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abortion

New Mexico sues its “abortion sanctuary cities”

Good.

New Mexico’s top prosecutor on Monday asked the state’s highest court to overturn abortion bans imposed by conservative local governments in the Democratic-run state where the procedure remains legal after Roe v. Wade was struck down.

The move comes after the New Mexico cities of Hobbs, Clovis and two surrounding counties bordering Texas passed ordinances in recent months to restrict abortion clinics and access to abortion pills.

New Mexico Attorney General Raul Torrez filed an extraordinary writ in New Mexico Supreme Court to block the ordinances which he said were based on flawed interpretations of 19th century federal regulations on abortion medication.

“This is not Texas. Our State Constitution does not allow cities, counties or private citizens to restrict women’s reproductive rights,” Torrez said in a statement.

[…]

New Mexico’s largest cities of Las Cruces and Albuquerque have become regional destinations for women seeking abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court in June ended the nationwide constitutional right to the procedure.

Located on New Mexico’s eastern plains, Clovis and Hobbs do not have abortion clinics but approved ordinances to stop providers locating there to serve patients from Republican-controlled Texas, one of the first states to impose a near-total ban on abortion.

In direct response, New Mexico Democrats have drafted legislation to prevent cities from overriding state laws guaranteeing womens’ rights to reproductive healthcare. The legislation is due to be debated this month and has a strong chance of passing the Democratic-controlled state legislature.

See here for some background, and here for a reminder that New Mexico has been a regional access point for abortion for some time now.

More details here.

It’s not clear how soon the New Mexico Supreme Court could decide to take up the issue. Torrez said he hopes his petition to the Supreme Court will inspire a quick response within weeks or months — avoiding the potentially yearslong process of pursuing a civil lawsuit.

The filing targets Roosevelt and Lea counties and the cities of Hobbs and Clovis — all on the eastern edge of the state near Texas, where most abortion procedures are banned.

Clovis and Lea County officials declined to comment Monday, citing pending litigation. Officials could not immediately be reached in Hobbs and Roosevelt County.

Prosecutors say abortion ordinances approved in November by an all-male city council in Hobbs and in early January by Roosevelt County define “abortion clinic” in broad terms, encompassing any building or facility beyond a hospital where an abortion procedure is performed — or where an abortion-inducing drug is dispensed, distributed or ingested.

Torrez warned Roosevelt County’s abortion ordinance in particular gives private citizens the power to sue anyone they suspect of violated the ordinance and pursue damages of up to $100,000 per violation.

“The threat of ruinous liability under the law operates to chill New Mexicans from exercising their right to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy and health care providers from providing lawful medical services,” the attorney general wrote in his petition to the state Supreme Court.

In 2021, the Democrat-led Legislature passed a measure to repeal a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures, ensuring access to abortion in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she wants to see legislation that would codify the right to an abortion across the state.

Lawmakers have already proposed measures that would prohibit local governments from placing restrictions on abortion access — and call for putting in place protections for doctors and patients.

During her reelection campaign last year, Lujan Grisham cast herself as a staunch defender of access to abortion procedures. She has called a local abortion ordinance an “affront to the rights and personal autonomy of every woman in Hobbs and southeastern New Mexico.”

In June, the governor signed an executive order that prohibited cooperation with other states that might interfere with abortion access in New Mexico, declining to carry out any future arrest warrants from other states related to anti-abortion provisions.

The order also prohibited most New Mexico state employees from assisting other states in investigating or seeking sanctions against local abortion providers.

She followed up in August with another executive order that pledged $10 million to build a clinic that would provide abortion and other pregnancy care in Southern New Mexico.

Not much for me to add here other than I wish Attorney General Torrez good luck. This is clearly the right approach to take, and I hope the New Mexico legislature follows up as well. I look forward to the day when the state of Texas doesn’t make it necessary for them to do all this extra stuff. The Albuquerque Journal has more.

Emergency miscarriage care

Here’s another thing most of us have not had to think much about in the past when abortion was generally legal.

[A uterine aspiration (also commonly known as a D&C) or the removal of tissue from the uterus via suction] is a standard method for treatment of miscarriage and can be a life-saving intervention if a woman is hemorrhaging. But uterine aspiration is also routinely used to perform early abortions, and that’s one reason many emergency departments have historically resisted efforts to make the option available to patients who come in for miscarriage-related care.

That care already accounts for more than 900,000 emergency room visits every year, according to the most recent estimates. Now, as states move to restrict access to abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, experts say that number is likely to surge even higher.

Fewer abortions will mean more pregnancies, and more pregnancies will mean more miscarriages,” said Dr. Sarah Prager, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington and a co-author of the guidelines on miscarriage management for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Around 15% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, and the first medical professional many of those patients see will be in an emergency room. Yet, by and large, she says, “emergency medicine physicians aren’t trained in managing miscarriage and don’t see it as something they should own.”

For more than a decade, Prager has been trying to change that through her work with the TEAMM Project, the nonprofit she co-founded on the premise that “many people experience miscarriage before they’re established with an OB-GYN.” Short for Training, Education and Advocacy in Miscarriage Management, TEAMM has conducted in-person workshops for clinicians at more than 100 sites in 19 states on all aspects of miscarriage care — everything from the use of ultrasound to diagnose fetal death to the three treatment options miscarrying patients should be offered when they come in for care.

A uterine aspiration is recommended when patients are bleeding heavily, are anemic, or are medically fragile, and many patients prefer the procedure because it can resolve a miscarriage most quickly. Another option is medication — usually mifepristone followed by misoprostol — which can help the body expel pregnancy tissue in a matter of hours. And the third is “expectant management”: waiting for the tissue to pass on its own. The latter can take several weeks and is unsuccessful for about 20% of patients, who remain at risk for hemorrhage and have to return to the hospital for surgery or medication.

In many emergency departments, expectant management has long been the only option made available. But now, amid the legal uncertainty unleashed by the fall of Roe, Prager and colleagues say they’ve been inundated with inquiries from emergency departments across the country. Doctors in states that have since criminalized abortion face stiff penalties, including felony charges, prison time, and the loss of their medical license and livelihoods.

“I think they’re scared,” says Prager. “They want to be able to know, with 100% certainty, that a pregnancy is no longer viable.”

This is why I say it’s just a matter of time before some nice white suburban lady who already has kids dies because she isn’t treated for a pregnancy-related emergency in a timely fashion. The corollary to this is that some doctor who performs a life-saving D&C on a patient will be arrested and charged with murder for it. I don’t want to see these things happen. It’s just that the conditions in our state, and in too many other states, are absolutely ripe for it. I really hope I’m wrong.

More on our future doctor shortage

This is unsustainable.

Abortion restrictions have forced Texas obstetrician-gynecology residency programs to send young doctors out of the state to learn about pregnancy termination, a burdensome process educators say is another example of abortion bans undermining reproductive health care.

At least one Houston-area program, the University of Texas Medical Branch, began sending residents out of state this year, to a partner institution in Oregon. Two other local programs, Baylor College of Medicine and Houston Methodist, said they still are working out arrangements for their own out-of-state rotations. McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston declined to comment on its plans.

The changes follow revised requirements from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, the standard-bearer for residency programs, which maintains that abortion training is essential for providing comprehensive reproductive health care. Requirements updated in September say OB-GYN programs in states that ban the procedure “must provide access to this clinical experience in a different jurisdiction where it is lawful,” with exceptions for residents who choose to opt out.

Experts, however, say it takes month of coordination to arrange a temporary rotation in another state, leaving some inexperienced physicians with few options.

“There is no question that the restrictions in place following the Dobbs decision pose a risk to the training of up to 45 percent of OB-GYN residents who are training in states where abortion care is restricted,” said Dr. AnnaMarie Connolly, chief of education and academic affairs at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “The joint efforts of ACOG … and countless residencies in protected states are directly addressing this risk to medical education and training.”

[…]

Arranging an out-of-state rotation is a logistical feat, Steinauer said, as it takes up to nine months to develop a plan for housing, airfare, training permits and other needs.

The university also takes on additional costs. To send two UTMB residents to Oregon for two weeks, it costs $5,216 for housing, $1,689 for airfare and airport transportation, $240 for parking and $370 for training permits, according to documents obtained through an open records request. The Ryan program is paying $1,500 for each resident, while the university picks up the remaining expenses, documents show.

There also is a strain on the host institution, said Dr. Aileen Gariepy, director of complex family planning at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. Some programs that offer abortion care may only have the capacity to accommodate their own residents. With a small number of programs left to take on a crush of new learners, “we may be doing a disservice to the training needs of all of our trainees,” she said.

She noted that Weill Cornell does not have the space yet to take on residents from its affiliate institution, Houston Methodist, which has approached the school about an out-of-state rotation.

“This kind of legislative interference in medical care is unprecedented,” she said. “We didn’t have a plan for that.”

