Category Archives: USA

Appeals court upholds La. law regulating abortion clinics

abortion photoThe March for Life in Washington, D.C., Jan. 22, 2015. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA

New Orleans, La.- The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday rejected a request from abortion rights’ advocates to rehear a case challenging a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

The Jan. 18 decision effectively upholds its earlier ruling in favor of the bipartisan law, known as the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act, or Act 620. Unless an appeal to the US Supreme Court is filed, it will take effect Jan. 28.

A three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit had upheld Act 620 in September by a 2-1 vote. Abortion rights’ advocates were asking the court to rehear the case en banc – by a greater share of the court’s judges.

“I applaud the Fifth Circuit’s decision to reject the abortion providers’ latest legal challenge to Louisiana’s pro-life and pro-woman admitting privileges law,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “Act 620 is common-sense measure that ensures women will receive proper care if they have complications.”

The Fifth Circuit voted 9-6 to reject the petition for rehearing en banc.

Act 620 was authored by Democratic State Rep. Katrina Jackson, who authored the legislation and is chair of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. She has said the law is about “the safety of women.”

It was passed in 2014 by an 88-5 vote in the Louisiana House, and a 34-3 vote in the Senate.

The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act requires that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

The law also clarifies that informed consent protections also apply to chemical abortions, procured by ingesting mifepristone, and that chemical abortions must be reported anonymously to the Department of Health and Hospitals, which already tracks surgical abortions. Doctors who perform more than five abortions per year must also maintain proper licensing.

When the Fifth Circuit upheld Act 620 in September, it found that the law does not impose a substantial burden on women seeking to procure abortion.

Act 620 was challenged in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2016 Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision.

In that case, the high court struck down a Texas law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, and abortion clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers. In the 5-3 vote, the majority found that the law put an “undue burden” on a women’s right to an abortion, posing a “substantial obstacle” to that right without showing the necessary benefits of its regulations to women’s health.

Considering Louisiana’s law in light of Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Fifth Circuit wrote that “the facts in the instant case are remarkably different from those that occasioned the invalidation of the Texas statute in WWH.”

“Here, unlike in Texas, the Act does not impose a substantial burden on a large fraction of women under WWH and other controlling Supreme Court authority. Careful review of the record reveals stark differences between the record before us and that which the Court considered in WWH.”

“The Louisiana Act passes muster even under the stringent requirements of WWH,” wrote Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith.
Similarly, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in September ruled that Missouri may enforce its own law mandating that doctors who perform abortions have hospital privileges and that abortion clinics to have the same standards as similar outpatient surgical centers.

The Eighth Circuit also cited the Hellerstedt case, saying that decision analyzed purported benefits of the law at issue related to abortion in Texas, not Missouri, and that it found courts should consider the asserted benefits of a law.

Fifth Circuit Judge James L. Dennis dissented from the court’s decision not to rehear the challenge to Act 620, asserting it is “in clear conflict” with the Hellerstedt decision and that “the panel majority’s attempt to distinguish WWH is meritless because it is based on an erroneous and distorted version of the undue burden test required by WWH and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey.”

Landry welcomed the majority’s decision not to rehear the challenge to Act 620, saying: “The Fifth Circuit once again affirmed what we have repeatedly said: our law is both factually and legally different from the Texas law that the Supreme Court ruled against.”

“I once again thank Representative Katrina Jackson for authoring this public safety legislation and Solicitor General Liz Murrill for preserving the Legislature’s intent,” he added.

When the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act was passed in 2014, there were five abortion clinics in Louisiana. By the time the Fifth Circuit upheld the law in September 2018, there were three, in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Shreveport.

The day before it declined to rehear the challenge to Act 620, the Fifth Circuit vacated a previous injunction barring Texas from stripping Planned Parenthood affiliates of Medicaid funding.

Circuit Judge Edith Jones affirmed that Texas has the right to exclude a healthcare provider from Medicaid funds, and criticized the Planned Parenthood affiliates’ argument that the Office of Inspector General has insufficient expertise to determine the qualifications of abortion providers.

