Federal Judge Rules Against Trump Administration’s Strict Asylum Policy

On Tuesday night a federal judge ruled that the strictest asylum policy that the Trump administration created is illegal. This decision comes at the heels of the new Supreme Court decision, made on June 18, to uphold the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program

The “third-country asylum rule,” instituted in 2019, “prohibited immigrants from claiming asylum in the United States if they did not first try to claim it in a country they passed through on their way to the U.S. border,” according to NBC News. It appeared to target Central American migrants who were fleeing gang violence and forced “asylum-seeking migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador” to seek asylum from Mexico first, before asking for asylum from the U.S.

Judge Timothy J. Kelly, U.S. District of Washington, D.C., appointed to the federal bench by President Trump in 2017, ruled in favor of “third-country asylum rule,” argued by asylum-seekers and immigrant rights organizations. The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security jointly published that this rule violated the Immigration and Nationality Act. 

Judge Kelly stated that the administration had not abided by the Administrative Procedure Act, a federal act that requires Americans to be given enough time and opportunity to weigh in on such changes. Kelly wrote, “there are many circumstances in which courts appropriately defer to the national security judgments of the Executive,” later adding, “but determining the scope of an APA exception is not one of them.” He argued that the Immigration and Nationality Act allows anyone who has made it to U.S. soil to apply for asylum. 

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal said on Twitter that “this decision invalidates Trump’s ‘asylum ban’ at the southern border” and that the ruling would take effect immediately. 

Media Sources:  NBC News 07/01/20; DHS 07/01/20; Twitter 07/01/20


USAID Afghan Rug Project Aims to Empower Women and Bolster the Economy

A project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is putting Afghanistan’s traditional rug industry back into the hands of Afghan weavers. This project, based in Kabul, aims to grow Afghanistan’s economy and empower women.

The nine-million-dollar project, run by Rob Leahy in South Carolina, acts as the ‘middle man’ between Afghan weavers and the international rug market. The project does so by ensuring families have the resources to make the rugs and connecting weavers to international financial markets. Leahy states that “The hope is they (Afghanistan’s residents) will make rugs not war…It sounds trite, but it’s as simple as that.”

She states that rug making is a critical part of Afghanistan’s economic growth strategy. “It’s something that all those people can do in their houses.

Handwoven rug production is a family affair in Afghanistan: the men gather the materials and the women weave. Much of the weaving takes place in the home, allowing women and girls to take care of their families while working. In a society that has historically hindered women’s ability to work, the Afghan carpet industry offers a workplace for women and promotes financial empowerment, as well as creativity and stability. Habibyar’s hope is to recreate an Afghan rug industry strong enough to continue after USAID funding ends.

Since the Soviet invasion in the late 1970s, Afghan rugs have been outsourced to Pakistan. This has decreased the share of profit that goes to female Afghan weavers and the credibility of Afghan rugs because they are often labeled as Pakistani rugs. Handwoven rugs are one of Afghanistan’s largest exports, so this project aims to bring the supply chain back to Afghanistan and to directly connect female weavers with international consumers, with whom they otherwise may have had difficulty connecting with.

Handwoven rugs in Afghanistan reflect the culture, creativity, and pride found in the country and an industry that has persevered through the country’s many conflicts. According to Najila Habibyar, “It’s something that all those people can do in their houses.” Rather than just doing house chores, women can generate income from within their homes. Such an opportunity provides them with opportunities to grow professionally and feel more independent.

Sources: The Post and Courier 6/20/20; Reuters 5/19/20; Reuters 4/12/18; OEC 6/29/20Aljazeera 1/29/15

Supreme Court Upholds Conditional Funding for Overseas Organizations

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that allows the federal government to distribute AIDS funding to foreign affiliates of U.S. groups on the condition they explicitly oppose prostitution and sex trafficking.

The 5-3 decision split along ideological lines with Justice Brett Kavanaugh writing for the majority. Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case because she was previously involved as solicitor general under the Obama administration.

Congress passed a law in 2003 that allocated billions of dollars to fight HIV/AIDS internationally. The law required that all organizations receiving funds “have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.”

Nongovernmental organizations based in the U.S. litigated the provision, arguing the law violated the First Amendment when applied to organizations in the U.S. The Supreme Court decided in 2013 by a 6-2 vote that such a condition was unconstitutional. Four of the U.S. organizations continued to argue that the law is also unconstitutional when enforced against their foreign affiliates in the recent case.

Kavanaugh’s majority opinion stated that foreign entities do not have constitutional protections, writing, “it is long settled as a matter of American constitutional law that foreign citizens outside U.S. territory do not possess rights under the U.S. Constitution.”