[…]

Beyond the immediate challenge of meeting accreditation requirements, some educators publicly have expressed concern that abortion laws will make it harder for Texas to attract and retain OB-GYNs.

Out of nine publicly funded OB-GYN residency programs in Texas, six saw a drop in applicants from 2020 to 2021, the year SB8 was enacted, according to documents obtained by the Chronicle. Seven of those programs saw a drop in applicants in 2022.

Experts caution against drawing conclusions based on those trends. Yaklic noted that the number of graduates interested in OB-GYN programs often fluctuates, and recent changes to the application process may have influenced the data.

Still, at UTMB, many applicants have asked about abortion training during interviews, he said. Even before the Dobbs decision, earlier abortion restrictions caused medical school graduates to favor states that allow the procedure.

See here for some background. It’s certainly possible that we’ll more or less get acclimated to how things are now and the system will limp along as degraded but basically functional, with the bulk of the cost being borne by the people with the least power and fewest resources. It’s also possible, as noted in the comments, that the Lege could pass a bill to outlaw out-of-state abortion training for medical students in Texas, and then we’ll see how bad things can get. All I’m saying is that our state’s forced-birth laws are going to have a negative effect on overall health care, and we are already starting to see it happen.

R’Bonney Gabriel wins Miss Universe

I know, I know, not my usual beat, but it’s a followup on a previous post, so here we are.

R’Bonney Gabirel

R’Bonney Gabriel, the first Filipina Texan to win Miss Texas USA and Miss USA, has a new title: Miss Universe.

The 28-year-old from Friendswood was crowned the 71st Miss Universe in New Orleans Saturday night, beating out runner-up Miss Venezuela, Amanda Dudamel, according to the Associated Press.

Gabriel is an eco-friendly fashion designer, model and sewing instructor who crafted several of her own outfits for competition at the Miss USA competition in October, where she placed first against runner-up Morgan Romano of North Carolina. After graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in fashion design, she founded and currently owns her own sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola, according to her Miss Universe bio.

As an homage to her hometown, she donned an space-themed costume during the competition, complete with an American flag, glittering stars and a large moon balanced above her head.

In the final stage of the competition, Gabriel was asked what she would do to show Miss Universe is “an empowering and progressive organization,” the Associated Press reported. She responded by speaking about her work to use recycled materials in fashion and teach sewing to survivors of human trafficking the domestic violence, according to the AP.

Before we review the history here, you need to see that space-themed costume:

Incredible. Anyway, the reason I note Ms. Gabriel’s triumph is because her victory as Miss USA was marked with controversy, as well as the revelation that she is a critic of Texas’ forced-birth laws, which has caused some tut-tutting in her hometown of Friendswood. For what it’s worth, in the news stories of her Miss Universe win that I’ve scanned, neither of these items were mentioned. Be that as it may, congratulations to Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel. Best of luck, and may you at least occasionally remind people that Houston and Friendswood are two different places.

San Antonio will vote on marijuana decriminalization

We’ll see how it goes.

Progressive groups celebrated on the steps of City Hall Tuesday afternoon before delivering the boxes of signed petitions needed to get a measure in front of voters that would decriminalize both cannabis possession and abortion.

Ananda Tomas, executive director of police reform group ACT 4 SA, told reporters that her group and its allies collected 38,200 signatures in favor of the San Antonio Justice Charter. That’s well above the roughly 20,000 required to put it on the ballot for May’s citywide election.

If passed, the charter also would codify the ban the San Antonio Police Department’s current leadership has placed on police chokeholds and no-knock warrants.

“I’ve been frustrated working within the system and working in City Hall to try to get things like this done,” District 2 City Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez told charter supporters. “I think this is a demonstration that when the people will it, it will happen.”

Although the petition garnered support from McKee-Rodriguez and an array of progressive groups from around the state, it’s likely to face stiff resistance from others. Danny Diaz, head of San Antonio’s powerful police union, said his organization will work to defeat the measure, which he said ties officers’ hands.

See here for some background and here for an earlier version of the story. The San Antonio Report adds some details.

The City Clerk’s office has 20 business days, until Feb. 8, to verify the signatures.

“We’re ready,” City Clerk Debbie Racca-Sittre said inside City Hall as she and a colleague sealed and time stamped four boxes filled with more than 5,000 pages of petition signatures.

City Council will call for the election, which will include council district seats and other local elections, during its Feb. 16 meeting.

Voters will likely see just one item on the May 6 ballot to make the batch of changes to the City’s Charter — but city officials could split them up into separate votes, Tomas said. “The intent is for it to be one single proposition. I think that that’s still going to be a conversation with City Council.”

[…]

The charter changes would essentially direct the police department not to spend resources pursuing most abortion and low-level marijuana possession cases.

A provision in the Texas Constitution states that “no charter or any ordinance passed under said charter shall contain any provision inconsistent with the Constitution of the State, or of the general laws enacted by the Legislature of this State.”

Whether the charter rules, if approved, violate that provision may ultimately be left up to legal challenges — but “this is entirely legal,” Mike Siegel, political director and co-founder of Ground Game Texas, told the San Antonio Report.

“Every day, police departments decide what they’re going to enforce and what they’re not going to enforce, and this represents the people of San Antonio saying: these are not our priorities for our scarce public dollars,” Siegel said. “The roots of the Texas Constitution are in local self control [and] self determination. So that’s why we have charter cities that have this authority to adopt their own charters and decide their own laws.”

It will be up to opponents of the charter changes to decide whether they want to challenge it, he said.

I would expect this to pass, as similar referenda has done in other cities. Whether it will get a similarly chilly reception from City Council or Commissioners Court remains to be seen. Unlike some other counties, the Bexar County District Attorney is on board with the idea, as noted in this Texas Public Radio story, so they have that going for them. On the other hand, the Lege is out there as well, with a giant hammer to wield against cities and counties that do things the Republicans don’t like. Sometimes I don’t necessarily mind Houston being a bit behind the activism curve. If six months or a year from now this ordinance is in place and being complied with, I’ll be delighted and looking to our city to follow suit. If not, I’ll be disappointed but not surprised. Stay tuned.

Texas clinics begin compliance with that wingnut anti-birth control court order

Infuriating but expected.

Texas teens will now need their parents’ permission to get birth control at federally funded clinics, following a court ruling late last month.

These clinics, funded through a program called Title X, provide free, confidential contraception to anyone regardless of age, income or immigration status; before this ruling, Title X was one of the only ways teens in Texas could obtain birth control without parental consent.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled in December that the program violates parents’ rights and state and federal law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has asked the court to reconsider that decision.

But in the meantime, Texas’ Title X administrator, Every Body Texas, has advised its 156 clinics to require parental consent for minors “out of an abundance of caution” as it awaits further guidance from HHS.

“We hope that as the case proceeds, we are able to revoke this guidance and continue to provide minors in Texas the sexual and reproductive care they need and deserve with or without parental consent,” said Stephanie LeBleu, acting Title X project director at Every Body Texas.

Minors can still access testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests, emergency contraception, condoms and counseling without parental consent, LeBleu said.

[…]

The case was brought by Jonathan Mitchell, the former Texas solicitor general who masterminded the state’s ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Mitchell is representing Alexander Deanda, a father of three daughters.

Deanda is raising his daughters “in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality, which requires unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage,” according to the complaint.

Neither Deanda nor his daughters have sought services at a Title X clinic, per the complaint. But Kacsmaryk ruled that the program violates Deanda’s rights under the Texas Family Code and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, denying him the “fundamental right to control and direct the upbringing of his minor children.”

See here and here for the background. Of the many annoying things about this is the obvious-even-to-a-non-lawyer-like-me question of standing. As in, how exactly is this guy injured in any way by the existence of this policy? My daughters have never sought services at a Title X clinic either. Am they now injured because they would have to get my permission to get birth control there? I know I’m asking for a rational answer for an irrational ruling, but I don’t get it.

And speaking of harms, this story came out a few hours after the previous one.

In Sabine County, pine trees outnumber the people. To commute between Pineland and Hemphill, the two towns that anchor the county, residents drive down a road that winds through a national forest. The towns are dotted with churches that loom large in daily community life. Bible scriptures are printed on plaques in local stores and even in Gilder’s office.

Research has shown access to contraception and comprehensive sex education prevents unplanned pregnancies. But for sexually active teens trying not to get pregnant in Sabine County, it’s hard to access either.

Sex education in Texas is taught amid tight parameters and bureaucratic strings. Texas schools have to offer health class at the middle school level, but parents must opt their children in to any lessons about sexual health. And when teachers do touch on sex education, state law requires them to stress abstinence as the preferred choice before marriage.

Even if teens in this region want contraception, it’s nearly impossible to get without parental consent. In small towns like Hemphill and Pineland, parents have eyes and ears everywhere, making teens reluctant to go to the local Brookshire Brothers or dollar store to purchase condoms. They could go to a family planning clinic, which provides contraception at little to no cost, but only clinics funded through the federal Title X program do not require parental permission — and a federal judge in Texas ruled last month that the program violates parents’ rights and state and federal law.

