.




Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, paving way for state abortion bans

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court voted to uphold the 15-week abortion ban at the heart of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. In a narrower 5-4 decision (with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the three liberal justices), the court also voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. By overturning Roe and Casey, the court ruled that there is no constitutional right to an abortion. This means that states can legislate on this issue as they see fit. Over a dozen states, including Mississippi, have a “trigger law” that will automatically ban abortions in most cases after Roe‘s reversal. 

Justice Roberts wrote in a concurring opinion that the court went too far in overturning Roe and Casey. Roberts said that the “decision to overrule Roe and Casey is a serious jolt to the legal system—regardless of how you view those cases” and characterized the ruling as “unsettling”.

More rights on the chopping block?

In fact, while many conservatives will see today’s ruling as a victory, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion expressed a willingness to go even further. Roe was established in part on the principle that the 14th Amendment guarantees a right to privacy. In his opinion, Thomas pointed to other laws established on this principle as being ripe for repeal. Thomas wrote, “… in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell. Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ … we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents…”. 

Thomas refers here to Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence V. Texas, and Obergefell v. Hodge. Griswold established a right to purchase and use contraception without government control. Lawrence overturned laws criminalizing sodomy, targeting gay men for prosecution. Obergefell established the right for gay couples to marry. 

Interestingly, Thomas did not mention Loving v. Virginia, which was decided on the same principle as Roe and the others. The Loving decision made it possible for mixed-race couples to marry. Thomas himself is in a mixed-race marriage.

What it means for Mississippians

As previously mentioned, Mississippi’s trigger law will ban nearly all abortions in the state. There are exceptions for victims of rape, where there is a formal charge. But there may be no place left in the state to obtain an abortion, making the exception moot. Mississippi’s law also has an exception for cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. Even this has its pitfalls. In Texas, where a 6-week abortion ban has been in effect since August, women suffering miscarriages have frequently been forced to travel out of state to obtain life-saving abortion care.

So how far will Mississippians have to go? Florida currently permits abortions up to 24 weeks, but a 15-week ban will take effect on July 1. Furthermore, Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis has vowed to expand the state’s restrictions on abortions following today’s Supreme Court ruling. The state’s Supreme Court has ruled that Florida’s privacy laws protect the right to an abortion. However, if this were overturned through legislative action, Florida could easily join other states in banning nearly all abortions.

Republican governors in other nearby states have signaled that they will seek to enact similar abortion bans to Mississippi’s. That could potentially leave either Granite City, Illinois, or Monterrey, Mexico (where abortion is legal up to 15 weeks), as the nearest place for Mississippians to obtain an abortion.

For now, there are online pharmacies that will deliver abortion pills to Mississippi from out-of-state. However, physicians do not recommend using these beyond 10 weeks of gestation.

Abortion laws by state (opens in new tab).



UN: Israeli forces, not Palestinian militants, killed journalist

A probe by UN human rights officials have concluded that it was an Israeli soldier who killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla last month. Abu Aqla was reporting on an Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank. She was wearing a protective vest with the word “Press” on it as well as a helmet. Eyewitnesses have said it was Israeli soldiers who killed Abu Aqla and fired on and wounded other members of the press. Israel has denied this and blamed Palestinian militants. Witnesses have said there were no militants in the vicinity with the press group when the attack took place.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), stated that information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general indicated that “the shots that killed Abu Aqla and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities”. Shamdasani also said the bullets seemed to be “well-aimed”, implying that the soldiers had killed the journalist and wounded her colleagues intentionally.

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Escaped con recaptured, prison guard lover dead. Biden announces free internet deal for low-income households. Canada, Mexico prepare to receive America’s reproductive refugees.




Escaped con, prison guard lover planned shootout with police before capture

Yesterday, a car chase in Indiana ended a manhunt that began over a week ago in Alabama. On April 29, Lauderdale County prison guard Vicky White, 56, checked out prisoner Casey White (no relation), 38, for a courthouse appointment. It was against protocol for a guard to transport a prisoner alone, but Vicky White had a spotless two-decade record. It was also her last day on the job before retirement.

