Tag Archive for: reproductive rights


Elk with tire around neck for two years finally free. DOJ appeals reinstatement of Texas abortion law. Iraq election: nationalist cleric al-Sadr’s party wins big.


Elk with tire around neck for two years finally free

A four-and-a-half-year-old, 600lb bull elk has finally been relieved of a burden he has been carrying around for at least two years. The elk’s plight was first noticed by wildlife officials in July 2019 in the Mount Evans Wilderness area. In the last week, wildlife officers have made at least four attempts to capture and help the animal before finally succeeding on Saturday.

Unfortunately, after tranquilizing the buck, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers Scott Murdoch and Donald Swanson were unable to cut the steel-banded tire from around his neck. Instead, the officers sawed off the animal’s 5-point antlers to remove the tire safely. That means the elk will not be as well equipped as his rivals during the rut season.

Murdoch said the buck’s neck was in surprisingly good shape despite the chafing. He said there was some hair missing an a small open wound about the size of a quarter.

Officials used this story to remind people who live close to wildlife areas to be mindful of debris and obstructions on their property. Deer, elk, moose, bears frequently become entangled in things like discarded netting, Christmas lights, tomato cages and other domestic refuse.

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DOJ challenges reinstatement of Texas abortion law

About two days after a federal judge in Austin issued an injunction against Texas’ S.B. 8, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court placed a stay on that injunction. That decision means that Texas’ ban on abortion after 6 weeks is once again in force. Now the Justice Department is appealing this latest decision, asking the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the stay. 

The judicial back-and-forth has made a tumultuous ride for abortion providers in the state. Only a few providers returned to offering the full range of legal abortion care during the less than 48 hours when the injunction was in place. Most say they are awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

While they wait, the DOJ states in their motion, the law will cause “irreparable harm” to individuals. The DOJ also contends that the court should reinstate the injunction since S.B. 8 is clearly unconstitutional because it denies citizens access to a judicial remedy due to its scheme of deputizing private individuals to enforce the law and collect $10,000 bounties for doing so.

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Party of nationalist cleric al-Sadr declares victory in Iraqi elections

Iraqi Nationalist party Saeroun has won a plurality in the recent Iraqi parliamentary elections, capturing 73 of the 329 seats. The party has the backing of Muqtad al-Sadr, a prominent Shia cleric with a long history of resisting U.S. and Iranian influence in Iraq. Al-Sadr cannot lead the government since he himself was not a political candidate. Saeroun will have to form a coalition with other minority parties in order to form a government.

The election had a record-low turnout of 41%, despite being called due to widespread protests across the country. The low turnout signals a lack of faith in Iraq’s democracy and mistrust of the U.S. influence on Iraqi politics generally. Despite Iraq’s massive oil wealth, successive U.S.-backed administrations have failed to rebuild the country, ensure safety, and provide adequate services for its people.

Who is Muqtad al-Sadr?

The name Muqtad al-Sadr will be familiar to many readers. Al-Sadr was a staunch opponent of the US-led occupation of Iraq. In the early days of the occupation, al-Sadr was the spiritual leader of the Shiite Mahdi militia. The Mahdi and other Sadrist militias carried out numerous attacks on the occupying coalition forces, including the Good Friday Ambush of 2004, which killed 8 defense contractors and three US soldiers.

Over the years, al-Sadr has mellowed somewhat and now largely rejects violence as a means of change. However, Sadrist forces did participate in fighting against ISIS. Al-Sadr is something of a maverick even among other Iraqi Shiite clerics. His politics are populist, which often brings him into conflict with Iraq’s political and clerical elites.

Al-Sadr now considers himself an Iraqi Nationalist. Most recently, he has allied himself with Sunni factions, Iraqi Communists and secular and independent political groups with the ultimate goal of purging both U.S. and Iranian influence from Iraqi politics. It remains to be seen whether Saeroun will succeed in expelling foreign forces once the horse trading involved in coalition-building is completed.

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Disappointing Sept. jobs report worries economists. Abortion providers still wary after Texas law blocked. U.S. sub strikes ‘unknown object’ in South China Sea.