As Every Body Texas, the nonprofit group that is the state’s Title X administrator, awaits guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on how to proceed, it informed Texas providers this week to require parental consent out of precaution.

Today, family planning programs are few and far between, thanks to funding cuts by the Texas Legislature in 2011. No family planning clinic exists in Sabine County. To get to the nearest one, teens in the region must travel to an adjacent county.

Meanwhile, Texas has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country. And in 2020, Sabine County’s teen birth rate was three times the statewide average. Nearly 7% of Sabine County teenage girls between the ages of 15 and 19 gave birth that year, compared with about 2% statewide.

You know where those parents don’t have eyes and ears? All the places where their teenage children are having unsafe sex and getting pregnant as a result. Funny how that works.

Mifepristone can now be offered at retail pharmacies

Good news, for at least some of the country.

For the first time, retail pharmacies, from corner drugstores to major chains like CVS and Walgreens, will be allowed to offer abortion pills in the United States under a regulatory change made Tuesday by the Food and Drug Administration. The action could significantly expand access to abortion through medication.

Until now, mifepristone — the first pill used in the two-drug medication abortion regimen — could be dispensed only by a few mail-order pharmacies or by specially certified doctors or clinics. Under the new F.D.A. rules, patients will still need a prescription from a certified health care provider, but any pharmacy that agrees to accept those prescriptions and abide by certain other criteria can dispense the pills in its stores and by mail order.

The change comes as abortion pills, already used in more than half of pregnancy terminations in the U.S., are becoming even more sought after in the aftermath of last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning the federal right to abortion. With conservative states banning or sharply restricting abortion, the pills have increasingly become the focus of political and legal battles, which may influence a pharmacy’s decision about whether or not to dispense the medication.

The F.D.A. did not issue an announcement but planned to update its website to reflect the decision. The two makers of the pill, Danco Laboratories and GenBioPro, released statements saying the agency had informed them of the action.

The action is the latest step taken by the federal government to expand access to abortion pills by easing some of the restrictions that have applied to mifepristone since it was approved in 2000.

In December 2021, the F.D.A. said it would permanently lift the requirement that patients obtain mifepristone in person from a health provider, a step that paved the way for telemedicine abortion services which conduct medical consultations with patients by video, phone or online questionnaires and then arrange for them to receive the prescribed pills by mail.

On Tuesday, the F.D.A. officially removed the in-person requirement from its regulatory rule book for mifepristone, leaving in place the remaining two requirements: that health providers be certified to show they have the knowledge and ability to treat abortion patients and that patients complete a consent form.

See here for some background. My understanding of the action taken in 2021 was that it allowed mifepristone to be prescribed via telehealth. I’m a little fuzzy on how much of a difference-maker this announcement is, but whatever it is, every little bit helps. Just, you know, not everywhere.

Whether large pharmacy chains and local drugstores would opt to make the pills available was not immediately clear Tuesday. The steps for pharmacies to become certified to dispense mifepristone are not difficult, but they involve some administrative requirements that go beyond the process pharmacies use with most other medications, such as designating an employee to ensure compliance. Given the time and resources required by those steps, some pharmacies may not consider it worthwhile to offer a medication that only a small percentage of their customers may use.

But while abortion pills may constitute a small percentage of a pharmacy’s sales, they could have a big impact on its public profile. Calculations about public perception and the highly polarized political landscape are also likely to influence a pharmacy’s decision.

In about half the states, abortion bans or restrictions would make it illegal or very difficult for pharmacies to provide abortion pills.

In states where abortion remains legal, pharmacies may face customer demand for the medication or public pressure from abortion rights advocates and health providers. National chains could decide to offer the medication in those states while not providing it in their stores in restrictive states.

I can say with 100% certainty that you won’t be able to walk into your local CVS here in Texas and find any mifepristone. The real question is what the Lege will try to do to prevent people from going out of state to get any kind of abortion care, or to punish people not in Texas who provide that care; the corollary questions will be about what the courts will do with the resulting litigation. We’re still a few months out from that, but it’s coming. In the meantime, at least some people will get to benefit from this.

Trying again in Harker Heights

I admire the determination.

Cannabis reform advocates are pushing back against the city council of the Central Texas city of Harker Heights, which recently rejected a voter-approved ballot measure decriminalizing low levels of pot possession there.

Harker Heights was one of five Texas municipalities in which voters during the November midterms approved decriminalization initiatives. While at least two other of those votes received blowback from local officials, Harker Heights is so far the first to reject voters’ approval outright.

Voter mobilization group Ground Game Texas, which championed Harker Heights’ original ballot initiative, said it’s launched a new petition drive to override the council ordinance, which passed Nov. 22. Some 64% of voters in the city of 34,000 people approved the decriminalization initiative.

“By voting to repeal Prop A, the Harker Heights City Council sent a clear message to their constituents that they don’t respect the will of the voters or the democracy they participate in,” Ground Game Texas Executive Director Julie Oliver said in a news release. “These antidemocratic politicians are trying to throw away the votes of more than 5,000 Harker Heights residents — but we won’t let them. With this new referendum, Ground Game Texas will ensure the will of voters isn’t trampled on by their local elected officials.”

See here and here for the background. I consider what Harker Heights City Council did to be defensible, but I would not feel the same way if this effort succeeds and they override it again. At this point, the opponents of this proposal on City Council can make their case directly to the voters, so there’s no question about conflicting mandates. Whatever happens, this should be the last word, until and unless the state gets involved.

On a related note:

Organizers have gathered more than 26,000 signatures so far for a petition that would give San Antonio voters in May the opportunity to decriminalize marijuana possession, end enforcement of abortion laws, establish a city “justice director” position, ban police from using no-knock warrants and chokeholds and expand the city’s cite-and-release policy for low-level, nonviolent crimes.

The local police reform advocacy group ACT 4 SA aims to collect 35,000 signatures — anticipating that some won’t be verified — to submit to the City Clerk before the early January deadline.

But even if they miss that goal, voters can expect to see the slate of proposed changes, collectively known as the “Justice Charter,” to the city charter on the November 2023 ballot because the signatures collected are valid for six months.

“Two-thirds of the people I talked to sign [the petition],” said Ananda Tomas, executive director of ACT 4 SA, which launched the petition effort in October. “They’re either for the initiatives or they just want to put it up to a vote because they think that this is something we should vote on.”

San Antonio’s police union has criticized the Justice Charter as an overreach into police policies as well as violations of state and federal law. Union President Danny Diaz has pointed out that chokeholds and no-knock warrants already are prohibited, while enforcement policies for marijuana and abortion are determined at the state level.

San Antonio had previously passed an ordinance that “recommends that no local funds be used to investigate criminal charges related to abortions”. I assume this would go further than that, but it’s not clear to me exactly how the referendum differs from the existing ordinance. It’s clear that opinions differ about the legality and enforceability of the marijuana-related measures, and I’d say the same would be true for the abortion one. I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing from the Legislature on the latter, and quite possibly on the former as well. Be that as it may, I will be very interested to see how this turns out, and whether something similar happens in Houston.

A closer look at the maternal mortality report

I take no joy in predicting that the Legislature will take no action on this.

Nakeenya Wilson was at a meeting of Texas’ maternal mortality review committee when she got the call: Her sister, who had recently had a baby, was having a stroke.

Wilson raced to the hospital, leaving behind a stack of files documenting the stories of women who had died from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Many of the women in those files were Black, just like Wilson, who experienced a traumatic delivery herself.

“The whole thing just reminded me, if you change the name on those files, it could be me. It could be my sister,” said Wilson, who serves as the committee’s community representative.

A decade ago, when Texas first formed the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, Black women were twice as likely as white women, and four times as likely as Hispanic women, to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

Those disparities haven’t improved, according to the committee’s latest report, published Thursday.

In 2020, pregnant Black women were twice as likely to experience critical health issues like hemorrhage, preeclampsia and sepsis. While complications from obstetric hemorrhage declined overall in Texas in recent years, Black women saw an increase of nearly 10%.

Wilson said these statistics show the impact of a health care system that is biased against Black women.

“We’re still dying and being disproportionately impacted by hemorrhage when everybody else is getting better,” Wilson said. “Not only did it not improve, it didn’t stay the same — it got worse.”

The causes of these disparities aren’t always simple to identify, and they’re even harder to fix. It’s a combination of diminished health care access, systemic racism, and the impact of “social determinants of health” — the conditions in which someone is born, lives, works and grows up.

Wilson said she and her sister are prime examples. They grew up in poverty, without health insurance, routine doctor’s visits or consistent access to healthy food.

“We started behind the ball,” she said. “We’ve had so many hard things happen to us that have contributed to our health by the time we’re of childbearing age.”