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/appeals-court-upholds-la-law-regulating-abortion-clinics-20560

Don’t kiss your hedgehog: US health officials’ warning after salmonella spike

health photoPrickly response: hedgehogs shouldn’t be kissed, says the CDC. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

By Sam Wolfson

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has taken the unusual measure of advising Americans not to kiss or snuggle their pet hedgehogs.

It comes after a CDC investigation found that 11 people in the United States had contracted a rare strain of salmonella, known as Salmonella typhimurium, since October. It’s emerged that 10 out of the 11 were in close contact with hedgehogs before becoming ill.

The 11 people were in eight different states, including three in Missouri and two in Minnesota. The CDC said it was unclear if the pet hedgehogs came from “a common supplier”.

Officials have warned hedgehog owners not to “kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick”. Owners are also advised not to “let hedgehogs roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchen”.

One person has been hospitalised and no deaths have been reported.

In 2012 there was another major outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium in which most people affected had come into contact with a hedgehog. During that outbreak there were a total of 26 cases and eight people were hospitalised.

Some hedgehogs have become social media stars in the past few years, and their cute photos have racked up thousands of likes. Darcy the hedgehog, named after the former Smashing Pumpkins bassist D’arcy Wretzky, has more than 294,000 followers.

The humanisation of celebrity hedgehogs perhaps explains why people feel more compelled to kiss them, but having one as a pet remains illegal in many US states including Georgia, California and Hawaii, as well as Washington DC and New York City. These bans are mostly in place because of fears around disease.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/28/hedgehog-pets-cdc-health-salmonella

Senate passes ‘religious test’ resolution on Knights of Columbus

senate photoSenator Ben Sasse, who introduced the resolution in the Senate, pictured at the National Press Club, Oct. 2018. Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock

By Ed Condon

Washington D.C.- The Senate yesterday passed a resolution saying it would be “unconstitutional” to consider membership in the Knights of Columbus a disqualifying criteria for public office. The resolution passed by unanimous consent, meaning it went unopposed by senators of either party.

The Jan. 16 resolution was drafted and introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) in response to recent questions put to a judicial nominee, which suggested membership in the Knights could prevent someone serving impartially as a judge.

Citing the protection of religious liberty in the Constitution, the resolution noted that past candidates, including President John F. Kennedy, had suffered from “significant anti Catholic bigotry.”

“It is the sense of the Senate that disqualifying a nominee to Federal office on the basis of membership in the Knights of Columbus violates clause 3 of article VI of the Constitution of the United States,” the resolution states.

Article VI includes the provision that “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

On Dec. 5, Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised concerns about membership in the Knights of Columbus while the Senate Judiciary Committee reviewed the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.

In her questions to Buescher, Hirono said that the Knights have “taken a number of extreme positions.” Harris used her questions to label the organization as “opposed a woman’s right to choose” and against “marriage equality,” and suggested that Buescher could be unable to give a fair hearing to cases on these issues.

In his speech introducing the resolution, Sasse said that the anti-Catholic lines of questioning were “the same kind of garbage” which faced President Kennedy in 1960.

At least six other judicial nominees have faced scrutiny from Democratic senators over their Christian faith or membership in the Knights of Columbus since the 2016 election.

The Knights of Columbus are a Catholic fraternal organization with approximately 2 million members. Last year they carried out more than 75 million hours of volunteer work and raised more than $185 million for charitable purposes. As a Catholic organization, it holds views that are in line with Church teaching.

A recent Marist Poll survey, commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, found high levels of support for religiously committed candidates for the federal bench.

The poll found that 59 percent of Democrats supported people for whom “religion is important” serving as federal judges. The same poll found 60 percent of independents and more than 7 in 10 Republicans (73 percent) also supported religiously committed judges.

“Americans rightly support religious freedom and reject religious tests for public office,” said Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson in a statement.

Anderson said that the Constitutional bar against religious tests “continues to strongly resonate with the overwhelming majority of Americans” and that the Marist Poll results showed a clear majority for those who “believe that faith should not be a barrier to someone’s appointment to public service.”