Disappointing September jobs report worries economists

Back in August, industry leaders were hopeful that the end of a $300/week federal unemployment bonus and unemployment eligibility for “gig” workers and long-term unemployed would drive people back to the workplace in droves. At the beginning of September, the weekly bonus ended and 7 million people lost unemployment coverage altogether. But that did not translate to an anticipated 500,000 new hires in the weeks that followed.

Instead, only 194,000 new jobs were added in September, down from an already disappointing 366,000 in August. Economists had expected a boost at the start of the holiday hiring season, but that has not materialized. Unemployment fell to 4.8%, but that is likely because many people have stopped looking for work altogether.

Groping for explanations for the lower-than-anticipated numbers, some blamed lingering concerns about the COVID-19 delta variant. Others have blamed recent disarray in Washington for making employers wary of new hires at this point. Various supply chain bottlenecks have also certainly contributed to the jittery job market. 

Now market watchers are pinning their hopes on rising vaccination rates and falling COVID cases to boost hiring in October.

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Abortion providers still wary after judge blocks Texas law

After a federal judge in Austin, TX, temporarily enjoined Texas’ restrictive Heartbeat Act, a few abortion providers in the state have resumed services for women whose pregnancies are beyond the 6-week mark. However, most abortion providers in the state, including Planned Parenthood, are still leery and have not expanded their services. 

The Heartbeat Act, or S.B. 8, allows random people to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, around 6 weeks. But the law also explicitly allows plaintiffs to sue retroactively in the event the law is temporarily enjoined and later restored. 

The state of Texas has already vowed to appeal the ruling of Judge Robert Pittman, who called S.B. 8 “blatantly unconstitutional” multiple times in his 113-page ruling. The appeal would be heard in the conservative 5th Circuit in Texas, which is likely to restore the law. Many Texas abortion providers say that only a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking the law permanently would be sufficient for them to fully restore services.

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U.S. sub strikes ‘unknown object’ in South China Sea; sailors injured

The nuclear-powered attack submarine USS Connecticut collided with an unknown submerged object while conducting routine operations in the South China Sea. Eleven crewmembers suffered mild to moderate injuries. The U.S. Navy reports the Connecticut is in ‘safe and stable’ condition despite the collision.

Officials have released few details of the incident, which happened 5 days ago. There are no hints as to what sort of object the sub collided with. It’s also not clear where in the South China Sea the incident occurred. The South China Sea borders Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. However, we do know that naval assets from the US, UK, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand have been conducting military exercises just north of Taiwan.

Taiwan tensions escalate

Over the weekend, about 150 Chinese military aircraft conducted numerous provocative flyovers in the Strait of Taiwan, which separates the breakaway state from Mainland China. The show of force drew condemnation from the U.S. State Department. The Wall Street Journal also reports that a small contingent of U.S. Special Forces and Marines have been in Taiwan for at least a year, conducting training exercises with Taiwanese defense forces.



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Are crickets to blame for Havana Syndrome? Judge to hear challenge to Texas abortion law. France: DNA IDs former cop as serial killer.



Are crickets to blame for the mysterious “Havana Syndrome”?

BuzzFeed News has obtained a report previously classified “secret” by the State Department which claims to put to rest the mystery of the Havana Syndrome, which has notoriously afflicted over 200 government employees, and sparked enquiries by the Defense Department and Congress. According to JASON, a scientific advisory group, the Havana Syndrome may be down to cricket calls and a case of mass hysteria. 

US diplomats in Cuba, where the Havana Syndrome first appeared, recorded the ear-piercing sound that was assaulting their eardrums. Entomologists who heard the recording recognized the sound as being of insect origin, rather than being something electronic or mechanical. They eventually identified the Indies short-tail cricket, which is native to parts of the Caribbean, as the most likely culprit. You can hear recordings of the Indies short-tail cricket here

The experts believe that the cricket hypothesis could account for some of the oddities of the “attacks”. For instance, some sufferers have reported that others around them appeared unaffected. This could be because the Indies short-tail cricket’s call is about an octave above the highest register on the piano, which many people may be unable to hear. Victims also report that they can “escape” the noise by moving around. The entomologists say this may mean that the cricket stops singing when it feels threatened by the humans moving around.