Maternal health advocates in Texas say addressing these disparities will take more than fixing labor and delivery practices. It will require building a comprehensive health care system that addresses a community’s needs across the board, starting long before pregnancy.

In the end, Wilson’s sister survived her postpartum health scare. But the experience reminded Wilson why she volunteers her time to read, review and analyze stories of women who have died from pregnancy and childbirth.

“When you look at the work marginalized people do, they do it because they don’t feel like they have any choice,” she said. “If we want to see things change, and we want to be safe, we have to advocate for our own safety.”

See here for some background. There’s way too much for me to try to capture in an excerpt, so go read the whole thing. Rep. Shawn Thierry, who experienced some of these problems herself a few years ago when she was giving birth, is and has been working on getting legislation passed to address the issues, which includes things like expanding health care access, gathering better information, and strengthening the maternal mortality review process. See above for my assessment of the likelihood of passage. Rep. Thierry will need a lot more like-minded colleagues to make that happen, and we are very much not there yet. But the work is happening, and will continue to happen.

Wingnut Trump judge issues his anti-birth control ruling

And from here it goes to the Fifth Circuit. Isn’t this fun?

A federal court ruling Tuesday may make it nearly impossible for Texas teens to access birth control without their parents’ permission.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled that Title X, a federal program that provides free, confidential contraception to anyone, regardless of age, income or immigration status, violates parents’ rights and state and federal law.

Kacsmaryk, appointed by President Donald Trump in 2019, is a former religious liberty lawyer who helped litigate cases seeking to overturn protections for contraception. Tuesday’s ruling is expected to be appealed.

Kacsmaryk did not grant an injunction, which would have immediately prohibited Title X clinics from providing contraception to minors without parental consent. Every Body Texas, the Title X administrator in Texas, said in a statement that it is awaiting additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on how to proceed.

The case was brought by Jonathan Mitchell, the former Texas solicitor general who designed the novel law that banned most abortions in Texas after about six weeks of pregnancy. Mitchell has also brought a lawsuit to block requirements in the Affordable Care Act that require employers to cover HIV prevention medications.

Mitchell is representing Alexander Deanda, a father of three who is “raising each of his daughters in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality, which requires unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage,” according to the complaint.

Deanda does not want his daughters to be able to access contraception or family planning services without his permission, arguing that Title X’s confidentiality clause subverts parental authority and the Texas Family Code, which gives parents the “right to consent to … medical and dental care” for their children.

Kacsmaryk agreed, ruling Tuesday that Title X violates Deanda’s rights under the Texas Family Code and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, denying him the “fundamental right to control and direct the upbringing of his minor children.”

Minors in Texas almost always have to get their parents’ permission to get on birth control. Even Texas teens who have already had a baby cannot consent to getting on birth control; the state has the highest repeat teen birth rate in the nation. Texas is also one of just two states that does not cover contraception at all as part of its state-run Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But Title X, a federal program dating back to the 1970s, is the exception to the rule. While federal regulations say Title X clinics should “encourage family participation … to the extent practical,” they are not allowed to require parental consent or notify parents that a minor has requested or received services.

Kacsmaryk’s ruling “holds unlawful” and “sets aside” that piece of the federal regulation.

See here for the background. As this Vox article observes, wingnut lawyers like Mitchell can file a suit that will almost always be heard by Kacsmaryk, who will pretty much always give them the ruling they want. And because the Fifth Circuit is also full of wingnuts and SCOTUS doesn’t care about wingnut judicial activism, whatever rulings he hands down tend to stay in place even if they later get overturned. What a system, eh? Bloomberg Law, which notes that “HHS had argued that the court’s remedy should be limited to an injunction requiring service providers to notify Deanda should one of his daughters request birth control in contravention of Christian teachings against sex outside of marriage”, has more.

Here at last is that updated report on maternal mortality

We’re still really bad at preventing it, especially for Black women.

At least 118 women dead and nearly 200 children left without a mother.

This was just a portion of the death toll from pregnancy and childbirth in Texas in 2019, according to a long-awaited state report published Thursday.

Severe medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth also increased significantly between 2018 and 2020, surging from 58.2 to 72.7 cases per 10,000 deliveries in Texas.

As in past years, the tragedy of maternal mortality unfolded unevenly across the state, impacting Black women worst of all.

This is the fifth biennial report from the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee since the Legislature formed it in 2013, and the first to review more timely cases; the previous report reviewed cases from nearly a decade ago.

In 2013, Black women were twice as likely as white women and four times as likely as Hispanic women to die from pregnancy-related causes. A preliminary assessment of 2019 data indicates those trends have persisted.

The report determined that discrimination contributed to 12% of pregnancy-related deaths in 2019. This was the first such report since the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added discrimination, including structural and interpersonal racism, as a potential cause of maternal death. The specific nature of discrimination varied between the cases identified by the committee and did not show a specific trend, the report said.

In 2018, a subcommittee was created to address these continued disparities by helping design a tool to better determine when and if discrimination plays a role in maternal deaths.

The report also found that most of these deaths were preventable — in 90% of 2019 cases reviewed by the committee, there was at least some chance of saving the woman’s life.

See here and here for some background. Easy to see why there might have been political pressure to delay the release of this report until after the election, not that it likely would have mattered. The people who care about this already care, and the people who don’t already don’t. I’ve made my share of pointed observations about the gap between all of the anti-abortion rhetoric and the actual amount this state officially cares about human life; I don’t believe the people who are the problem here are capable of being shamed about it. But as long as we’re talking about abortion:

Obstetric hemorrhage was the leading cause of pregnancy-related death in Texas, accounting for a quarter of cases. While there were fewer severe complications from hemorrhage overall, Black women saw their rate of complications increase nearly 10%.

The most common cause of hemorrhage deaths was ectopic pregnancies, in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Left untreated, these nonviable pregnancies can rupture, causing life-threatening complications such as severe blood loss and sepsis.

You can expect those numbers to continue to go up. The Lege and Greg Abbott will do nothing about it. The Chron has more.

We said they’d come for birth control next

And here they are.

Matthew Kacsmaryk, a Trump appointee to a federal court in Texas, spent much of his career trying to interfere with other people’s sexuality.

A former lawyer at a religious conservative litigation shop, Kacsmaryk denounced, in a 2015 article, a so-called “Sexual Revolution” that began in the 1960s and 1970s, and which “sought public affirmation of the lie that the human person is an autonomous blob of Silly Putty unconstrained by nature or biology, and that marriage, sexuality, gender identity, and even the unborn child must yield to the erotic desires of liberated adults.”

So, in retrospect, it’s unsurprising that Kacsmaryk would be the first federal judge to embrace a challenge to the federal right to birth control after the Supreme Court’s June decision eliminating the right to an abortion.

Last week, Kacsmaryk issued an opinion in Deanda v. Becerra that attacks Title X, a federal program that offers grants to health providers that fund voluntary and confidential family planning services to patients. Federal law requires the Title X program to include “services for adolescents,”

The plaintiff in Deanda is a father who says he is “raising each of his daughters in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality, which requires unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage.” He claims that the program must cease all grants to health providers who do not require patients under age 18 to “obtain parental consent” before receiving Title X-funded medical care.

This is not a new argument, and numerous courts have rejected similar challenges to publicly funded family planning programs, in part because the Deanda plaintiff’s legal argument “would undermine the minor’s right to privacy” which the Supreme Court has long held to include a right to contraception.

But Kacsmaryk isn’t like most other judges. In his brief time on the bench — Trump appointed Kacsmaryk in 2019 — he has shown an extraordinary willingness to interpret the law creatively to benefit right-wing causes.

This behavior is enabled, moreover, by the procedural rules that frequently enable federal plaintiffs in Texas to choose which judge will hear their case — 95 percent of civil cases filed in Amarillo, Texas’s federal courthouse are automatically assigned to Kacsmaryk. So litigants who want their case to be decided by a judge with a history as a Christian right activist, with a demonstrated penchant for interpreting the law flexibly to benefit his ideological allies, can all but ensure that outcome by bringing their lawsuit in Amarillo.

And so, last Thursday, the inevitable occurred. Kacsmaryk handed down a decision claiming that “the Title X program violates the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children.”

Kacsmaryk’s decision is riddled with legal errors, some of them obvious enough to be spotted by a first-year law student. And it contradicts a 42-year-long consensus among federal courts that parents do not have a constitutional right to target government programs providing contraceptive care. So there’s a reasonable chance that Kacsmaryk will be reversed on appeal, even in a federal judiciary dominated by Republican appointees.

Nevertheless, Kacsmaryk’s opinion reveals that there are powerful elements within the judiciary who are eager to limit access to contraception. And even if Kacsmaryk’s opinion is eventually rejected by a higher court, he could potentially send the Title X program into turmoil for months.

You can read the rest, and you should be upset by it. Note that there isn’t an injunction yet, just a terrible opinion by a terrible judge who hasn’t yet decided whether to impose his will on the entire country or not. But this is where we are, and it’s not going to end anytime soon. Daily Kos has more.