The Whites drove to a commercial parking lot and changed vehicles. Authorities began the search after they failed to return and the courthouse appointment turned out to be bogus. Inmates came forward saying that the Whites had been in a romantic relationship.

The pair drove north, changing vehicles again in Tennessee. Along the way, citizens reported multiple sightings of Casey White, who was hard to miss at 6’9″. Eventually, tips led police to an Evansville, IN, motel where the Whites were laying low. 

Local police spotted the pair in a Cadillac and gave chase, forcing them into a ditch. Casey White surrendered, urging the officers to “Please help my wife – she just shot herself in the head”. Vicky White later died of her injuries.

In the vehicle, police found $29,000 in cash, multiple wigs and several guns, including an AR-15. Casey White told officers they’d planned a shootout with police if cornered. Casey White is returning to Alabama, where he faces a capital murder charge in the 2015 stabbing death of a 58-year-old woman. 

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Biden announces free internet deal for low-income households

The White House has struck a deal with 20 major Internet service providers that make tens of millions of low-income households eligible for free internet service. Essentially, the 20 providers have agreed to a special $30/month rate for qualifying customers. The $30 will be paid by the US government through an existing voucher program. The funding comes from the $14.2 billion Affordable Connectivity Program, part of last year’s $1 trillion hard infrastructure package.

Through the program, about 48 million households will be able to receive high-speed internet if they sign up with a participating provider. The participating providers serve areas where 80% of the US population live, including 50% of the rural population. 

The providers are: The providers are Allo Communications, AltaFiber (and Hawaiian Telecom), Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink), Astound, AT&T, Breezeline, Comcast, Comporium, Frontier, IdeaTek, Cox Communications, Jackson Energy Authority, MediaCom, MLGC, Spectrum (Charter Communications), Starry, Verizon (Fios only), Vermont Telephone Co., Vexus Fiber and Wow! Internet, Cable, and TV.

Even if you are not subscribed to one of these companies, you may still be eligible for a discount through the Affordable Connectivity program. You can qualify if your income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty level; or you or a member of your household benefits from one of several programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) and Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit.

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Canada, Mexico prepare to receive America’s reproductive refugees

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, Illinois may be the only state in the Midwest where abortion remains legal. It would also be the closest for women in most of the Southern states that find themselves in need of a procedure. Health workers in the states are preparing by expanding existing clinics and building new ones. Reproductive rights groups across the states are also gathering funds to help poor women travel.

But Illinois may be too far for many, and demand in the state will be high, leading to long wait times. So Canada or Mexico may be the next best option.

Currently, Canadians in rural parts of Canada routinely drive across the border into the US to receive abortions. However, that trend may soon be reversed. Americans will have to pay about C$500 (US$388) for a surgical abortion. But they may face long wait times, varying between one to two weeks in Ontario to several weeks or months in the Atlantic provinces.

Mexico has recently loosened some of its prohibitions on abortion. In 2021, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to criminalize abortion. However, many states still have their own bans in place. Surgical abortions up to 12 weeks are available the Mexican counties of Coahuila and Baja California, which share a border with the US. In public clinics, surgical abortions are free, and there are also services where women can receive free abortion pills. 

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TN: Anti-gay marriage bill accidentally legalizes polygamy. TX: Murder charges dropped in self-induced abortion case. Can Biden sway India on Russia support? France: Macron plays catch-up against far-right candidate.




TN: Anti-gay marriage bill accidentally legalizes polygamy

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee have introduced a bill to create a new type of marriage contract which specifically excludes same-sex couples. The bill would allow heterosexual couples to fill out a “marriage contract” that would not have to be submitted to state officials.

The bill’s supporters say it protects the religious rights of clerics and couples who object to gay marriage. Some preachers in the state have ceased performing marriage ceremonies altogether to avoid performing gay marriage rites. 