Questions raised

Previously, studies by both the University of Pennsylvania and the National Academies of scientists had claimed to have found various neurological and cognitive abnormalities among Havana Syndrome victims. They attributed these symptoms to an attack of some kind, possibly from directed energy or microwave weapon. Critics of those studies found their findings of neurological anomalies “unbelievably flimsy“. Skeptics also suggested that the Havana Syndrome was most likely a result of mass psychogenic illness, commonly known as mass hysteria.

The JASON report echoed the views of skeptics, concluding that “No plausible single source of energy (neither radio/microwaves nor sonic) can produce both the recorded audio/video signals and the reported medical effects”.

The researchers caution that “It cannot be ruled out that while the perceived sounds, while not harmful, are introduced by an adversary as deception so as to mask an entirely unrelated mode of causing illness”. However, they also emphasize that the sheer range of reported incidents and symptoms make it unlikely that an electronic “weapon” of some kind is to blame. 

International embarrassment

According to BuzzFeed, the State Department has had the JASON report in hand since 2018. Since then, U.S. State Department officials and military personnel in dozens of countries have reported Havana Syndrome attacks. They report a wide range of symptoms at the moment of the attack and its aftermath. These can include migraines, nausea, memory lapses, dizziness and cognitive fog. In the U.S., White House staffers and military advisors to former President Trump also reported suffering from the malady on the grounds of the White House itself. 

Just this week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the “Havana Act” to compensate State Department and military personnel who have been affected by the syndrome.

Following BuzzFeed‘s release of the report, the State Department released a statement suggesting they are not ready to abandon the “enemy action” hypothesis. A State Department spokesperson said, “We are grateful to the JASON Group for their insight, which while coming to no firm conclusions, has assisted us in our ongoing investigation of these incidents”. The spokesperson did not explain why they had not made the JASON report public or asked the National Academy of Science to consider it in their study.

Other recent Havana Syndrome incidents include:

Kamala Harris’ trip to Asia delayed over Havana Syndrome case.

Aide accompanying CIA chief on India trip reports Havana Syndrome symptoms.

CIA removes Vienna chief over Havana Syndrome outbreak.

CIA accuses Russia of Havana Syndrome attacks on its operatives.


Federal judge to weigh in on DOJ challenge to Texas abortion law

A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against the State of Texas in a federal court in Austin over S.B. 8, a restrictive abortion law which outlaws abortions after about 6 weeks. The law has created chaos in Texas and neighboring states. Healthcare providers in Texas report that the law has complicated urgent reproductive care, including discouraging emergency procedures needed to protect women’s health. Meanwhile, abortion clinics in neighboring states are inundated with patients driving 100s of miles from Texas.

The law deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who “aids and abets” a woman in obtaining an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, around 6 weeks. This is before most women even know they are pregnant. The law provides no exceptions for victims of incest and rape.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman of Austin will hear arguments from the DOJ today seeking a permanent injunction to enforcement of S.B. 8. The DOJ is hoping for a quick decision, but there is no telling when Pitman will rule.

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France: DNA identifies ex-policeman as 80s and 90s serial killer

DNA testing has identified a murderer and rapist who terrorized France for decades. Sadly, the revelations came too late to bring the perpetrator to justice. 

A serial killer called Le Grêlé, or the pockmarked man, committed at least four murders and six rapes between 1986 and 1994. His moniker originated from his most shocking crime, the rape and murder of 11-year-old Cécile Bloch in 1986. Bloch’s half-brother reported that her assailant had an acne-scarred face. 

Details from Le Grêlé’s survivors led investigators to believe that their attacker was either a policeman or a gendarme, a military policeman. Earlier this month, a magistrate who recently re-opened the investigation sent out a letter to 750 gendarmes who had been stationed in Paris at the time of the attacks. Among them, 59-year-old François Vérove was due to give a DNA sample on Sept. 29. Vérove’s wife reported him missing on the 27th. 