“Heartbeat” lawsuit against doctor dismissed

I’d forgotten this was still a thing, it had been so long since it was filed.

In the first test of the Texas law that empowers private citizens to sue for a minimum of $10,000 in damages over any illegal abortion they discover, a state judge Thursday dismissed a case against a San Antonio abortion provider, finding that the state constitution requires proof of injury as grounds to file a suit.

Ruling from the bench, Bexar County Judge Aaron Haas dismissed the suit filed by Chicagoan Felipe Gomez against Dr. Alan Braid who had admitted in a Washington Post op-ed that he violated the state’s then-six-week ban, Senate Bill 8, which allows for civil suits against anyone who “aids or abets” an unlawful abortion.

Thursday’s ruling does not overturn the law or preclude similar suits from being filed in the future, lawyers for Braid said Thursday. Nor does it change the almost-total ban on abortion that went into effect in Texas when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections earlier this year.

“This is the first SB 8 case that has gone to a ruling, a final judgment,” said Marc Hearron, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was part of Braid’s legal team. “It doesn’t necessarily stop other people from filing SB 8 lawsuits, but what we expect is other courts, following this judge’s lead, would say if you weren’t injured, if you’re just a stranger trying to enforce SB 8, courts are going to reject your claims because you don’t have standing.”

[…]

Haas said in court he would issue a written order in the next week, Hearron said. Gomez declined to comment until the ruling is finalized, though he said he would appeal the ruling. Gomez, who had no prior connection to Braid according to court filings, has said that he believed SB 8 was “illegal as written” given that Roe v. Wade hadn’t yet been overturned at the time, and he requested the court declare it unconstitutional.

Gomez told the Chicago Tribune after filing the suit that his purpose was not to profit from it, but rather to highlight the hypocrisy of Texas lawmakers when it comes to mandates on the state’s citizens.

“Part of my focus on this is the dichotomy between a government saying you can’t force people to get a shot or wear a mask and at the same time, trying to tell women whether or not they can or can’t get an abortion,” Gomez said. “To me, it’s inconsistent.”

The law, which was the most restrictive abortion law in the country when it went into effect in September 2021, purports to give anyone the standing to sue over an abortion prior to six weeks of pregnancy, which is before most patients know they’re pregnant.

The state later banned virtually all abortions except those that threaten a mother’s life, with violations by anyone who provides the procedure or assists someone in obtaining one punishable by up to life in prison. Abortion patients are exempt from prosecution under the law.

Haas agreed with plaintiffs that the constitutional standard is that a person must be able to prove they were directly impacted to sue over an abortion, Hearron said.

See here, here, and here for the background. According to the Trib, there were three lawsuits filed against Dr. Braid, but this was the only one served to him, so I believe that means there are no other active lawsuits of this kind still out there. It’s a little wild to look back and realize that this awful law ultimately led to so little direct action, but it most definitely had a chilling effect, and it set a terrible precedent that SCOTUS shrugged its shoulders at in the most cowardly way possible.

Dr. Braid’s intent, in performing the abortion and writing the op-ed that practically invited these lawsuits, was to challenge SB8’s legality on the grounds that Roe v Wade was the law of the land and thus SB8 was facially unconstitutional when it was passed. You could still make that argument now – a similar lawsuit in another state (I’m blanking on the details) hinged on that same point and prevailed in court – but in the end it wouldn’t much matter, as Texas’ so-called “trigger” law has gone even farther than SB8 did. I’m also not sure that Judge Haas’ ruling will stand on appeal, since it seems clear that the point of SB8 was that literally anyone had the standing to sue. But maybe the Texas Supreme Court will agree that “standing” does mean something less expansive than that. Again, it’s basically an academic exercise now, but you never know. And if anything about this makes the forced-birth caucus in the Lege unhappy, they’ll just pass another law to get what they want. My head hurts. Reform Austin has more.

Look to the state legislatures for the next frontiers in forced birtherism

The state of Texas will of course be on the forefront of this, but it will surely follow examples from other states as well.

As statehouses across the country prepare for next year’s legislative sessions — most for the first time since Roe v. Wade was overturned — Republican lawmakers are pushing for further restrictions on reproductive health, even in states where abortion is already banned.

But fissures are already emerging. Now, anti-abortion lawmakers must decide if they will push new abortion bans — a subject of debate among some abortion opponents — if they will amend existing bans to allow for abortions in cases of rape of incest, or if they will move to other reproductive health issues such as contraception. Abortion opponents have struggled to agree on all of them, especially with total abortion bans proving unpopular among voters.

“We will see this split in the Republican Party around following essentially their base, which wants to ban abortion without any exceptions, and the larger public,” said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state policy for the Guttmacher Institute.

Near-total abortion bans are in effect in 13 states, and others have limited access: In Georgia, the procedure is banned for people later than six weeks of pregnancy, and in Florida and Arizona, it is banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Bans in seven other states have been temporarily blocked but could take effect pending state court rulings.

With Republicans controlling the U.S. House, federal abortion legislation — whether a ban or national protection — is unlikely to pass. State legislatures are the likeliest source of new abortion policy, and most work only part-time, meeting to consider bills for a few months either every year or every other year. The legislative year typically starts in January, but lawmakers are starting to prefile bills, offering a first glimpse into what they hope to accomplish next year.

Two bills in Texas, one of the few states that has bills prefiled, show how legislation could prevent people from leaving the state to access abortion.

Republican lawmakers have put forth a bill that would prohibit government entities from giving someone money that might be used to travel out of state for an abortion. Another bill would eliminate state tax breaks for businesses in the state that help cover their employees’ travel costs associated with getting an abortion outside of the state.

Though no other states have similar bills yet, those could, if passed, offer a model for other states seeking to restrict abortion access further without directly banning interstate travel. Texas has already banned abortion completely, and it was the first state to eliminate access to abortions after six weeks, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

In Missouri — which, prior to Roe’s overturn had some of the most restrictive abortion policies in the country — lawmakers have begun to pre-file bills intended to keep people from accessing abortion. The procedure is already banned there, but no state law prevents people from getting medication abortion pills from another state, or from traveling out of state for an abortion.

If passed, these bills could change that. One would make it a felony to transport drugs that are intended to be used to induce an abortion, though the bill would not criminalize pregnant people. (Similar legislation last year did not pass.) Another bill would treat a fetus as a person — legislation that could effectively equate abortion with murder. Both could pass this session, Nash said, though it’s hard to tell what abortion bills lawmakers will prioritize until they come back to the capitol.

There’s more, so read the rest. We are well aware of the split between public opinion and Republican action on abortion, but as yet that has not caused the Texas GOP any electoral problems, so there’s no reason to believe they will be held back in any meaningful way. We also know that actual legislation is not required if threats and bullying do the heavy lifting for you. I haven’t spent a lot of time reading through legislative previews and stories of pre-filed bills because I know it’s going to be a massive shitshow and I’m trying to stay sane during the holidays. Just know that what happens in one Republican-dominated legislature will be copied by another, and it will work its way to the federal stage as well.

The environmental attack on abortion

It’s ridiculous.

Abortion opponents and their allies in elected office are seizing on an unusual strategy after suffering a wave of election defeats — using environmental laws to try to block the distribution of abortion pills.

The new approach comes as the pills mifepristone and misoprostol, which people can take at home during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, have become the most common method of abortion in the U.S. and virtually the only option for millions of people in states with laws that have forced clinics to close since the fall of Roe v. Wade.

The first salvo started last week with a petition asking the Food and Drug Administration to require any doctor who prescribes the pills to be responsible for disposing of the fetal tissue — which anti-abortion advocates want to be bagged and treated as medical waste rather than flushed down the toilet and into the wastewater.

If the FDA ignores or rejects the petition, as is expected, the group Students for Life of America plans to sue.

The new push is the culmination of years of brainstorming around how to restrict access to the pills — particularly since their use surged following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the FDA’s ruling in 2021 that they are safe to take at home without a doctor present.

[…]

With Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society president who has been influential in putting more conservative judges on the bench, co-chairing its board and the conservative legal powerhouse Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys helped draft and defend the Mississippi anti-abortion law that eventually toppled Roe v. Wade, advising them on the campaign, Students for Life is also pushing conservative state attorneys general to bring enforcement actions against doctors and abortion pill manufacturers, and is planning a tour of college campuses to advocate on the issue.

Should they prevail in any jurisdiction, the rules would be so burdensome that use of the drugs could be effectively cut off, several groups representing abortion providers told POLITICO. And even if they are unsuccessful in court, the effort aims to sway public opinion at a time voters have become increasingly accepting of abortions early in pregnancy.

“It’s hard for me to imagine even a Trump-friendly judge going for an argument about wastewater regulation, but you never know. Anytime you deal with abortion, judges get weird,” said Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California, Davis and author of “Abortion and the Law in America.” “And we know that the more the anti-abortion movement can get people to think about fetal remains and other concrete details about what abortion entails, the more uncomfortable Americans become. So, it could be helpful for them even if it doesn’t go anywhere legally.”