The majority argues that foreign affiliates operate as separate entities and are therefore subject to a different set of legal obligations. The speech regulations, the court says, comes from foreign entities voluntarily affiliating themselves with American organizations, not the American government.

Writing the dissent on behalf of the court’s liberal bloc, Justice Stephen Breyer argues that foreign affiliates are not distinct entities because stateside NGOs “speak through clearly identified affiliates that have been incorporated overseas.” He worries that the court’s decision will weaken essential speech protections.

“I fear the Court’s decision will seriously impede the countless American speakers who communicate overseas in a similar way,” Breyer wrote, “That weakens the marketplace of ideas at a time when the value of that marketplace for Americans, and for others, reaches well beyond our shores.”

Open Society Foundations, one of the organizations involved in the lawsuit, says the new decision will impede efforts to provide healthcare abroad.

“The Anti-Prostitution Pledge compromises the fight against HIV by impeding and stigmatizing efforts to deliver health services. Condemnation of marginalized groups is not a public health strategy,” the organization’s president, Patrick Gaspard said.

Sources: The Hill 06/29/20; SCOTUS Blog 06/29/20; Jurist 06/29/20

Supreme Court Rejects Louisiana TRAP Law

The Supreme Court voted Monday 5-4 to reject a restrictive Louisiana abortion law. The law would have required abortion clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Chief Justice John Roberts was the deciding vote, joining Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg in an act of precedent protection.

In June 2016, the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-3 against a similar law in Texas. The law also required doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges and required abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Stephen G. Breyer, and Anthony M. Kennedy made up the majority, and Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas made up the dissent. The majority cited Planned Parenthood v. Casey’s “undue burden” prohibition as the reason for their ruling, connecting the law to the closure of half of the abortion clinics in Texas.

Since then, the makeup of the court has changed. President Donald Trump entered office with an open seat, due to the Senate’s refusal to confirm Merrick Garland, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy retired in 2018. This resulted in the confirmation of two new Justices under Trump: Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh. Now, this identical law was facing a majority of justices with anti-abortion voting records.

Ultimately, Chief Justice G. John Roberts decided to stand with the four-year-old precedent. He wrote: “The legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike… The Louisiana law imposes a burden on access to abortion just as severe as that imposed by the Texas law, for the same reasons. Therefore Louisiana’s law cannot stand under our precedents.”

The Louisiana law would have left the state with one abortion clinic and one abortion provider. 10,000 people in Louisiana require abortions each year. The restrictive law never went into effect, however, due to a district court’s adherence to the 2016 precedent and the Supreme Court’s temporary blockage of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ attempt to reinstate it in 2019.

That same Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals admitted that it could not identify a single person that would have been helped by the Louisiana law.

Admitting privileges are generally viewed as burdensome by the medical community. The federal government eliminated the requirement for doctors at ambulatory surgical centers who treat Medicaid and Medicare patients, and every major medical group in the U.S. opposed the restriction.

Nina Totenberg, writing for NPR, argues that this “decision is likely to play a significant role in the upcoming election.” 56% of the voters that listed Supreme Court nominations as their “most important factor” in 2016 supported Trump, but he has yet to make good on his promise to overturn Roe V. Wade – despite nominating two justices during his term.

Sources: NPR 06/29, New York Times 06/29, Supreme Court 06/29, Washington Post 06/29, CNBC 06/29

Judge Orders Release of Migrant Children from Family Detention Centers 

This Friday, Judge Dolly M. Gee, a federal judge of the Central District of California, ordered the release of migrant children from family detention centers, primarily citing the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic as her reasoning.

This order demands that the children must be released by July 17. The ruling applies to children who have been “held for more than 20 days in the detention centers… two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania,” according to the New York Times. This order comes after plaintiffs in a long-running case “reported that some of them had tested positive for the virus,” according to Boston, and is part of an ongoing effort to release particularly vulnerable immigrants from confined facilities. Over 2,500 immigrants have tested positive for COVID-19 in ICE detention centers. 

In her order, Judge Gee stated that “family residential centers are on fire and there is no more time for half measures,” criticizing the Trump administration for its lack of compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 124 children living in facilities, she wrote, must be released with “all deliberate speed” with their parents. 

The 1997 Flores settlement agreement, which sets limits on “the length of time and conditions under which children can be incarcerated in immigration detention,” is overseen by Judge Gee. Judge Gee has blocked two years of efforts from the Trump administration’s attempts at terminating this settlement. 

This is the first time that a court has set a deadline for the release of minors. 

