A federal appeals court Friday night quickly allowed Texas to resume banning most abortions, just one day after clinics began racing to serve patients again for the first time since early September.
A one-page order by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the nation’s strictest abortion law, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks. It makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
“Patients are being thrown back into a state of chaos and fear,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents several Texas clinics that had briefly resumed normal abortion services.
She called on the U.S. Supreme Court to “step in and stop this madness.”
Clinics had braced for the New Orleans-based appeals court to act fast after U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, an appointee of President Barack Obama, on Wednesday suspended the Texas law that he called an “offensive deprivation” of the constitutional right to an abortion.
Knowing that order might not stand long, a handful of Texas clinics immediately started performing abortions again beyond six weeks, and booked new appointments for this weekend.
But barely 48 hours passed before the appeals court accepted Texas’ request to set aside Pitman’s ruling — at least for now — pending further arguments. It gave the Biden administration, which had brought the lawsuit, until Tuesday to respond.
“Great news tonight,” Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted. “I will fight federal overreach at every turn.”
Texas had roughly two dozen abortion clinics before the law took effect Sept. 1. During the brief period the law was on hold, many Texas physicians remained unwilling to perform abortions, fearful that doing so could still leave them in legal jeopardy.
The new law threatens Texas abortion providers with lawsuits from private citizens, who are entitled to collect at least $10,000 in damages if successful. That novel approach to enforcement is the reason why Texas had been able to evade an earlier wave of legal challenges prior to this week.
The 5th circuit appeals court had already once allowed the law to take effect in September, and stepped in this time only hours after Paxton’s office urged them to act.
His office told the court that since the state does not enforce the law, it cannot “be held responsible for the filings of private citizens that Texas is powerless to prevent.”
It is unclear how many abortions Texas clinics performed in the short time the law was put on hold. On Thursday, at least six abortions providers had resumed normal services or were gearing up to do so, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Prior to Pitman’s blistering 113-page order, other courts had declined to stop the law, which bans abortions before some women even know they are pregnant. That includes the Supreme Court, which allowed it to move forward in September without ruling on its constitutionality.
One of the first providers to resume normal services this week was Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four clinics in Texas.
Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health, said her clinics called in some patients early Thursday who were on a list in case the law was blocked at some point. Other appointments were in the process of being scheduled for the days ahead, and phone lines were again busy. But some of the clinics’ 17 physicians were still declining to perform abortions because of the legal risk.
Pitman’s order had amounted to the first legal blow to the law known as Senate Bill 8. In the weeks since the restrictions took effect, Texas abortion providers said the impact had been “exactly what we feared.”
Planned Parenthood says the number of patients from Texas at its clinics in the state decreased by nearly 80% in the two weeks after the law took effect. Some providers have said Texas clinics are now in danger of closing while neighboring states struggle to keep up with a surge of patients who must drive hundreds of miles for an abortion.
Other women, they say, are being forced to carry pregnancies to term.
How many abortions have been performed in Texas since the law took effect is unknown. State health officials say additional reporting requirements under the law will not make September data available on its website until early next year.
A 1992 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court prevented states from banning abortion before viability, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, around 24 weeks of pregnancy. But Texas’ version has so far outmaneuvered the courts because it leaves enforcement to private citizens to file suits, not prosecutors, which critics say amounts to a bounty.
“This is an answered prayer,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz, spokeswoman for Texas Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion group.
Record 1.7 Million Migrants Arrested At U.S.-Mexico Border
U.S. authorities arrested 1.7 million migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this fiscal year, the most ever recorded, according to a U.S. government source, underscoring the stark political and humanitarian challenges the Biden administration faces on immigration.
The Washington Post reported that current numbers for the 2021 fiscal year, which began last October, topped a previous high in 2000.
Adding to concerns was an influx of thousands of mostly Haitian migrants last month who crossed the Rio Grande River from Mexico and set up a makeshift camp under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.
President Joe Biden, who took office in January, reversed many of the hard-line immigration policies of his Republican predecessor, President Donald Trump, promising a more “humane” approach to immigration policy.
Democrats and immigration advocates have slammed Biden for his swift expulsions of many of those migrants back to Haiti, a country that has been devastated by violence, political crises and natural disasters.