The group’s FDA petition argues that the high number of people using pills to terminate pregnancies at home and flushing fetal remains down the toilet — which has increased in part due to the same group’s efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and restrict access to surgical abortions — poses risks to the environment.

It claims without direct evidence that trace amounts of the drug in wastewater could threaten livestock and wildlife as well as humans, citing some studies in which the drug was given directly to animals rather than ingested from groundwater, and others where drugs flushed directly down the toilet contaminated the water supply.

“Pharmaceutical contamination of water is a serious issue that can have serious impacts on the environment, but trying to say that one drug out of thousands is having an outsized effect is based on ideology not evidence,” said Nathan Donley, the Environmental Health Science director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who has written citizen petitions to the FDA. “Of all the drugs and synthetic chemicals we shed that can potentially contaminate water, abortifacients are a fraction of a fraction of a percent. It’s nothing.”

Also referenced repeatedly in the petition are studies about the environmental impact of hormonal contraception, leading some experts to ask whether conservative groups will apply the strategy to other drugs in the future.

“It seems like they’re laying the groundwork for considering contraception itself as medical waste,” said Susan Wood, the former FDA assistant commissioner for Women’s Health and a professor of health policy at George Washington University.

The bad faith here is thick enough to blot out the sun, but shame has never been a limiting factor for this crowd. Use of abortion pills is already pretty restricted in Texas so I’m not sure if a bill to impose this kind of requirement is likely in the forthcoming legislative session, but it wouldn’t surprise me. There will be a bill for this in the Republican-controlled US House, which at least should make the campaign case for flipping that chamber back that much easier. This is the world that SCOTUS has forced us to live in. The bad guys are going to keep coming. We can’t let up.

Quantifying the abortion ban harm

These stories will keep on coming.

Usually, articles in medical journals are about science; they bring data to their readers, who can use them to provide evidence-based care to their patients.

But sometimes, evidence is an expression of grief or even rage. A recent journal article, “Maternal Morbidity and Fetal Outcomes Among Pregnant Women at 22 Weeks’ Gestation or Less with Complications in 2 Texas Hospitals After Legislation on Abortion,” contains such evidence.

To understand this article, you need to know that any number of complications can threaten a pregnancy, such as rupture of the bag of water around the baby, preterm labor, or heavy bleeding. When those complications arise before 22 weeks of gestation— before the age of viability when a fetus can live outside of a uterus—the standard of medical care is to offer a patient termination of pregnancy as an option. Women who continue pregnancy in these situations take on significant risks to their own health, and because of the early gestation, the chance for a healthy baby is very, very low.

However, in September 2021, Texas adopted two measures, S.B. 4 and S.B. 8, which instituted punitive actions against anyone providing abortion. These laws took effect before the Supreme Court decision ended Roe v. Wade. And all of a sudden, termination of pregnancy became impossible in Texas unless and until there was an “immediate threat to maternal life.”

The journal article, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, describes the experience of two large Texas hospitals over a period of eight months following that legislation. The authors, who care for patients at those hospitals, describe how their hospitals managed 28 women who presented at less than 22 weeks’ gestation with serious complications following the ban on abortion.

Without the ability to offer abortion to their patients, all 28 women were managed expectantly. This is a medical way of saying that they waited for something terrible to happen. That wait lasted, on average, nine days.

During that nine days of waiting, here is what was achieved for the babies: 27 of the patients had loss of the fetus in utero or the death of the infant shortly after delivery. Of the entire cohort, one baby remained alive, still in the NICU at time of the journal article’s publication, with a long list of complications from extreme prematurity, including bleeding in the brain, brain swelling, damage to intestines, chronic lung disease. and liver dysfunction. If a baby survives these complications, they often result in permanent, lifelong illnesses.

During those nine days of waiting for an immediate threat to maternal life, here is what happened to the women of that cohort: Most of them went into labor, or had a stillbirth, which meant the medical team could then legally intervene and empty the uterus. Fifty-seven percent of those pregnant women had some sort of complication, and for about a third of them, it was serious enough to require intensive-care admission, surgery, or a second admission to the hospital. One of the 28 patients ended up with a hysterectomy, which means she will never carry a pregnancy again. The authors of the article estimate, based on their pre-September practice, that about half of those maternal complications would have been avoided if immediate abortion had been offered as a choice. But of course, post-September in Texas, these women didn’t get a choice.

I’ll say again, it’s just a matter of time before some nice white suburban lady who already has kids dies as a result of not being able to get proper medical care following a similar instance. I’d love to tell the woman who was forced to have a hysterectomy to sue the state of Texas for that, but I don’t know that any deserving target of such a lawsuit would be allowed to be named as a defendant. You know what the refrain is for this song.

It’s legislative bullying time

Here we go again.

Republican lawmakers in Texas and Washington D.C. are threatening some of the nation’s largest corporate law firms if they provide what the lawmakers consider to be improper advice on issues such as climate change, diversity and abortion.

The Texas legislators have even threatened business lawyers with criminal prosecution and disbarment.

In letters sent Nov. 3, five GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee told 51 of the nation’s largest law firms, including 33 with offices and lawyers in Texas, that they have a “duty to inform clients of the risks they incur by participating in climate cartels and other ill-advised ESG schemes.”

The memo doesn’t describe what a “scheme” involving environmental, social and governance principles might look like. Nor does it say what is objectionable about efforts to defend the environment or democratize corporate capitalism.

In July, 11 members of the politically conservative Texas Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Sidley Austin Dallas partner and chair Yvette Ostalaza, threatening her and other corporate law firms operating in Texas with criminal prosecution, civil sanctions and a ban on practicing law if they help their employees in the state to get an abortion in another state.

The three-page letter to Sidley Austin, which has nearly 200 lawyers in Houston and Dallas, accused the firm of being “complicit in illegal abortions.” The Freedom Caucus members posted the letter on its website and sent a copy to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The letters, legal experts say, show that conservative Republican lawmakers believe they can score political favor with their base by attacking corporate lawyers, which they see as facilitating more liberal causes.

“Corporate law firms, especially in Texas because of the political environment, are taking these letters very serious,” said Kent Zimmermann, a consultant who works with several Texas law firms. “These are pure political hit jobs, but the law firms do not want to give any of these threats oxygen by responding.”

“It puts law firms in an unfair position in what amounts to a play to the (GOP) base,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmermann said law firm leaders need to respect the lawmakers even if the demands are not legally sound.

[…]

“It’s a stupid letter; a totally stupid letter,” Dallas legal ethics expert Randy Johnston said. “It’s kind of offensive in concept. “Some of the authors are also lawyers and are flirting with an ethical violation by this attempt to intimidate other lawyers in connection with those lawyers’ representation of advice to clients.”

Dru Stevenson, a professor at the South Texas School of Law in Houston, describes the letter as “mostly political theater,” but he cautions that it needs to be taken seriously.

Stevenson, who studies the legal issues associated with the ESG movement, says antitrust litigation may prove to be the only real weapon to curb increasingly popular trends toward climate change mitigation and, more specifically, energy transition and decreased use of carbon-based fuels like oil, natural gas and coal.

“The senators can’t sue, only threaten legislation,” Stevenson said. “For now, they are stuck (with the Biden administration), but the issue is worth keeping in mind. The political pendulum goes back and forth.”

We’ve seen this before, and as we get closer to the start of the legislative session we’ll see much more of it. Unfortunately, the voter backlash to Dobbs and the rejection of efforts to further limit abortion via referendum all happened outside of Texas. The fanatics have every reason to believe they’ve been vindicated, and they will act accordingly. The best part, as far as they’re concerned, is that the bluster is often enough to get what they want, because large firms are risk averse and would rather placate than fight. But if it comes down to it, or just because it’s what they want, they’ll still push forward with plenty of unhinged legislation aimed at criminalizing abortion and various forms of dissent. Some of this may wind up in court, and Lord help us if that happens. You know what I’m going to say about nothing changing until election results start to change. This is our motivation for next time. There’s no other choice.

Forced birther lawsuit targets abortion pills

Did you think you were going to have a nice, peaceful Thanksgiving week? Sorry, no can do.

Abortion opponents who helped challenge Roe v. Wade filed a lawsuit Friday that takes aim at medication abortions, asking a federal judge in Texas to undo decades-old approval of the drugs that have become the preferred method of ending pregnancy in the U.S.

Even before the Supreme Court struck down the constitutional right to an abortion earlier this year, the use of abortion pills had been increasing in the U.S. and demand is expected to grow as more states seek abortion limits.

The lawsuit was filed by the Alliance for Defending Freedom, which was also involved in the Mississippi case that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned. The lawsuit argues the U.S. Food and Drug Administration erred in approving the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol and overstepped its authority in doing so.