Both Democratic and Republican opponents of the bill say it would expose the state to lawsuits on the grounds that it violates the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Obergefell v. Hodges entitles gay couples to the same rights, protections and access to state-sanctioned unions enjoyed by heterosexual couples. However, it is unclear how the state could afford the same protections to signers of these marriage contracts since they are not recorded with clerk’s offices.

Initially, the bill’s writers neglected to stipulate any minimum age. This led critics to slam the bill, claiming it would sanction child marriages. Lawmakers have since amended the bill to include a minimum age. Furthermore, a Republican lawmaker says that since there is no mechanism preventing any person from entering more than one of these contracts, it would amount to the state legalizing polygamy.

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TX: Murder charges against woman dropped in self-induced abortion case

Last week, Texas woman Lizelle Herrera, 26, was arrested and charged with murder. Herrera was accused of causing “the death of an individual by self-induced abortion”. It remains unclear whether Herrera performed an abortion on herself or assisted another woman’s self-induced abortion.

The local district attorney now says that he will ask the judge to dismiss the murder charge against Herrera. Women’s health advocates welcomed the decision, saying that the initial charges against Herrera signaled the state’s willingness to criminalize adverse pregnancy outcomes.

University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck says that under Texas law, a woman is not guilty of murder if she manages to abort her own pregnancy. But confusingly, Vladeck says, “It is murder in Texas to take steps that terminate a fetus” except under medical supervision. Presumably, that means that if a third party intentionally induces a termination of a pregnancy without the mother’s participation, knowledge or consent, the third party would be guilty of murdering the fetus. But if the mother intentionally induces her own abortion, that is not criminal under Texas law.

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Biden attempts to sway India on Russia support

Today, President Biden is meeting virtually with India’s nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Ukraine will be at the top of the agenda as the US hopes to dissuade India from supporting Russia’s invasion. India is one of the few major countries that has so far refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Although India recently condemned the killing and torture of civilians in Bucha, they did not assign blame or call for charges against the perpetrators.

While many Western countries have ended or significantly reduced purchases of Russian oil, India and China have increased their purchases. The price of Russian oil has dropped dramatically, making it tempting for energy-poor India countries like India to take advantage. Purchases of oil and gas still brings billions of dollars a day into Kremlin coffers. A former aid to Putin recently suggested that a full embargo on Russian oil would bring the war in Ukraine to an end.

India has also long considered Russia to be a military ally. In its 1971 war with Pakistan, the West back Pakistan while Russia backed India. However, India also has a contentious border with China, another putative Russian ally. Modi may hope that Russia will help India if conflict flares once again with China. The US can certainly make a stronger case as an ally against Chinese aggression.

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France: Macron plays catch-up against far-right candidate in runoff

The French voted yesterday in their presidential election. In the first round, incumbent Emmanuel Macron won 27.84% of the vote while far-right politician Marine Le Pen garnered 23.15%. Since none of the 12 candidates won an outright majority, Macron and Le Pen will compete in a runoff election on April 24. 

While most observers believe Macron will still squeak out a win, most polls are too close to call. Macron is playing catch-up because he did not campaign at all ahead of the first round, while Le Pen campaigned aggressively. Additionally, while Le Pen’s far-right, ultra-nationalist, and Euro-skeptic politics are not appealing to most French, she skillfully distanced herself from extremist rhetoric in campaign speeches. But if Le Pen does win, observers worry about what direction France will take on the international stage. Even since the Ukraine invasion, Le Pen has continued to unabashedly view Putin as an ally.

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Biden extends pause on federal student loan payments. OK lawmakers vote to outlaw nearly all abortions. Shanghai lockdown to bring more supply chain woes.



Biden extends pause on federal student loan payments

After weeks of speculation, President Biden has extended the pause of federal student loan repayments until August 31. This is the sixth time the pause on repayments has been extended since it was enacted under former President Trump. Until today’s announcement, payments were to resume May 1, which would have raised financial pressures on millions of households already struggling with inflation. 