Police found Vérove dead, having taken his own life in a rental flat in a Mediterranean resort town. He left a suicide note, but police have not made the contents public. A sample of his DNA linked him to the four murders and six rapes. But investigators believe Vérove likely had many more victims and will be reopening some cold cases where DNA sampling had not previously taken place.

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‘Disbarred and disgraced’ lawyer sues TX doctor who admitted violating abortion ban. ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero sentenced to 25 years for terrorism charges.



‘Disbarred and disgraced’ lawyer sues TX doctor who violated abortion ban

On Saturday, the Washington Post published an op-ed from Alan Braid, a Texas obstetrician who admitted to performing an abortion in violation of the state’s Heartbeat Act (S.B. 8). S.B. 8. prohibits abortions beyond 6 weeks and deputizes private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion beyond 6 months for at least $10,000.

In his op-ed, Braid said he had performed this abortion to fulfill his duty of care to his patient and to “make sure that Texas didn’t get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested”. Braid said, “I can’t just sit back and watch us return to 1972”.

With this admission, Braid essentially invited anyone who wished to sue him. A few people have taken him up on it, but to the horror of S.B.8’s supporters, none of them seem to be pro-life.

One claimant is Oscar Stilley of Arkansas. In his complaint, Stilley describes himself as a “disbarred and disgraced” lawyer. Stilley is currently under home confinement and is 11 years into a 15 year federal sentence for getting “crossways with the tax division”.

Stilley freely admits that his suit against Dr. Braid is in no way a vote of support for S.B. 8. Rather, Stilley quips “I was cranky, so I filed a lawsuit”. In fact, Stilley expressed his respect for Braid.  “Any man who will stand on his hind legs, knowing good and well that the whole purpose of the thing is to bankrupt any doctor who tries it, and does what he thinks is the right thing to do, I have a high degree of respect for him”.

The Wild, Wild West

Stilley is also candid about the fact that the suit could be a “fine payday” for him. He’s asking for as much as $100,000, but will settle for the minimum $10,000 judgement. True to type, Stilley refers to himself in the third person. “Oscar is going to be the fastest gun in the West. He’s going to be there first. If there’s money to be had, it’s going to go in Oscar’s pocket. Might as well go there as anywhere, if it’s just a free-for-all. This is the Wild, Wild West”.

Aside from the money, Stilley explains, “I want a judgment on [S.B. 8]. I’d like to get this established—is this a valid enactment or is this garbage that needs to be thrown out?”. Stilley doesn’t expect to win his suit, and doubts that S.B. 8 is constitutional or enforceable.  He believes that S.B. 8’s proponents are “trying to inject uncertainty so that the doctors are going to say, ‘Oh, my goodness, this could bankrupt me'”. To the Texas legislators who voted for the law, Stilley says, “I see what you guys are doing. Oscar’s laying in wait for you. I’m coming”.

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‘Hotel Rwanda’ manager sentenced to 25 years for terrorism charges

Paul Rusesabagina’s courage in sheltering 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 inspired the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda.” Now a Rwandan court under the sway of a dictatorial regime has sentenced Rusesabagina to 25 years in prison for sponsoring acts of terrorism in the country.

Rusesabagina, now a Belgian citizen and longtime U.S. resident, boarded a plane in Dubai intending to visit Burundi. Instead he was flown to Rwanda, where he had not set foot for many years due to fear of reprisals from the government due to his political activities.

Activist or terrorist?

When Rusesabagina arrived in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, he was arrested and charged with terrorism, arson, kidnap and murder of Rwandan citizens. The charges stem from numerous public comments from Rusesabagina criticizing the government of Paul Kagame and calling for armed rebellion. In a 2012 speech, Rusesabagina said, “We say loud and clear that the military solution is not our first choice. But we must also understand that our arsenal of peaceful solutions is not inexhaustible. Enough is enough. (…) We therefore call for a general mobilization to get rid of this criminal power”, referring to Kagame’s government.