Reached for comment, the FDA said it does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Amarillo, Texas. The state banned abortion after the Roe decision and is among the states where GOP lawmakers have banned mail delivery of the pills.

The number of medication abortions has increased since regulators started allowing them and now account for roughly 40% of U.S. abortions. The medication can cost as little as $110 to get by mail, compared with at least $300 for a surgical abortion. Research has shown the pills are safe.

However, people seeking abortion pills often must navigate differing state laws, including bans on delivery of the drugs and on telemedicine consultations to discuss the medication with a health care provider. And until Democrat Joe Biden became president, U.S. government policy banned mail delivery nationwide.

Axios has a copy of the lawsuit. And before you ask the answer is yes, of course this is about sheer opportunism, not anything resembling facts.

Medication abortion accounts for more than half of abortions in the U.S. In response to the pandemic, the FDA allowed abortion pills to be mailed, which contributed to a significant jump in its use. For decades now, it has been used safely and effectively up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. It has been extensively researched for decades, and has proven safe, effective, and convenient for doctors and patients alike.

There is absolutely no scientific or medical basis for the assertions in this case. It is “an incredibly safe medication,” Loren Colson, a family medicine physician in Idaho and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told The Washington Post. “It’s been well-studied and much safer than a lot of things you can find over the counter,” Colson said. “If they are trying to argue the safety, they have very little ground to stand on. It’s just a clear and blatant attack on abortion.”

One legal expert who has written extensively about the pill calls the safety claims in the suit “ridiculous.” Greer Donley, associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said, “Mifepristone is one of the safest drugs on the market, safer than Viagra and penicillin,” citing the decades of research: “We have a lot of studies and a lot of data on it.” This case, she said, is “really weak.”

Which is why the group chose Texas, where they could find a friendly federal district judge. They did. The case is going to Trump appointee Matthew Kacsmaryk, one of the young extremists the Federalist Society handpicked. He is vehemently anti-LGBTQ and misogynistic, and so extreme in his anti-LGBTQ writings that Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voted against him.

His hostility to abortion is no secret. He has described Roe v. Wade as wrongly decided. “On January 22, 1973, seven justices of the Supreme Court found an unwritten ‘fundamental right’ to abortion hiding in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the shadowy ‘penumbras’ of the Bill of Rights, a celestial phenomenon invisible to the non-lawyer eye.”

It’s a junk case with no basis in science or medical research. But we’ve been here before with junk cases, this federal court district, and the 5th Circuit in which it operates. Kacsmaryk will rule for the plaintiffs and possibly even try to put a national injunction on the use of medication abortion. The administration will appeal and it will go to the abortion-hostile 5th Circuit, from where it will be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court.

So yeah, this is bad, not because of the law or anything like that but because of numbers and court-shopping. I don’t know how long it will take to get to a hearing and then to a preliminary ruling, but it’s out there. Be prepared for it. Bloomberg Law and Kaiser Health News have more.

Paxton taken off the hook for testifying in abortion funds’ lawsuit

By the Fifth Circuit, of course.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will not have to testify as nonprofits that help patients legally obtain abortions seek clarity on whether they can do their work in states like Texas where the procedure is outlawed, a federal appellate court ruled Monday.

A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that an Austin federal court judge should have granted Paxton’s motion to quash subpoenas he was served by the plaintiff abortion funds.

The subpoena made national headlines after Paxton evaded a legal messenger who had shown up at his house on the eve of a hearing in the case. Paxton later called the messenger “suspicious” and “erratic” and said he “justifiably feared for his personal safety.”

The abortion funds are suing the state for protection to resume their work amid the state’s newly enforced abortion bans. They have said Paxton’s testimony is necessary because he and his office have made conflicting statements about the legality of helping Texas residents legally obtain abortions in other states, and he is the only person who can clarify their meaning and intent.

“We are happy that Judge Pitman can move forward in the case now, and that the Fifth Circuit has acknowledged the real threats against our clients related to assisting people to access reproductive health care out of state,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a joint statement.

[…]

At first, the district court granted Paxton’s motions to quash the subpoenas; however, after more information came to light — Paxton had claimed he was served “on the literal eve of trial,” yet emails submitted to the court by the abortion funds’ lawyers showed he had at least four days notice — the judge changed course and ordered Paxton to testify.

The appellate judges disagreed with the lower court’s finding that there were “exceptional circumstances” requiring Paxton to testify.

“Paxton’s personal ‘thoughts and statements’ have no bearing on his office’s legal authority to enforce Texas’s abortion laws or any other law,” the panel wrote in the ruling. “It is entirely unexceptional for a public official to comment publicly about a matter of public concern. If doing so imparts unique knowledge, high-level officials will routinely have to testify.”

The panel also disagreed with the lower court’s contention that testifying would not cause a significant burden for Paxton.

“‘High ranking government officials have greater duties and time constraints than other witnesses,'” they wrote, citing prior case law. “Those duties often involve communicating with the public on matters of public interest. The fact that a high-ranking official talks to his constituents does not ipso facto mean he also has ample free time for depositions.”

See here for the background. This is one of those times where I wish the story included a quote or two from an actual legal expert about the opinion. We all know how deeply in the tank for Paxton the Fifth Circuit is, but based on what is reported in the story, the ruling seems at least defensible. But the Fifth Circuit is so utterly corrupt that I can’t rely on my judgment here, and they deserve absolutely no benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to be a chump here, so I’d like to see someone who knows these things render an assessment. In the absence of that, all I have is my well-honed instinct to not trust that terrible court. And we’ll all have the Internet mockery of Ken Paxton for his pusillanimous efforts to evade the process server. Sometimes the snark is the most dependable thing out there.

Our future doctor shortage

Putting a pin in this.

As reported by Jan Hoffman for The New York Times, in order to satisfy their prerequisites for specialty board certification, OB-GYN physicians in post-graduate medical residency programs must comply with national requirements, which include training in the performance of abortions. Such training is considered essential—and characterized as a  “core procedure”—for OB-GYN doctors, in order to properly treat common medical conditions such as miscarriage, infections, and other complications to pregnancy. And in order to receive accreditation, those medical residency programs—typically administered through schools of public health and occurring in hospitals or clinics—must provide that training.

But ever since a radical conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the right to abortion previously guaranteed by Roe v. Wade in June, several Republican-dominated states have passed laws prohibiting abortion and criminalizing its practice by physicians. As a direct result, residency programs that routinely provided their residents with training in abortion care are faced with a dilemma.

As Hoffman observes:

If they continue to provide abortion training in states where the procedure is now outlawed, they could be prosecuted. If they don’t offer it, they risk losing their accreditation, which in turn would render their residents ineligible to receive specialty board certification and imperil recruitment of faculty and medical students.

The absolute necessity of such training for OB-GYN doctors was recently reaffirmed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). There is no exception for states whose Republican legislatures and governors have seen fit to transform the procedure into a criminal offense, although, as Hoffman reports, the guidelines permit a medical resident to “opt out” of such training for “religious or moral reasons.” Under the Council’s guidelines, a physician may also complete such instruction by serving a clinical rotation in a facility located in a state that permits doctors to perform abortions, but both hospital program directors and medical residents interviewed for The Times report expressed the fear that broadly drafted forced-birth laws in Republican-dominated states could still subject them to criminal prosecution.

[…]

For physicians seeking to complete their residencies in states that have or will soon criminalize the performance of abortions, the allowance for “out-of-state” training comes with an array of practical obstacles, from varying licensing and malpractice insurance regulations to housing costs. Hoffman reports that as consequence, physicians have begun to avoid placements in states where abortion is or will soon be illegal. She cites one physician who had been “courted” to join a Wisconsin medical residence program’s faculty who ultimately turned them down, citing the state’s abortion ban.

But the more worrying trend for those who may need OB-GYN care in Republican states is the growing reluctance of medical students to practice in those states.

Hoffman reports:

That is among the reasons that many medical students have said they are applying only to programs where abortion is legal. Public health experts predict that in a few years, patients in abortion-prohibited states, where the ranks of obstetricians are already shrinking, will experience even greater barriers to reproductive health care.

The reasons for this are practical, at least in part: An aspiring OB-GYN resident has little incentive to apply to a program that is not accredited. As Hoffman reports, the ACMGE explored the option of using “simulation” techniques such as virtual instruction or performance of “mock” abortions on models (and even papayas) to provide such training and concluded they were insufficient.  Even those medical students who desire to treat patients in the poorest of these “red-state” areas have balked when they find their programs do not have sufficient resources to place them for out-of-state training.

The effects of all this are as predictable as they are ominous for anyone seeking OB-GYN care in Republican-led states: Because of the very real threat of potential criminal prosecution, many of the most qualified and talented medical students will naturally apply tor OB-GYN residency programs in states where abortion is legal; in turn, those programs become more selective, admitting only the top students.  Meanwhile, students who simply may wish to practice OB-GYN in a “red state” are disincentivized to do so, by barriers to accreditation or the simple expense and logistics of obtaining such training out of their chosen state.