During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden promised to reduce student debt by $10,000 per borrower. Since coming into office, Biden has forgiven debts, but only for some borrowers under very specific circumstances. Fellow Democrats have been calling for Biden to enact broader debt cancellations ahead of the midterms. There has been no word yet on whether Biden is considering forgiving any amount of student loan debt before the new August 31 deadline.

The decision to only postpone until a few weeks before the midterms will make it a salient issue for voters, especially if inflation remains high. A recent poll shows that forgiving student loan debt could secure votes for Democrats in key battleground states

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Oklahoma legislators vote to outlaw nearly all abortions

Oklahoma’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a bill that would criminalize nearly all abortions in the state. The state’s governor Kevin Stitt has promised to sign any bill restricting abortions that makes it to his desk. If the bill becomes law, it would make performing any abortion in the state a felony, unless it would “save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency”. There are no exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Abortion providers would face fines of up to $100,000 and 10 years in prison. This law would surpass Texas’ Heartbeat Act to become the most restrictive abortion law in the country.

As it stands now, Oklahoma’s law would be in direct violation of federal law. However, many states are passing and debating ever more restrictive laws in the belief that the conservative majority Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade later this year. This means that a court could prevent the Oklahoma bill from becoming law until the Supreme Court makes its ruling.

The wording of the bill could also have severe consequences for pregnant women who suffer life-threating health complications. Already in Texas, the wording of the Heartbeat Act has made doctors reluctant to perform abortions to head off impending life-threatening crises. Most have interpreted the Heartbeat Act as prohibiting abortions up until the point that the mother’s life is in immediate danger, even if there is no chance of a healthy live birth.

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Shanghai COVID lockdown threatens more supply chain woes

The Chinese city of Shanghai is entering its second week of a draconian COVID lockdown. Earlier this week, the lockdown was extended to include the whole city, which had previously been locked down in rolling phases. The city of 26 million recorded over 16,000 cases on Wednesday. This sounds low by global standards, but this is China’s worst COVID outbreak since the virus’ initial emergence in Wuhan. Since case numbers are continuing to climb, the lockdown could go on indefinitely.

Shanghai is one of the world’s leading port cities and industrial hubs. When the lockdown was announced, oil prices actually dropped, indicating the city’s importance in global trade. The lockdown will be devastating not only for China’s economy, but also for the world’s already-strained supply chains. Expect higher prices and longer delays on key supplies.

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Idaho passes Texas-style abortion ban. US will accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. NATO to send 40,000 more troops to eastern border.



Idaho passes Texas-style abortion ban

Idaho has become the second state in the nation to pass an anti-abortion bill modeled on Texas’ “Heartbeat Act”. Like the Texas law, the enforcement of the law relies on private citizens to bring lawsuits against anyone who provides a woman with an abortion after 6 weeks. However, the parties with standing to bring suit are considerably more narrow. Only the family of the woman, the man who impregnated her or his family can sue. Any such individual can sue abortion providers for at least $20,000. 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little expressed misgivings about the law, even though he signed it. Little said that the enforcement mechanism that deputizes private citizens may prove to be “unconstitutional and unwise”. Little also had concerns about the potential impact of the law on victims of rape or incest. Unlike the Texas law, a rapist cannot sue anyone who provides an abortion to his victim; but his immediate family can.

Other states across the country are eyeing similarly restrictive abortion laws. The Oklahoma House of Representatives has passed a Texas-style bill that would ban abortions altogether. If it becomes law, it could have a major impact on women seeking abortions in Texas as well, since many have obtained procedures in Oklahoma. South Dakota has also recently passed a bill severely restricting access to abortion pills.

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US announces it will accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees

The White House has announced that as many as 100,000 Ukrainian refugees will be admitted to the US. Priority will be given to especially vulnerable individuals who might be targeted by Russian invaders like journalists, activists and LGBT individuals. 