The resolution was passed by the Senate the day after William Barr went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings on his nomination for the post of Attorney General.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked Barr, who is a member of the Knights of Columbus, if he thought his religion disqualified him from serving in office, observing that “some of my colleagues think it might.”

Spokesperson for the Knights of Columbus Kathleen Blomquist welcomed the passage of the Senate resolution.

“The Knights of Columbus is grateful that the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed that membership in a religious organization does not make a person unfit for public office,” she told CNA.

“We have also been gratified by the reaction of people of different faiths—including Senator Sasse — who never want to see a litmus test imposed on individuals based of their faith, a position that the vast majority of Americans support.”
https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/senate-passes-religious-test-resolution-on-knights-of-columbus-97937

Trump’s right about a crisis at the border – but migrants are the victims

borders photoIn Tijuana, a girl from Honduras waits for a present from a nongovernmental organization outside an empty warehouse used as a shelter for migrants. Photograph: Daniel Ochoa de Olza/AP

By Amanda Chuzi

President Donald Trump opened his Oval Office address on 8 January with these words: “There is a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” In one respect, he’s right. There is a growing humanitarian crisis at the border, but not for lack of a border wall – the crisis is growing because of the Trump administration’s illegal and inhumane policies toward asylum seekers.

As a law student enrolled in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, I spent the first week of the new year volunteering in Tijuana with an organization that provides legal services to asylum seekers. The organization, Al Otro Lado, serves individuals who hope to present themselves to US officials at the port of San Ysidro, the largest land border crossing in the United States. I use the word “hope” because the Trump administration has effectively prevented thousands of people – including many women and children – from exercising their legal right to apply for asylum by blocking their path to the port of entry itself.

Under domestic and international law, any immigrant who arrives at a US port of entry has a right to apply for asylum. The process is not easy and involves multiple interviews to determine whether an individual meets the narrow, categorical definition of a “refugee” under US law. Many asylum seekers will languish in detention while awaiting their turn before an immigration judge, without any opportunity to collect evidence or consult an attorney. Most will have their applications denied. But everyone is entitled to this process. The government must allow families at the border to present themselves and claim asylum.

Immigrants who arrive at the Mexican entrance to San Ysidro sign up for an informal waiting list and take a number. “La Lista” was developed and managed by Mexican immigration officials and others in response to the US government’s policy of allowing only a small number of people to present themselves each day. It is a primitive system, recorded by hand in a composition notebook and relayed only by word of mouth. The numbers are scratched on to tiny pieces of scrap paper, which migrants guard closely as they wait their turn. The wait can take weeks or even months.

This system should not have to exist; the situation that US policies have created is patently illegal and unquestionably responsible for the growing humanitarian crisis at the southern border. I met dozens of families with young children who were living in shelters and tent cities, patiently waiting for their numbers to be read off La Lista. These families had no food, income, or access to basic needs like medical care. They expressed fear of street crime and the practical challenges of living without documentation. Those who could work had a disincentive to seeking employment in Tijuana, because any evidence of potential stability in Mexico might hurt their asylum cases in the United States.

Moreover, the administration’s policy of punishing families by making them wait at the border fails to deter migrants, many of whom are fleeing violence and repression from hostile government actors. I advised some families not to approach the border at all. I tried to be realistic about the hardships they would face even after they successfully crossed on to US soil. I will never forget the looks of desperation on the faces of the men and women I counseled. Fathers told me they had to take the chance for their little girls. Rape victims told me they could not return home and face their attackers. They all told me they understood the risks. But what choice did they have?