Rusesabagina is a supporter and founding member of the FLN (National Liberation Front), a militant political group that opposes Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The FLN is primarily Hutu while the RPF is primarily Tutsi. The FLN and some of its affiliated groups have claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks in 2018 that killed at least nine people.

“Show trial”

International human rights lawyers have said that the proceedings against Rusesabagina amounted to little more than a “show trial”. During his pre-trial incarceration, Rusesabagina was denied contact with his family and consultations with his attorney. At the trial itself, the prosecution presented the accusations and evidence against Rusesabagina. But Rusesabagina presented no defense, claiming that there was no chance of him receiving a fair trial in any case.

Following the verdict, Rusesabagina’s adopted daughter, Carine Kanimba stated that, “We knew there would never be a fair trial for my father, and now the world knows too. If the US, Belgium and others believe in human rights, they need to step in now to free our father”.

It’s hard to know who’s in the right here, or if anyone is. But if anything, this story reveals that the ethnic politics in Rwanda remain as polarized and volatile as they were in the 1990s.

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Dems draft Freedom to Vote Act. DOJ seeks pause on Texas abortion law. Haiti PM fires prosecutor who accused him in president’s assassination.




Dems draft new voter protections bill to counter states’ restrictions

A group of Congressional Democrats have drafted a new bill that would create federal standards and protections for voting rights. The law is meant to counter restrictions in various red states that critics say disenfranchise people of color and other marginalized groups. Among other things, the Freedom to Vote Act:

  1. Makes election day a national holiday,
  2. Requires states to offer same day registration by 2024,
  3. Establishes national standards for early and mail-in voting,
  4. Establish automatic voter registration programs,
  5. Requires states to follow specific criteria when drawing up new Congressional districts to prevent partisan gerrymandering,
  6. Mandates disclosures of donors to “dark money” groups who fund politicians’ campaigns.

Some news outlets have reported that the bill includes a national voter ID requirement. That is not the case. What the bill does it standardize what forms of documents are acceptable as voter ID in states that choose to require voter ID. States that do not require voter ID will not be forced to do so.

Compromises and hurdles

To appease the so-called “moderate” Democrats, the committee left out campaign finance and ethics-related provisions that had been included in the previously proposed For the People Act. One of those was a provision to match funds from small dollar donations at a 6:1 ratio. This would have helped level the playing field for primary challengers of a party’s establishment candidates. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, one of the co-sponsors of the Freedom to Vote Act, likely had a hand in these omissions. Manchin had previously supported the John Lewis Act (which did not include those provisions) in opposition to the For the People Act.

Still, the bill contains provisions that would effectively protect voter access and reverse states’ efforts to limit access. 

However, the bill may yet come to nothing since it is improbable that 10 Republicans will sign onto it and overcome the filibuster. Despite his role in drafting the Freedom to Vote Act, Manchin hasn’t yet signaled any willingness to withdraw his objections to filibuster reforms which would allow the bill to pass.

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Justice Department seeks temporary block on Texas abortion law

Last week, the Department of Justice filed a challenge to Texas’ new Heartbeat Act (or S.B. 8) in a federal court in Austin. The DOJ is now filing an emergency motion requesting that the same judge, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, place a temporary injunction on the law while the legal review moves forward. If Pitman approves the DOJ’s motion, this would temporarily prevent any party from suing anyone who aids a woman in getting an abortion. It’s not clear yet when we can expect a decision from Pitman, or how long such an injunction would hold.

The DOJ contends that S.B. 8 unconstitutionally denies women the right to an abortion before the point of fetal viability (about 24 weeks). The law therefore violates half a century of Supreme Court precedent.

The DOJ also claims that S.B. 8 unlawfully impedes federal workers from performing certain functions of their work.

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Haiti PM replaces prosecutor who wanted him charged in president’s slaying

Yesterday, Port-au-Prince prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude asked that Haitian PM Ariel Henry be prevented from leaving the country and charged in connection with the July slaying of President Jovenel Moïse. Just hours after, Henry swore in Claude’s replacement, Frantz Louis Juste. It’s unclear whether Claude’s firing became official before or after he made his request to the judge.