The administration also launched an investigation into the tactics of border patrol agents on horseback photographed and filmed in Del Rio trying to push back Haitian migrants along the river bank.
Many of the Haitians were returned under one sweeping Trump policy that Biden has kept in place. Known as Title 42, it was implemented in March 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to curb infections and allows most migrants to be quickly expelled without a chance to seek asylum.
Many of the arrests this fiscal year were repeat crossings, with some people expelled to Mexico turning around and trying again.
A federal court has also ordered the Biden administration to reinstate another Trump-era policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, which forced thousands of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration court hearings. The administration said it is taking steps to restart the program in November, pending agreement from Mexico.
White House Details Plans to Vaccinate 28M Children Age 5-11
Children ages 5 to 11 will soon be able to get a COVID-19 shot at their pediatrician’s office, local pharmacy and potentially even their school, the White House said Wednesday as it detailed plans Vaccinate for the expected authorization of the Pfizer shot for elementary school youngsters in a matter of weeks.
Federal regulators will meet over the next two weeks to weigh the safety and effectiveness of giving low-dose shots to the roughly 28 million children in that age group.
Within hours of formal approval, which is expected after the Food and Drug Administration signs off and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel meets on Nov. 2-3, millions of doses will begin going out to providers across the country, along with the smaller needles needed for injecting young children.
Within days of that, the vaccine will be ready to go into arms on a wide scale.
“We’re completing the operational planning to ensure vaccinations for kids ages 5 to 11 are available, easy and convenient,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said. “We’re going to be ready, pending the FDA and CDC decision.”
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses three weeks apart and a two-week wait for full protection to kick in, meaning the first youngsters in line will be fully covered by Christmas.
Some parents can hardly wait.
Dr. Sterling Ransone said his rural Deltaville, Virginia, office is already getting calls from people asking for appointments for their children and saying, “I want my shot now.”
“Judging by the number of calls, I think we’re going to be slammed for the first several weeks,” said Ransone, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Justin Shady, a film and TV writer in Chicago, said his 6-year-old daughter, Grey, got nervous when he told her she would be getting the shots soon. But he is bribing her with a trip to Disney World, and “she’s all in.”
The family likes to travel, “we really just want to get back in the swing of seeing the world,” Shady said.
As for youngsters under 5, Pfizer and Moderna are studying their vaccines in children down to 6 months old, with results expected later in the year.
The Biden administration noted that the expansion of shots to children under 12 will not look like the start of the country’s vaccine rollout 10 months ago, when limited doses and inadequate capacity meant a painstaking wait for many Americans.
The country now has ample supplies of the Pfizer shot to vaccinate the children who will soon be eligible, officials said, and they have been working for months to ensure widespread availability of shots. About 15 million doses will be shipped to providers across the U.S. in the first week after approval, the White House said.
More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers have already signed on to dispense the vaccine to elementary school children, the White House said, in addition to the tens of thousands of drugstores that are already administering shots to adults.
Hundreds of school- and community-based clinics will also be funded and supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help speed the process.
In addition to doctors’ offices, schools are likely be popular spots for the shots.
In Maryland, state officials have offered to help schools set up vaccination clinics. Denver’s public schools plan to hold mass vaccination events for young children, along with smaller clinics offering shots during the school day and in the evenings. Chicago’s public health department is working closely with schools, which have already been hosting vaccination events for students age 12 and older and their families.
The White House is also preparing a stepped-up campaign to educate parents and children about the safety of the shots and the ease of getting them. As has been the case for adult vaccinations, the administration believes trusted messengers — educators, doctors and community leaders — will be vital to encouraging vaccinations.
Dr. Lisa Reed, medical director for family medicine at MAHEC, a western North Carolina safety net provider that serves patients from rural Appalachia and more urban communities such as the tourist town of Asheville, said it is going to take effort to get some families on board.
Reed said she lives “in a community that has a lot of vaccine hesitancy, unfortunately.”
“Some have lower health literacy or belong to ethnic groups that are more hesitant in general” because of a history of mistrust, she said. And Asheville, she said, has a sizeable population of well-educated adults who are longtime vaccine skeptics.