Sources: New York Times 06/29/20; Human Rights First 06/29/20, Boston 06/29/20, CNN 06/29/20

After Legal Dispute, Missouri’s Only Abortion Clinic Gets License

On Thursday, Missouri’s only abortion clinic was issued a license to operate for another year. The license ensures that Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region can continue safely providing abortions until it must be renewed again in June 2021.

The license comes after a year-long dispute with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. In 2019, officials claimed to have found “deficient practices” at the clinic in a state audit. After this, they neglected to renew their license and Planned Parenthood sued. In May, Missouri’s Administrative Hearing Commission ruled in favor of the Planned Parenthood clinic, stating that the Department of Health and Senior Services was wrong to not renew the license. “Planned Parenthood has demonstrated that it provides safe and legal abortion care,” wrote Missouri Administrative Hearing Commissioner Sreenivasa Rao Dandamudi in the ruling.

Earlier this month, department officials executed an on-site inspection of the clinic before officially reissuing the license. Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region, explained that the “process was prompt, the inspectors were cordial, and we appreciate the department’s work to issue the license.”

Rodríguez further criticized the licensure ordeal. “This abortion license, while critical to our ability to provide care, still cannot undo the harm that longstanding medically unnecessary policies in our state inflict on patients,” she said. Missouri is home to very restrictive abortion laws that have prevented patients from seeking the care they need and has pushed many to cross state lines. These laws have included a 72-hour waiting period before receiving an abortion and a statewide ban on insurance coverage for abortion services.

The deadline to appeal the ruling is Monday and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has not indicated whether or not they will appeal.

ABC News 6/25/20; Feminist Newswire 3/12/20; The Kansas City Star 6/25/20

Trump Administration Urges the Supreme Court to Scrap the Affordable Care Act

On Thursday evening, in a filing to the Supreme Court, the Trump administration asked the court to terminate the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Asserting that the ACA is illegal, the filing states that “the entire ACA must fall.” This filing was met with immediate criticism from prominent Democrats, as well as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, and several Republicans. Healthcare has been a central issue of the 2020 presidential election. However, it is unlikely that the case will be heard by the Supreme Court before the November election.

Although it has been estimated that since being enacted in 2010, the ACA has provided millions of Americans with healthcare, the Trump Administration and Department of Justice contend in their filing that the act is no longer valid because the previous U.S. Congress voted to end the individual mandate. The administration claims this mandate was central to the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions of the ACA.

In the administration’s filing, Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote, “Nothing the 2017 Congress did demonstrates it would have intended the rest of the ACA to continue to operate in the absence of these three integral provisions.” The filing also argues against the ACA’s rules regarding pre-existing conditions. Under the ACA, health insurance cannot be denied to those with pre-existing health conditions.

Prominent Democrats have spoken out since the administration’s late-night filing. In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the filing “an act of unfathomable cruelty” as it coincides with the coronavirus pandemic, and also said that if the court sides with the Trump administration “130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions will lose the ACA’s lifesaving protections and 23 million will lose their health coverage entirely.”

Some Republicans have also questioned the timing and necessity of the filing. Recognizing that overturning the ACA could lead to “political blowback,” some have expressed fear that undermining the ACA during an election year could produce results similar to those seen in 2018 when Democrats regained a majority in the House. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) described the Republican-led argument as “far-fetched,” arguing that Congress would be unlikely to deny healthcare to individuals with pre-existing conditions.

In spite of the controversy generated by the filing, legal experts still view the case as a “long-shot,” according to NBC News. In 2012, the constitutionality of certain key provisions of the ACA was challenged by 26 states in lower courts; however, the Supreme Court upheld these provisions. Five of the justices who were central to the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling remain on the court in 2020.

Sources: NPR 6/26/2020; Supreme Court 6/2020; BBC News 6/26/2020; The Guardian 6/26/2020; Speaker of the House 6/25/2020; NBC News 6/26/2020; The Hill 6/12/2020; AMA Journal of Ethics 2012

House To Vote on D.C. Statehood Bill Friday

The U.S. House is expected to pass Washington D.C. statehood Friday, marking the first time either chamber of Congress will approve such legislation.

The measure is unlikely to be taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate or the Trump administration, but the legislation represents a newfound momentum for the D.C. statehood movement among Democrats. The last time the House voted on statehood was 1993 when the bill failed 153-277.

Support for statehood comes after President Donald Trump recently deployed federal law enforcement in response to peaceful protestors marching against police brutality. The District’s lack of diminished autonomy means Mayor Muriel Bowser has little recourse against federal action.

“This blatant degradation of our home right before my own eyes offered another reminder — a particularly powerful one — of why we need statehood for the District,” Bowser wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Full representation for the District’s residents, 46% of whom are Black, is also an issue of racial justice, according to statehood proponents.