Henry’s letter to Claude informing the latter of his dismissal cited an unspecified “serious administrative offense” as grounds for firing.

Under Haitian law, judges are ultimately responsible for conduction murder investigations rather than prosecutors. It’s not clear whether the judge approved or accepted Claude’s request to bar Henry from leaving the country.

Claude had requested that Henry meet with him to discuss why Henry had twice communicated with a person of interest in Moïse’s slaying just a few hours after the murder took place. That person of interest was a justice official, who is now in hiding.

Despite having detained dozens of suspects in the days after Moïse’s killing, investigators have not yet come up with a cogent theory as to the motives for the assassination or who was ultimately behind it. Analysts believe that Claude’s accusations are an act of political theater rather than an indication of any damning evidence of Henry’s involvement.

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Mississippi asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Missouri court rules state must expand Medicaid. EU states put restrictions on unvaccinated.



Mississippi asks Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade

On Thursday, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed a brief to the US Supreme Court, calling the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision “egregiously wrong” and appealing to the nation’s highest court to overturn it. Fitch’s brief is part of the state’s efforts to appeal a lower court ruling that struck down Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act (GAA), which would ban most abortions after 15 weeks.

The state’s brief argues that “the conclusion that abortion is a constitutional right has no basis in text, structure, history, or tradition”. Furthermore, the brief states that by preventing states from imposing undue burdens on the right to abortion, the Supreme Court placed itself “at the center of a controversy that it can never resolve”.

By calling on the court to strike down the universal right to abortion nationwide, Mississippi’s AG has adopted a much more aggressive stance than was the case when the state first asked the court to hear the case a year ago. The change in strategy may indicates that the state feels emboldened by recent changes to the court, which now has a 6-3 conservative majority.

“Extreme and regressive strategy”

Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, is representing “The Pink House”, Mississippi’s only remaining abortion clinic. Northup first filed the challenge to the GAA on behalf of the Pink House, which resulted in the law being overturned.

In response to AG Fitch’s brief, Northup stated that “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country”. She continued, “Their goal is for the Supreme Court to take away our right to control our own bodies and our own futures — not just in Mississippi, but everywhere”.

The court agreed to hear the case in May, and will likely do so in November or December of this year. A decision will follow in the first half of 2022.

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Missouri court rules state must expand Medicaid

The Missouri State Supreme Court has ruled that the state’s government must expand Medicaid coverage to an additional 275,000 low-income recipients. The ruling upheld the will of the state’s voters who supported an amendment to the state’s constitution on the ballot last August.

Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature had thus far refused to honor the result of that ballot initiative by funding the expansion. Three women who are newly eligible then sued to force the state to fund the expansion. A lower court ruled that the expansion was unconstitutional because it would force the legislature to appropriate new funding, which would violate state law. Today’s ruling from the state’s highest court overturns that ruling.

Essentially, the state must move forward with new enrolment, even without additional funding. New recipients will be admitted to the pool of existing beneficiaries. The ruling leaves it up the state’s General Assembly to determine what to do when the current appropriation runs out.

One of the attorneys who represented the three female plaintiffs says the ruling “sends an important message” that the state will eventually have to respect the voters’ will and fully fund the expansion.

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EU states put restrictions on unvaccinated

Many Europeans are still resisting vaccination, even as COVID cases from the Delta variant are on the rise. In an effort to drive up vaccination rates, several EU countries are adopting mandates for some sectors of the workforce while placing movement restrictions on the unvaccinated.

Greece recently passed a mandate requiring all public and private sector healthcare workers to get the jab by September. France is adopting a “health certificate”, which citizens will need to access certain venues and establishments.

Starting August 5, Italians will have to present a “green pass” to access stadiums, museums, theatres, cinemas, exhibition centres, swimming pools and gyms. The green pass will be available to anyone who has had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, or has proof of a negative test within the previous 48 hours.

Italy is also considering making a green pass mandatory for anyone traveling within the country by bus, train or plane in the near future.

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