While children run a lower risk than older people of getting seriously ill from COVID-19, at least 637 people age 18 or under have died from the virus in the U.S., according to the CDC. Six million U.S. children been infected, 1 million of them since early September amid the spread of the more contagious delta variant, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Health officials believe that expanding the vaccine drive will not only curb the alarming number of infections in children but also reduce the spread of the virus to vulnerable adults. It could also help schools stay open and youngsters get back on track academically, and contribute to the nation’s broader recovery from the pandemic.
“COVID has also disrupted our kids’ lives. It’s made school harder, it’s disrupted their ability to see friends and family, it’s made youth sports more challenging,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told NBC. “Getting our kids vaccinated, we have the prospect of protecting them, but also getting all of those activities back that are so important to our children.”
Murthy said the administration, which is imposing vaccine mandates for millions of adults, is leaving it up to state and local officials to decide whether to require schoolchildren to get vaccinated. But he said such measures would be “a reasonable thing to consider.”
“It’s also consistent with what we’ve done for other childhood vaccines, like measles, mumps, polio,” he said.
The U.S. has purchased 65 million doses of the Pfizer pediatric shot, which is expected to be one-third the dose given to adults and adolescents, according to officials. They will be shipped in smaller packages of about 100 doses each, so that more providers can deliver them, and they won’t require the super-cold storage that the adult version did at first.
About 219 million Americans age 12 and up, or 66% of the total population, have received a COVID-19 shot, and nearly 190 million are fully vaccinated.
Tanner reported from Three Oaks, Michigan.
Democrats May Pass Their Agenda After All
All of a sudden, it appears that the Democrats’ two-bill strategy to pass as much of their agenda as possible is … working as planned? Lots of caveats apply, nothing is agreed to until everything is, and the whole thing could still come apart.
But Senate Democrats are talking about reaching a deal this week, with Bernie Sanders meeting with Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and no apparent deal-breakers identified at this point. That’s only the Senate, of course, but all along it’s been hard to believe that House Democrats would reject anything that Sanders and Manchin both supported.
Let’s take a step back. What was always hard about this approach was that the party’s agenda was ambitious and the gap between the most and least liberal Democrats was large. That meant that all wings of the party, and especially the most liberal group, were going to have to give up a lot of things they strongly cared about.
The size of the bill also meant that there were going to be a lot of potential landmines, some of them buried deep in the text. Those could still blow things up; all that Senate Democrats are hoping to get done this week is an overall agreement (a “framework”), with the details to be filled in later — leaving room for someone to object once a final deal is reached. And as always, there’s almost no room for error given the party’s narrow majorities.
But two big factors suggest eventual passage is likely.
For one, in contrast with the bipartisan infrastructure deal that passed the Senate in August, everyone negotiating this bill is a Democrat. And given the way elections work these days, with presidential popularity more important to a lawmaker’s re-election than his or her own popularity, all those Democrats have a stake in making President Joe Biden look good.
The other thing? The two bills address issues — such as health care, climate, child care and so on — that Democrats have compromised on numerous times in the past. Seriously: Does anyone think that New York and New Jersey Democrats will ultimately vote against the entire Democratic agenda if relief for state and local taxes isn’t included? Sure, that’s what they’re saying now. And sure, they’ll fight for their districts’ interests. But surely when push comes to shove they’ll accept commitments for the future or some other verbiage from leadership. After all, their districts will benefit from items in both bills, even if they don’t get exactly what they want.
It’s even possible that the public focus on the total cost of the bill, which everyone seems to agree was a communications nightmare, is playing a helpful role. If there’s one thing that legislators can do, it’s find a compromise between two numbers; that’s a lot easier than haggling over the programs generating the numbers. Meanwhile, since almost no one knows what’s supposed to have been in the bills, Democrats can start talking up whatever they pass, rather than making excuses for what they didn’t.
Again: There’s no agreement yet; all they’re working on is a framework, not the full legislative language with all the details; and things could easily still collapse. But I’ve been saying for a while that the eventual outcome to these negotiations is a complete unknown, and I don’t think that’s the case any more.
Now the most likely outcome is that both bills pass and are signed into law. If that happens, the total size is going to be a lot lower than originally proposed, and a lot of Democratic priorities won’t be included, but it would still cap off an impressive legislative start to Biden’s presidency.
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