“The fact that over 700,000 mostly black and brown people do not have a vote in Congress is racism,” Stasha Rhode, campaign director for the D.C. statehood advocacy organization 51 for 51.

Given the District’s lack of statehood, it has no representation in the Senate and sends just one delegate—Eleanor Holmes Norton—to the House without voting powers. The slogan “Taxation without representation,” which appears on D.C. license plates, speaks to the disenfranchisement of residents.

At 700,000 residents, D.C. has more residents than the two least populous states—Wyoming and Vermont. Residents also pay more federal taxes each year than 22 states.

Statehood would remedy the “injustice of paying taxes, proudly serving in uniform in great numbers and contributing to the economic power of our nation while being denied the full enfranchisement, which is their right,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Tuesday.

In addition to congressional representation, D.C. statehood is also significant for funding allocation, a problem that is especially relevant during the coronavirus pandemic. In the $2 trillion stimulus bill Congress passed in response to the pandemic, each state was allotted $1.25 billion in funds. The District, however, received $500 million along with the other five U.S. territories.

“If we had had two senators, this issue would not have come up,” Holmes Norton said. “There would have been no notion that any states should have been shortchanged in this way. It’s another indication of why we need D.C. statehood.”

Sources: NBC News 06/25/20; Vox 06/22/20; The Atlantic 06/24/20; Washington Monthly 04/01/20.

Missouri Court Rules Against Johnson & Johnson in Ovarian Cancer Lawsuit

An appeals court in Missouri ruled against Johnson & Johnson in a civil suit, ordering them to pay billions in damages. The plaintiffs are women who say they have contracted ovarian cancer from the use of the company’s famous baby powder.

The women believe the talcum Johnson & Johnson baby powder contains asbestos and is the reason for their cancer. Though marketed for babies, the product is most often purchased by adult women. The court awarded $2.1 billion in damages to the women. 11 plaintiffs have died since the case began.

In 2018, a jury in the St. Louis Circuit Court ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $4.7 billion in punitive damages and $550 in compensatory damages to the women. The jury cited a failure to adequately warn consumers about potential cancer risks as the cause for their ruling.

The latest appeals court ruling cut the previously awarded damages in half, ordering $1.62 billion in punitive damages and $500 million in actual damages.

Asbestos is a carcinogen that has been linked to different types of cancer, including ovarian. It grows under conditions similar to talc – in underground deposits, and the two natural minerals can sometimes be found together in mines.

Memos discovered during the trial process show that Johnson & Johnson has been fearful of asbestos in its talcum products for at least 50 years. In 1980, the company released a separate baby powder made from cornstarch, and last year they recalled 33,000 talc baby powder bottles due to a found presence of asbestos. But the talc powder has remained on the shelves until just this May when Johnson & Johnson formally stopped selling the baby powder in North America.

Regarding its decision, the court stated:  “A reasonable inference from all this evidence is that, motivated by profits, defendants disregarded the safety of consumers despite their knowledge the talc in their products caused ovarian cancer.”

Johnson & Johnson faces over 19,000 lawsuits concerning its talc products.

Sources: New York Times 06/25, NPR 06/22, Cancer Health 06/25, American Cancer Society 06/25

ACLU Secures the Release of 25 ICE Detainees in Rhode Island

The Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island has released 25 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees since a class-action lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Last month, the ACLU filed a federal class-action lawsuit asserting that it was not safe to keep detainees there amid the spread of COVID-19. U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy detailed the conditions of the Wyatt facility in a written order, stating that they “present a case for a substantial claim of constitutional error and present facts which may lead to conclude that their continued detention under these circumstances presents a substantial risk of serious harm or death.” As of Monday, 57 detainees and 17 staff members had tested positive for the virus, and the surrounding city of Central Falls is seeing large numbers of positive cases.

When the lawsuit began, the ACLU was seeking an “urgent” conditional release of 70 ICE detainees. McElroy, ACLU lawyers, and federal prosecutors ended up holding over 30 remote bail hearings for detainees whose release was not agreed upon by federal prosecutors and the ACLU. McElroy ordered 16 of the detainees released on bail. On Tuesday, ACLU attorneys announced that Wyatt agreed to release nine others.

The judge denied bail to some, concerned that their release would create a public safety risk or they may pose a flight risk. However, Wyatt may still see more releases. According to a lawyer representing the ACLU from the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm, another bail hearing is set to be held on Friday.

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said, “We have managed to get more than two dozen detainees out of the facility and out of danger. The most striking figure is that this lawsuit was successful in getting more immigration detainees out of the facility than are currently locked up there now.” Although unable to release everyone, Jared Goldstein, who represented some of the detainees for the ACLU, is “hopeful that the reduced population may make social distancing more possible.”