If President Trump is genuinely concerned with the growing humanitarian crisis at the border, he should take immediate action to permit asylum seekers to present themselves to immigration officials. The law is clear on the issue – immigrants have the right to apply for asylum at any port of entry and between ports of entry. What’s clearer is that his policies have had, and will continue to have, devastating effects on thousands of well-meaning families who have not even begun the long and difficult asylum process.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/14/us-immigration-migrants-trump-border-crisis

LA’s teachers can teach the working class about the power of labor strikes

los angeles photoTeachers from Kentucky gather inside the state Capitol in April to rally for increased funding. Photograph: Bryan Woolston/AP

Eric Blanc and Meagan Day

Educators in Los Angeles, the second-largest school district in the country, are going on strike on Monday. By deciding to walk out for smaller class sizes, more support staff, fewer standardized tests and charter school regulation, LA’s teachers have ensured that California will be the next state hit by a strike wave that shows no signs of ebbing anytime soon.

The teachers’ upsurge was one of the defining stories of 2018. It began in West Virginia, where teacher and support staff decided to shut down the schools until their demands for better pay and healthcare were taken seriously. They won big, and they inspired educators across the nation to follow their example. Work stoppages soon swept across Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina and Colorado. Though not all their demands were met, teachers won major gains and changed the national conversation about the reasons for public education’s crisis.

Confounding all expectations, most of these actions erupted in Republican-dominated regions with relatively weak labor unions, bans on public sector strikes, and electorates that voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Media pundits dubbed this a “red state rebellion”. But blue states are hardly immune to low pay, underfunded schools and frustrated teachers. Last fall, educators across Washington and charter school teachers in Chicago joined the strike wave – and strikes are now looming in Los Angeles as well as Oakland, threatening to disrupt business as usual for tens of millions of people on the west coast.

Above all, the teacher revolt expresses a rejection of the austerity and privatization agenda pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, particularly since the Great Recession. Today, 29 states have lower education funding than they did in 2008, and nationwide, education funding is still about $450 lower per student than it was a decade ago, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report. Last year, educators across the nation reached their breaking point, finally squeezed too tight by rising living costs, crumbling schoolhouses, and an encroaching school privatization campaign that opportunistically treats the crisis caused by underfunding as a pretext to further erode public education and labor unions.

However, 2018 wasn’t just the year that teachers had enough. Something else happened, too. West Virginia and subsequent battles have hammered home one of the labor movement’s most fundamental (and forgotten) lessons: strikes are the most powerful tool at working people’s disposal. Teachers have been rallying and lobbying against public education budget cuts for years – yet it was only once they began striking that politicians were forced to start making concessions.

At most times, in most places, workers feel powerless in the face of management. But when they organize to bring work itself to a halt, the balance of power fundamentally shifts. Suddenly the true importance of workers’ labor is laid bare, and the powers-that-be have a crisis on their hands. Strikes transform ordinary working people with little wealth and political clout into a force to be reckoned with. And all that’s necessary to tap into this game-changing, table-turning power is for workers to recognize the extraordinary value of their work, and organize with each other to withhold it.

Yet strike numbers have been declining for decades and it’s not hard to figure out why. Fewer workers are represented by unions than at any point in the last 70 years, thanks largely to a ruthless corporate offensive against the labor movement and basic union rights, including the right to strike. Unfortunately, most union officials have responded by retreating into a self-defeating reliance on electing and lobbying mainstream Democrats, instead of building disruptive strikes.

The teachers’ upsurge points the way forward for unions and the working class. But it will face new challenges in 2019. With the movement now spreading to the blue states, educators and their unions will no longer be primarily battling Republican politicians. To win in a city like Los Angeles means nothing less than taking on the Democratic party establishment. The corporate-funded drive to privatize LA’s public schools is not led by acolytes of Donald Trump. To the contrary: Austin Beutner, the billionaire investment banker installed as superintendent by deep-pocketed backers of school privatization, is a proud liberal and a longtime funder of the Democratic party.

Confronting Democratic politicians won’t come easy to many union leaders and educators, but the success of the movement depends on it. And if the strikes continue to spread, expect this growing labor militancy to exacerbate the polarizing intra-party struggle between the Democratic establishment and insurgent forces led by socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Winning in 2019 will also require foregrounding progressive taxation. Though districts and states can afford to make some immediate concessions – LA, for example, is sitting on $1.86bn in financial reserves – public education’s crisis can’t be solved without a massive re-investment in our schools. But who will pay for this? Against the inevitable attempts of mainstream politicians to pit teachers against other workers by cutting other social services or raising regressive taxes, educators and their unions will have to convince the public to join the fight for the only equitable solution: tax the billionaires and corporations.