The Biden administration has also announced a change to regulations governing the asylum application process. The officials hope that the changes will both streamline the process of applying for asylum for those fleeing oppression and discourage economic migration. The new regulations will make it easier to admit deserving asylum seeker and to deport those who do not qualify more quickly. These changes will start taking effect in the late spring.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security has launched an operation to deport several hundred Columbians under Title 42. Title 42 is a COVID-related public health measure that allows the US to quickly expel migrants from its borders, whether they qualify for asylum or not. 

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NATO to send 40,000 more troops to eastern border

Today, President Biden met with the leaders of other NATO countries in Brussels. Among other things, members of the bloc agreed to send more weapons into Ukraine. However, they have ruled out the idea of establishing even a limited no-fly zone in Ukraine. In response to concerns about Russia’s front in Ukraine moving westward, NATO will be sending 40,000 more troops to its eastern border in Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania.

The US has also announced that it will levy additional sanctions against Russian oligarchs and members of the Duma, Russia’s parliament. Defense companies and other Russian entities will also be subject to further restrictions.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that thousands of residents from the besieged city of Mariupol have been forcibly deported to Russian controlled territory. The ministry says that Russian forces have sent over 6000 people to Donetsk and Luhansk as hostages.

NATO estimates that as many as 40,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded or captured in Ukraine since the invasion. Earlier this week, a pro-Kremlin tabloid in Russia briefly published figures purportedly from Russia’s own Ministry of Defense, indicating that 9,600 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine. 

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UK Court rules Assange can be extradited to US. Supreme Court waffles on Texas abortion law. Mexico: At least 54 migrants dead after truck overturns.




UK Court rules Assange can be extradited to U.S.; appeal expected

Today, British High Court judges ruled that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange could be extradited to the U.S., disputing a lower-court decision earlier this year. Assange faces 18 counts of espionage in the U.S. and faces more than 100 years in prison if convicted.

In January, a district court judge ruled that extraditing Assange to the U.S. would subject him to harsh prison conditions and increase his risk of suicide. Today’s ruling considered assurances from the U.S. Justice Department that Assange would not be subject to harsh Special Administrative Measures. 

Assange’s team plans to appeal the High Court ruling to the UK Supreme Court. They must file the petition in the next 14 days.

Nils Melzer, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, denounced the court’s decision. Melzer notes that the timing of the decision, coinciding with International Human Rights Day, was “disgraceful”.  He observed that the court’s decision was “based on diplomatic assurances that, really, are not worth the paper that they’re written on”.

Even if the U.S. upheld the promise to not enforce Special Administrative Measures, Assange’s legal team say Assange would likely still be held in extreme isolation, which would affect his mental health.

Assange’s brother Gabriel Shipton highlights the hypocrisy of the Biden administration’s efforts to prosecute Assange. Today, Biden will host the first Democracy Summit. At the top of this agenda are global protections for media organizations and journalists. Just yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the world “to free all jailed journalists”. Shipton urged Biden to “walk the walk” on press freedom by pardoning Assange.

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Supreme Court waffles on Texas abortion law, frustrating both sides

The Supreme Court has once again decided not to decide the fate of a Texas law that bans abortions after 6 weeks. A little over a month after hearing arguments in two cases pertaining to the controversial law, the court has allowed for a legal challenge to the law to proceed, but allowed the law to stay in place.

In the first case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, the court ruled 8-1 to allow a legal challenge by an abortion clinic to proceed. It will now revert back to lower federal court judge Robert Pittman in Austin. In a separate case, Pittman previously struck down Texas’ abortion restrictions as unconstitutional, only to have the 5th Circuit Court overturn his decision. A similar scenario is likely to play out in Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson. This means the case may potentially find itself before the Supreme Court again.