In a separate lawsuit earlier this year, the ACLU also secured the release of three other detainees from Wyatt.

Sources: Providence Journal 6/24/20; The Boston Globe 6/23/20

Lack of Access to “Non-Essential” Healthcare Severely Impacts Marginalized Communities

As COVID-19 cases surge in the United States, many states have shifted healthcare policies to place a greater focus on those who have been infected. In order to do this, states must determine what is essential and non-essential healthcare, impacting marginalized people, such as poor people, communities of color, and women in severe ways. 

In the U.S., there are about 47 million people using contraception, 3.8 million births, and 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections per year, and these numbers have stayed consistent during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though many reproductive health services have been deemed non-essential.

When it comes to abortion services, at least twelve states have created policies to suspend abortions during the pandemic, with only five states including abortion as an essential part of healthcare. Most commonly though, states have not defined what is and is not essential, letting healthcare workers determine this. The CDC recommended postponing “elective” and “non-essential surgeries” using a tiered framework that takes into account the severity and time-sensitivity of a patient’s needs.

As a result, the number of people going to the doctor for preventive health services, contraception, infertility care, pregnancy, and gynecologic cancer has decreased, according to a survey by Strata Decision Technology. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that “more than half of women reported that they or a family member delayed or skipped medical care due to the coronavirus outbreak.”

While many conditions are not life-threatening, there can be serious consequences after deciding not to see a doctor. Undetected and untreated STIs can lead to complications such as infertility and ectopic pregnancies. Limited access to contraception puts people at risk for unintended pregnancies. 

Many continue to remain fearful of being exposed to COVID-19 at a healthcare center. A Gallup poll conducted from May 14 to May 24 of 2020 showed that 70% of women are fearful of contracting the virus. Additionally, as over half of the workforce has lost their wages or jobs, and many may not be able to afford to receive healthcare. 

Healthcare providers have also been reporting that many of their practices are struggling financially, with 77% reporting net-negative revenue in April of 2020. 

Media Sources: Strata Decision Technology 06/24/2020; Kaiser Family Foundation 06/24/2020; Gallup 06/24/2020

Trump Suspends Multiple Temporary Work Visas Through End of Year

The Trump administration announced Monday a suspension of new temporary employment-based visas at least through the end of this year.

The sweeping order will halt temporary visas for workers in specialized fields and many seasonal workers. Multinational companies will also be prohibited from transferring foreign employees to temporarily work in the United States.

New restrictions will take effect June 24 and will only apply to people outside of the United States who have not yet secured a visa.

The administration says the restrictions are a response to high unemployment that resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. Officials say the new rule could keep out as many as half a million workers foreign workers this year.

Before the new move, the Trump administration has used the coronavirus as justification to continue its anti-immigration agenda with increasingly draconian rules. Earlier, the administration closed the Southern border to all immigrants, making few exceptions for asylum seekers.

Business leaders, especially those in the tech industry, have strongly criticized the move. Companies including Google, Apple, Tesla, and others that rely on visa programs to employ thousands of people have all spoken out against the rule.

“Like Apple, this nation of immigrants has always found strength in our diversity, and hope in the enduring promise of the American Dream. There is no new prosperity without both. Deeply disappointed by this proclamation,” Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote on Twitter.

After Trump’s announcement, the Department of Homeland Security also released a new rule that bars asylum seekers who crossed the border illegally from seeking work authorization.

“It’ll require most asylum seekers to rely on charity or work under the table to survive,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council, said to CNN.

Experts say the restriction on skilled workers will be counterproductive in the administration’s proclaimed attempt to bolster the economy and create new jobs.

“Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back,” Thomas Donohue, the chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said to The New York Times.

Sources: CNN 06/22/20; The New York Times 06/22/20; CNBC 06/23/20

Three National Organizations Challenge Tennessee Heartbeat Bill

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed an emergency lawsuit Friday afternoon against Tennessee’s heartbeat bill. The lawsuit aims to block the legislation from being enacted and ultimately declared unconstitutional.

If enforced, the bill would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can occur as early as six weeks – which is before many people even know they are pregnant. The bill also prohibits abortions due to the fetus’s race, sex, or diagnosis of Down syndrome, as well as for minors in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services. Expectations are in place if a pregnant person’s life is in danger, but not in the instances of rape or incest.

Additionally, the legislation would require healthcare practitioners to provide an ultrasound and pictures/descriptions of the fetus to the pregnant person before the abortion is performed – likely increasing the cost of the procedure.