The stakes are high. Public education remains one of the few remaining public goods in the United States. For that very reason, corporate politicians are doing everything they can to dismantle and privatize the school system. But if the teachers’ upsurge can reverse this offensive, there’s little reason to assume that working people will stop there. Saving public education may be the first step towards building a revitalized labor movement capable of bringing many of society’s basic necessities – from healthcare to energy production – into the public sphere.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/14/la-teachers-working-class-power-labor-strikes

LPD Officer Sarah Williams Encourages Action, Empathy To Prevent Human Trafficking

Trafficking photo

Sarah Williams said she was shocked when she learned from author and journalist Benjamin Skinner that slavery is a modern day occurence. Inspired, Williams dug deeper into the subject to see how she could make a difference.

It was after further research that she learned that human trafficking is an epidemic she can prevent. Both realizations began Williams’ career in preventing human trafficking.

Williams works as a patrol officer on the Lincoln Police Department’s southwest team, and focuses on prostitution and human trafficking. She shared her police experiences preventing human trafficking at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Andersen Hall on Nov. 20 in an event hosted by the Nebraska University Students Against Modern Slavery.

She discussed factors that contribute to human trafficking, like family dysfunction and mental illness. She also shared stories of human trafficking that ranged from children forced into human trafficking to an attorney accused of soliciting prostitutes.

Williams said those factors and stories fit into a larger picture of human trafficking in Nebraska.According to the Omaha Women’s Fund, 900 people are sold in Nebraska each month — 200 of which are from Lincoln.

Williams discussed human trafficking victims’ reluctance to speak with the police, especially when the victims are not from the United States. She said their unwillingness presents a significant hurdle against prevention.

https://www.sistersagainsttrafficking.org/in-the-news/

Human trafficker at London Olympics gets 30 year prison sentence in U.S.

Trafficking 2A child waves an Union flag near Olympic rings at the entrance of the venue for the men’s modern pentathlon during the London 2012 Olympics at Greenwich Park August 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Jason Fields

WASHINGTON,  (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – An “evil” man who tried to traffic a teenage boy into London to be sold for sex during the 2012 Olympics has been sentenced to 30 years in a U.S. prison, in a case of human trafficking that draws attention during international sporting events.

Jason Gandy was stopped in July 2012 by immigration officers in Britain who suspected something was wrong with the adult man traveling with an unrelated 15-year-old boy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

British authorities sent Gandy home to Houston, Texas for trial.

He was convicted of sex trafficking of minors in July and sentenced this week by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal who told him: “You are evil, and most evil are those who willingly exploit others for their own gratification.”

Along with the incident at the London Olympics, there were reports of Nigerians taken to Russia for sex during the World Cup this past summer and, in the United States, football’s Super Bowl also draws concerns over trafficking.

However experts are split on whether such spectacles actively fuel trafficking. Many say the commercial sex market grows during any number of large events and caution that such concern draws attention away from what is a year-round crime.

Some 1.5 million people in the United States are estimated to be victims of trafficking, mostly for sexual exploitation. The majority are children, according to a U.S. Senate report published last year.

Globally, nearly 21 million people are victims of human trafficking, a $150 billion industry, according to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization.

Of that total, an estimated 4.5 million people are forced into sex work, and children are estimated to comprise 5.5 million of the overall victims, according to the ILO.

In Gandy’s case, the man paid for the boy’s airfare and passport, U.S. officials said.

He planned to make the boy perform massages and sex acts with customers, taking advantage of the crowds gathered for the Olympics, they said.

He also molested the boy himself, they said.

Men who survived Gandy’s molestation testified at his sentencing about their ordeals being enslaved at a massage operation Gandy ran out of his home in Houston, prosecutors said.
http://news.trust.org/item/20181219193057-d1lsq