In the second case, U.S v. Texas, the court ruled 8-1 not to strike down the law based on a challenge to the law by the Department of Justice. The court rejected the DOJ’s contention that it had the right to enforce federal constitutional rights, including the right to an abortion based on Supreme Court precedent.

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At least 54 migrants dead after truck overturns in Mexico

A container truck carrying about 150 migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic overturned in southern Mexico. At least 49 died at the horrific scene, with 5 more dying in hospital. Men, women and children were among the dead.

The truck was speeding when it tried to take a sharp turn, and ultimately flipped over. According to witnesses, the crashed ripped the container in half and tore off its roof. The driver and a companion had sustained injuries but fled the scene before police arrived.

The crash took place in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of Chiapas state. Chiapas borders Guatemala and is a major point of entry for undocumented Central American migrants. Migrants often pay people smugglers who pack them into trucks like this one to avoid border patrols. It’s likely that the migrants crammed into the truck’s trailer were ultimately hoping to reach the U.S. border.

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Supreme Court hears arguments on Mississippi abortion law. CNN suspends anchor Chris Cuomo for dishing dirt on brother Andrew’s accusers. Experts: Vaccine apartheid gave rise to omicron.



Supreme Court hears arguments on Mississippi abortion law

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments over a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks. Although passed in 2018 and signed by then-governor Bryant, the law was quickly struck down as unconstitutional by both the federal circuit and appeals courts. This is because the 15-week limit contravenes the nearly 50-year-old precedent of Roe v. Wade, which allows abortions up to the point of fetal viability, about 24 weeks.

Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights is representing Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last abortion provider, in challenging the law. Northrup says that if the Supreme Court upholds the law, it would amount to a reversal of Roe v. Wade. It would also further restrict the already very limited access to reproductive care in Mississippi.

The court also recently heard arguments on an even more restrictive law from Texas which effectively prohibits abortions beyond the 6-week mark. The court could give rulings on either of these cases at any time once it reaches a decision. However, the court will most likely wait to give rulings until the end of its current term in June 2022.

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CNN suspends anchor Chris Cuomo for feeding brother dirt on his accusers

Readers may remember broadcast media fawning over then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the height of the state’s COVID crisis last year. The governor held daily folksy press conferences updating New Yorkers about the virus and the actions being taken by his office. At one point, there was serious talk of lobbying Cuomo to jump into the presidential race.

It’s since come out that Cuomo’s office deliberately downplayed the number of deaths in several nursing homes. When Gov. Kathy Hochul took Cuomo’s place, she revised the number of New York’s COVID dead upwards by several thousand. Then the dam finally burst on what started as a slow trickle of sexual harassment allegations from women who worked in Gov. Cuomo’s office.

But at the height of Cuomo’s manufactured popularity, one of his chief cheerleaders was his brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. During the COVID coverage, CNN allowed Cuomo to interview his brother several times on air.

When the sexual harassment scandal eventually pushed Andrew Cuomo out of office a few months ago, Chris Cuomo admitted to “advising” his brother’s office about confronting the allegations. CNN gave him a pass on this, saying they “understood his need to put family first and job second“. But newly released court documents reveal that Chris did a lot more than “advise” in efforts to run interference for his brother. Chris used his connections at CNN to leak information about upcoming stories on the scandal, and even to dig up dirt on his brother’s accusers

Following this revelation, CNN has at last suspended Chris Cuomo indefinitely. Notably, CNN didn’t punish Chris Cuomo at all when he threatened to push someone down the stairs for calling him “Fredo” (a reference to the ineffectual brother in “The Godfather”).

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Experts: Vaccine apartheid gave rise to omicron variant

Scientists remain uncertain about what the global impact of the newly-emerged omicron variant will be. However, experts say it is no mystery how omicron and other potentially dangerous variants have been allowed to evolve and flourish. While the developed world is now rushing to hand out boosters, many in the developing world have yet to be offered even their first shot.