The bill passed the Tennessee State Senate at 12:30 in the morning on Friday. The vote was 23-5 along party lines. It occurred with no members of the public present, with it never having been on the legislative calendar, and with Senate leadership previously promising to only take up budgetary or COVID-related bills. State representative Gloria Johnson said on the Senate floor, “I feel like there was a bargain made on my reproductive health rights in order to get the budget passed.”

Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, is expected to sign the bill into law. According to the Tennessean, lawmakers specifically designed the bill to act as a potential challenge to Roe V. Wade.

Planned Parenthood has been previously successful in protecting abortion access in Tennessee. In April, the governor issued an executive order that limited non-emergency medical procedures amidst the pandemic, which included surgical abortions. A federal judge blocked the order before it went into effect.

Acting Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson said of the bill, “It is a disgrace that in the face of a true public health crisis, Tennessee politicians wasted their time with this last-minute move to attack abortion access before closing up shop this session. We know that the goal of the politicians behind this bill is simple: a total ban on safe, legal abortion. Politicians know that this bill is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Sources: 10 News 06/22, The Hill 06/22, Tennessean 06/22, The Guardian 06/17

Afghan Women Ask Global Leaders to Stand by Their Side

In an open letter to global women leaders, a coalition of Afghan women from across the country has asked to “stand by their side to protect women’s rights” in Afghanistan. The letter is addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Ann Wagner, Ambassador Kelly Craft, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg.

In the letter, Afghan women have shared their concerns and worries about why they fear the loss of their rights once again. In one part, the letter reads, “Unlike other peace processes where the issue is about past injustice, this peace process also threatens to enact policies bringing about future injustices against women.”

Afghan women rightly fear that the Afghan negotiations process includes a group, the Taliban, which took all rights from them. In the letter, they write, “There are many simple things that women take for granted in your countries. These range from more serious matters such as having the right to earn a livelihood and provide for their family to every day little acts like leaving their house without fear of reprisal, taking a stroll in the park, and laughing with a friend in public. However, these are some of the basic things we fear we will lose again.”

Afghan women believe that the Taliban has not evolved in their views of treating women and are saying to these global leaders, “We cannot take a chance to lose what we have achieved with your help.” The Taliban continue to oppress women in parts of the country they still rule. They have also made statements that they will give rights to women only within the bounds of Shari’a law. Many Afghans, especially women, believe that their interpretation of Shari’a law is in complete contrast to what is being practiced in many of the Islamic countries. Women in most of the Islamic world enjoy many rights that the Taliban had taken away from Afghan women when they ruled.

Afghan women are well aware that the fight for women’s equality is alive across the world and that “it is a long way to achieve full equality for women anywhere and it is even harder to achieve that in Afghanistan but we, the [Afghan] women, cannot allow it to go back.” They are asking these leaders to stand “with us,” but also are also, “We will continue our struggle as it is a matter of life and death to us but with this letter, we want you to hear our voices too that we must matter.”

Read the letter in full here.

Reparations Bill Proposed in Congress

Democrats in the House of Representatives have introduced a reparations bill. The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act (H.R. 40) would create a dedicated federal committee tasked with studying the consequences of slavery and creating comprehensive recommendations for reparations.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, reparations are actions that “make amends, offering expiation (atonement), or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury.” The reparations being discussed by the House are reparations specifically surrounding slavery, and its legacy of systemic racism faced by Black Americans. Most calls for slavery reparations are centered on financial compensation for Black people – due to slavery’s direct impact on the racial wealth gap.

This bill comes amidst weeks of demonstrations protesting against the long-standing history of anti-Black racism and police brutality in the US, catalyzed by the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahumaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Nina Pop, and Tony McDade.

H.R. 40, which is named after the original idea of reparations: 40 acres and a mule, is not new to Congress. Representative John Conyers, who retired in 2017, had been championing the bill since 1989. Furthermore, the case for slavery reparations is not new to the United States. Black Americans have been advocating for reparations since 1783, when Belinda Royall, a formerly enslaved person, won compensation for her unpaid labor.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, the sponsor of the bill, believes it will pass the House – especially given the current moment. According to her office, 128 members of the House Democratic Caucus are in support of H.R. 40. The bill saw a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2019, and its next steps are a full committee hearing and a vote – which the House Majority Leader’s office confirmed will happen if H.R. 40 survives committee. A companion bill has been sponsored in the Senate by Senator Cory Booker, but its fate is uncertain given Mitch McConnell’s hard stance against reparations.

Sources: CNN 06/19, ACLU 06/19, Teen Vogue 06/19, New York Times 06/19, Forbes 06/19, NBC 06/19

Supreme Court Rules Trump Administration Cannot End DACA

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Trump administration could not immediately end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and deport nearly 700,000 immigrants who arrived as children.

The decision allows the Trump administration to end DACA in another attempt if it appropriately follows administrative law. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices to form the decisive 5-4 majority.

The DACA program, established by President Barack Obama in 2012, protects undocumented immigrants who arrived as children from deportation. These immigrants, known as Dreamers, can obtain a work permit through DACA if they fit certain guidelines. Permits last two years and can be renewed. The program, however, does not provide a path to citizenship.

In the majority decision by Roberts, he said the “total rescission” of DACA was “arbitrary and capricious.” He clarified that the court was not weighing in on the soundness of the DACA policy.

“The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’ We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote.

Of the five justices in the majority, only Justice Sonia Sotomayor said Trump administration’s decision to end DACA may have been “contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus.” She quotes Trump’s previous racist comments toward Mexican immigrants and says Dreamers have grounds to further litigate their equal protection claims.

Over 90% of DACA recipients are employed and almost half are in school. The essential nature of their work has especially been seen during the coronavirus pandemic, as 27,000 DACA recipients are frontline healthcare workers.

Even before the pandemic last fall, the Association of American Medical Colleges told the court that the U.S. is ill-prepared to fill the positions of DACA recipients if they are not permitted to work in the healthcare industry.

DACA now has a 74% approval rating among U.S. adults, with 91% of Democratic support and 54% of Republican support. Though the Trump administration can try to rescind the program again, Republican leaders may wish to avoid running counter to public opinion in an election year.

Sources: CNN 06/18/20; The New York Times 06/18/20; NPR 06/18/20; NBC News 06/18/20.

Anti-Choice Group Files Lawsuit Against Illinois Reproductive Health Act

On June 10, the Thomas More Society (TMS) filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Insurance claiming that the Illinois Reproductive Health Act is unconstitutional and violates the religious liberties of its clients. TMS argues that the law requiring employers to provide insurance that covers abortions violates the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Illinois Right of Conscience Act, which both prevent the government from interfering with Illinoisans’ religious freedom. The plaintiffs want the abortion coverage mandate to be declared unlawful and request that an injunction be enacted prohibiting Illinois from enforcing the abortion coverage requirements.

The Illinois Reproductive Health Act was signed into law on June 12, 2019. A portion of the law requires private health insurance policies which cover pregnancy related care to also cover abortion costs. The law also establishes abortion as a “fundamental right.” The 2019 act repeals the outdated Illinois Abortion Law of 1975 which mandated spousal consent and waiting periods, as well as criminalized abortions, although this portion of the law had not been enforced for a number of years. Governor Pritzker stated that the law was “a giant step forward for women’s health.” The President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, Jennifer Welch, proclaimed that by enacting the law Illinois sent a “very clear message – a woman, not politicians, should make decisions when it comes to her own pregnancy.”

TMS is an anti-choice law firm based in Chicago which describes itself as “dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.” TMS filed the suit on behalf of three employers – the Illinois Baptist State Association, Southland Smiles, and Rock River Cartage. In a comment on the TMS website, Peter Breen, Vice President and Senior Counsel for the TMS, argued that “Radical partisans have forced employers of faith in Illinois into a terrible choice: either pay for the intentional termination of unborn children, or leave your employees’ families and your own without health insurance.” He went on to declare that the Illinois Reproductive Health Act was unconstitutional and a violation of religious freedom.

Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association in Springfield and a plaintiff in the case, asserted that his association “cannot morally participate in the funding of abortion” which is against the organization’s “deeply-held beliefs.” He proclaimed that “the state of Illinois is forcing us to do that and that is illegal.”

The director of the Women’s and Reproductive Rights Project for the ACLU of Illinois, Ameri Klafeta, responded to the suit by saying that it was “straight out of the Thomas More Society playbook.” She went on to state that, “having lost an argument over the availability of abortion care in the hearts and minds of the American people and the legislature, TMS has run to court in an attempt to impose their religious views on all people in Illinois, including abortion care. It is beyond cruel to try and reduce access to basic health care in the midst of a pandemic.”

Sources: Alton Daily News 6/17/20; Rewire News 12/12/16; Rewire News 11/28/16; Chicago Tribune 6/12/19; Thomas More Society 6/10/20; Thomas More Society; Herald & Review 6/11/20

SCOTUS Ruling Could Upend Trump Administration’s Attacks on the Trans Community

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in the workplace could derail the Trump administration’s latest restrictions on transgender rights in healthcare.

In the Trump administration’s most recent attack on the LGBTQ+ community, the anti-discrimination policies that protect transgender people in healthcare settings have been reversed. Under the Affordable Care Act, healthcare providers could not refuse care to patients on the basis of sex. During the Obama administration, the definition of sex was expanded to include transgender patients. However, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has chosen to interpret these provisions differently, taking the meaning of sex to be “male or female and as determined by biology,” as stated in the HHS rule.