For months, The WHO has been sounding the alarm about growing global vaccine inequity. The organization has been quick to decry wealthy country’s emphasis on boosters rather than distribution of shots to poorer countries. But the original sin in vaccine inequality remains the refusal by vaccine producing countries and manufacturers to lift intellectual property restrictions on the vaccines. Such patent waivers would allow any country with sufficient manufacturing capability to produce enough vaccines for their own populations, rather than waiting on handouts from wealthier countries.

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Remains found in hunt for slain vlogger’s fiancé. Supreme Court could decide fate of Texas abortion law today. Polluter countries lobbied UN to downplay climate urgency.



Remains found in hunt for Brian Laundrie, Gabby Petito’s fiancé

The FBI announced the discovery of human remains and some personal effects that appear to belong to Brian Laundrie, the fiancé of murdered van-life vlogger Gabby Petito. A body likely belonging to Laundrie was found in the Carlton Reserve in Florida, in an area that was underwater until recently.

To recap, Laundrie and Petito set out on a cross-country trip in Petito’s camper van in mid-July. All the while, Petito uploaded videos of their adventures on social media. On August 12, the pair had a now infamous run-in with police in Utah, during which Petito claimed Laundry had hit her. The last confirmed communication from Gabby came in late August.

On September 1, Laundrie showed up alone in Gabby’s van at his parents’ home in Florida. Petito’s parents reported her missing on September 10. Laundrie’s parents reported him missing from the home on the 17th, though he had left several days earlier. Just two days later, Petito’s body was found in Wyoming. She had been strangled to death.

The manhunt

Brian Laundrie was by now a “person of interest” in Petito’s murder. There followed several weeks of wide-ranging searches for Laundrie. Laundrie sightings were reported as far away as North Carolina. Even TV personality Dog the Bounty Hunter took part in the search before suffering an injury.

Law enforcement searches have largely focused on the Carlton Reserve, a swampy 25,000-acre parkland. This was where Laundrie’s parents said they believed him to be all along. Laundrie’s parents were apparently taking part in the search when the remains were found. They did not view the remains but were asked to identify a backpack found nearby.

The remains had apparently been there for some time. It will take time to officially identify the remains.

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Supreme Court could decide fate of Texas abortion law today

The Supreme Court could weigh in to decide the fate of Texas’ controversial abortion law as early as today. The Heartbeat Act, or S.B. 8, prohibits abortions in Texas after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, around 6 weeks. The law has proven difficult to challenge since the state deputizes private citizens to act as bounty hunters, rather than enforcing the law itself.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit’s decision to S.B. 8 in place. The DOJ argues that S.B. 8 directly defies the Supreme Court decisions of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and is therefore unconstitutional. The DOJ claims standing to defend abortion rights in Texas since the law could interfere with abortion access for people in the federal government’s care.

Today, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a counter motion disputing the federal government’s standing in the case. The Texas filing also argues that if the Supreme Court upholds S.B. 8, it should overturn the precedents set by the Roe and Planned Parenthood cases. If the Supreme Court agrees with Texas’ arguments, it would mean that anti-abortion states could freely pass and enforce laws prohibiting abortion before the fetal viability point, about 22 to 24 weeks. The viability threshold has been key in deciding the constitutionality of abortion laws up to this point.

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Documents reveal polluter countries lobbying to hamper climate action

Ahead of the COP26 climate conference, leaked documents are revealing the lobbying efforts of major polluter countries seeking to pressure the UN into downplaying the climate crisis. Major fossil fuel exporters like Saudi Arabia and Australia argued against the necessity of rapidly moving away from fossil fuels. Other economies that depend heavily on fossil fuels like India and Japan also contended that the climate report’s language was too drastic.

Supporters of the fossil fuel industry argue that the emphasis should be on carbon capture technologies rather than the elimination of fossil fuels. But these technologies are still prohibitively expensive compared to more sustainable energy options like wind and solar. The efficacy of carbon capture technologies is also debatable.

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