But the latest Supreme Court ruling to ban workplace discrimination towards LGBTQ+ individuals is in direct conflict with the Trump administration’s definition of sex discrimination. The landmark ruling comes just three days after Trump’s rollback of protections for transgender patients and could make it much harder to defend it in court.

The court’s interpretation of sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. This interpretation will likely reach across other areas that feature sex discrimination policies, rendering the Trump administration’s narrow and biological definition moot. “The court here today clearly articulated that discrimination based on sexual orientation, discrimination based on gender identity, are forms of sex discrimination,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Both legal experts and critics of the court’s ruling have noted the widespread effects that it may have. “Any law, and I think there are dozens, that says you can’t discriminate because of sex is going to have a reckoning with this ruling,” said Georgetown Law professor, Paul Smith. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote, “What the court has done today… is virtually certain to have far-reaching consequences.”

Sources: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (6/12/20); Axios 6/16/20; The New York Times 6/15/20

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Sanctuary Law Case

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will not hear a challenge to California’s sanctuary laws, therefore allowing the laws to stay in place.

The court, following tradition, did not give a reason for rejecting to hear the case. Two conservative members of the court, Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, said the court should have taken the case.

Sanctuary laws, enforced by state and local authorities throughout the country, prevent local law enforcement from sharing immigration information with federal authorities. Supporters of these provisions argue that they bolster public safety by encouraging undocumented immigrants to report crime and cooperate with law enforcement.

The federal government cannot decide how states interact with federal immigration enforcement, attorneys for California wrote in their legal brief.

“Nothing in federal law precludes states from defining the circumstances under which state and local officials may use state resources to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law,” the lawyers wrote.

Earlier, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit based in San Francisco ruled that California was not required to use state resources to support federal immigration policy.

“But when questions of federalism are involved, we must distinguish between expectations and requirements. In this context, the federal government was free to expect as much as it wanted, but it could not require California’s cooperation,” Judge Milan Smith Jr. wrote on behalf of a unanimous three-judge panel.

Two other federal courts have agreed with the Ninth Circuit ruling, though the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which encompasses New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, ruled last week that the Justice Department could withhold federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions.

The Trump administration has consistently criticized sanctuary policies as they frustrate the administration’s harsh stance on immigration enforcement. States should have the authority to decide their own policies, however, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

“We’re protecting Californians’ right to decide how we do public safety in our state. The Trump Administration does not have the authority to commandeer state resources. We’re heartened by today’s Supreme Court decision,” Becerra said.

Sources: The New York Times 06/15/20; CNN 06/15/20; Politico 06/15/20; NBC News 06/15/20.

Planned Parenthood Endorses Joe Biden for President

On Monday, Planned Parenthood Action Fund announced their endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden for president.

In a video statement, acting president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Alexis McGill Johnson, explains the decision. She cites the work done during the Obama-Biden administration. “While Joe Biden was Vice President, more people got insurance coverage than ever,” she states. Under the Affordable Care Act, the important resources that Planned Parenthood provides, such as birth control, STI testing, and cancer screenings, were all covered.

Biden is also featured in the video statement, stating that healthcare is a right. “As president, I’m going to do everything in my power to expand access to quality, affordable health care for women, especially women of color,” he says. He further pledges to protect the constitutional right to choose.

The right to reproductive healthcare has been at risk during the Trump administration, a fact that is highlighted in the endorsement video. McGill Johnson notes Trump’s appointment of conservative judges and consistent attacks on reproductive healthcare. Included in these attacks is the Title X gag rule that restricts funding for family planning programs and other crucial health services. Prior to the announcement, McGill Johnson told NPR, “This is literally a life and death election. We felt like we can’t endure another four years of Trump; we have to do everything we can to get him out of office.”

Biden’s record on reproductive rights has varied and been frequently questioned by abortion rights advocates. His support for the Hyde Amendment, a measure that bans federal Medicaid funding for most abortions, was criticized by some of the most influential groups and advocates in national politics, including Planned Parenthood. He reversed his support last year after the criticism. Biden’s mixed history with reproductive rights is not mentioned in the endorsement announcement.

When asked about Biden’s record, McGill Johnson noted his willingness to listen and adjust his views. “What we know is that he’s somebody that folks can work with. We know that he will deliver on basic — I mean birth control, access to abortion — these are actually bread-and-butter issues, and I think that’s what we really need right now,” she told NPR.

Sources: NPR 6/15/20; Planned Parenthood Action Fund 6/15/20; The Washington Post 6/5/19


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