Finally, as Hoffman notes, the prohibitions against abortion in “red” states have deterred medical students pursuing careers in those states even in fields other than OB-GYN. She cites a study of third- and fourth-year medical students conducted for The Lancet Americas which interviewed those students about their preferred career placements; 60% wouldn’t apply to programs in forced-birth states. And “more than three-quarters of 500 responses” were from students pursuing specialties that were NOT obstetrics and gynecology.

Maybe it doesn’t play out this way. Maybe between elections and societal pressure, we get enough relaxation of the current forced-birth legislation to mitigate this effect. Maybe the effect only really hits poor people, so it never becomes a “real” issue to the Legislature. Maybe we just wind up with more Republican doctors. Who knows? Like I said, I’m putting a pin in this so that if five years from now the news in Texas is about how hard it’s becoming to find doctors in parts of the state where that previously had not been a problem, or how the major medical centers in Texas are having a hard time getting new interns and residents, we’ll be able to say we saw it coming. At least, some of us saw it coming.

The surge in mail order abortion pills

We’ll see how long this lasts. We know the Lege is going to take aim at it.

Requests for mail-order abortion pills continued to spike in Texas, nearly doubling this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to new research.

Texas saw the sixth highest jump in weekly requests among states reviewed, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The state is among a handful that now prohibit abortions in almost all cases, following the court’s decision to roll back federal abortion protections.

Mail-order abortion requests were already rising dramatically in Texas amid the state’s six-week abortion ban, which took effect last September. The new research found that Aid Access, the Austrian nonprofit that ships abortion pills to consumers in the U.S., received an average of 5.5 requests per week, per 100,000 Texans of reproductive age through August, up from 2.9 between September and June. There are about seven million women of reproductive age in the state.

The study provides further evidence that Texans are finding ways to access abortion even under the state’s strict new laws. Moreover, Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas Austin and the paper’s lead author, said requests for abortion pills increased in states even where abortions remain legal, suggesting that people are also getting more comfortable in general with the idea of managing their own abortions.

“I think it’s an unintended and kind of ironic consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said. “They often actually illuminate the idea of self-managed abortion for people because it gets talked about in the media and people hear about it through social media platforms.”

[…]

Mail-order abortion requests were already rising dramatically in Texas amid the state’s six-week abortion ban, which took effect last September. The new research found that Aid Access, the Austrian nonprofit that ships abortion pills to consumers in the U.S., received an average of 5.5 requests per week, per 100,000 Texans of reproductive age through August, up from 2.9 between September and June. There are about seven million women of reproductive age in the state.

The study provides further evidence that Texans are finding ways to access abortion even under the state’s strict new laws. Moreover, Abigail Aiken, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Texas Austin and the paper’s lead author, said requests for abortion pills increased in states even where abortions remain legal, suggesting that people are also getting more comfortable in general with the idea of managing their own abortions.

“I think it’s an unintended and kind of ironic consequence of abortion bans,” Aiken said. “They often actually illuminate the idea of self-managed abortion for people because it gets talked about in the media and people hear about it through social media platforms.”

I’m glad that people are finding ways, but as helpful as Aid Access is, it’s inherently fragile. Draconian measures may be required to damage its ability to provide its service, but I have no doubt that the forced birth contingent will be all in on such measures. It’s just a matter of when they hit on the right tactic, which they did with SB8 for doctor-provided abortions. And of course, while the medication can cover most of the early abortions, it’s the ones that come later in pregnancy, the ones that are the result of a pregnancy gone wrong and which threaten the health of the mother that remain. The accompanying horror stories – it’s also just a matter of time before some nice white suburban lady who already has a couple of kids dies as a result of being unable to get a medically necessary abortion in a timely manner – will stay with us for the longer term. The Trib and Texas Public Radio have more.

The “abortion sanctuary cities” lawsuit at SCOTx

A big decision this will be.

The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a defamation case brought by several abortion funds against prominent anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson should be dismissed.

In 2019, Waskom in Harrison County became the first Texas city to largely outlaw abortion and groups that assist it, like abortion funds, by adopting a Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn ordinance, following a campaign started by Dickson.

Then in 2020, three abortion funds — the Afiya Center, Texas Equal Access Fund and Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity — sued Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas, for defamation. Dickson had referred to the groups, which provide financial assistance to patients seeking abortions, as “criminal organizations” in statements on social media.

On Wednesday, Dickson’s attorney, Jonathan Mitchell, said his client’s statements were not defamatory because they were true.

“They are criminals because they have violated the criminal laws of Texas, which imposes felony criminal liability on any person who quote ‘furnishes the means for procuring an abortion,’” said Mitchell, a former solicitor general of Texas. He is also the architect behind the the state law that made performing an abortion illegal after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy.

[…]

In particular, Mitchell argued that Texas never repealed an 1897 law that punishes those “furnishing the means for procuring an abortion” and that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, didn’t make funding another person’s abortion a constitutional right.

“The court should say that these statements, far from being nondefamatory, are actually true to prevent future lawsuits like this from ever getting off the ground,” Mitchell argued. “This has been a campaign to intimidate constitutionally protected speech.”

Mitchell added that there are other grounds to dismiss the case, arguing that the abortion funds would have to prove Dickson made his statements with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Beth Klussman, an attorney for the state of Texas, also spoke in support of Dickson. She argued that his statements were protected because they were opinions, similar to how opponents of the death penalty refer to executions carried out by the state as murder. Attorney Jennifer Ecklund, who represents the abortion funds, responded that Dickson’s language should be considered a factual statement because it was specific rather than about broad topics.

“We have a defendant who specifically said I am telling you as a fact that this is the state of the law and that these people are committing crimes,” she said. “That is a very singular set of facts.”

Ecklund added that the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made Texas’ pre-Roe law in question unconstitutional at the time, and therefore calling the abortion funds “criminal” infringes on their freedom of speech and association. And she said the groups have been complying with the law since the Dobbs decision.

“People are afraid to associate with them. People are afraid to donate. People are afraid to express their views for fear that they will also be called literal criminals who might be prosecuted based on things that they believe were totally constitutional,” Ecklund said.

See here for the background. I think Dickson’s defense is contrived and should be rejected, but it has just enough plausibility that it could persuade SCOTx that is has meaning. I’d love to hear what the lawyers think. This is a ruling on a motion to dismiss, so I’m assuming that the suit has previous survived such a motion at the district court and with the appellate court. We’re supposedly expecting an answer in the spring. You know what I’m rooting for.

So many abortion clinics have closed

Most of them are in Texas.

More than half of the 23 abortion clinics in Texas have closed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, according to a new report.

Twelve clinics have shuttered their operations entirely in the state, and the rest have focused on other services, which could include cancer screenings, STI treatments and contraception, according to the review by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health access. The count did not include a list of clinics that have closed.

Nearly half of the 26 abortion clinics that have closed nationally since the court’s decision were in Texas, according to the report.

[…]

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, which lifted federal abortion protections, several independent abortion providers announced they were relocating their Texas operations to states where the procedure is still allowed. Whole Woman’s Health, which is moving its Texas operations to New Mexico, had worked in Texas for nearly 20 years, with clinics in Austin, McAllen, Fort Worth, and McKinney before this summer.

Whole Woman’s Health now offers a program in which Texas patients who are up to 11 weeks pregnant can go to New Mexico or four other states for a telemedicine appointment and pick up prescribed abortion medication in that state. It also plans to open a physical clinic in New Mexico and is in the process of searching for a building.

“We know the same amount of people in the community we serve still need abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the group’s founder and CEO. “The ban doesn’t do anything to prevent unplanned pregnancies; it just keeps people from getting professional medical care.”

Two things to keep in mind here. One is that the number of clinics in Texas at the time of the Dobbs decision was already way down from the early 2010s. This is because of the the anti-abortion law that was passed in 2013, the one that Wendy Davis famously filibustered against, which was aimed at regulating clinics out of business; this was a prime example of a so-called TRAP law, which stood for “targeted restrictions (or regulations) on abortion providers”. You know, the law that forced abortion clinics to transform themselves into ambulatory surgical units and did things like require minimum corridor widths, under the bullshit guise of “safety”. The Supreme Court in 2015, which still had Anthony Kennedy on it, threw out this law on the grounds that it was a lying pile of baloney that did nothing to actually promote safety and put an “undue burden” on the providers. (The case was Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt, you may have heard of it.) For a brief shining moment, clinics and abortion advocates in Texas began making plans to sue the state over other restrictive laws that this decision would have rendered unconstitutional.

And then 2016 happened, and we know the rest. But the point is that in between the passage of the 2013 TRAP law and the 2015 Hellerstedt decision, more than half of the clinics that had provided abortions in Texas had closed. None, as far as I know, had reopened following Hellerstedt, though going by the numbers in both stories it’s likely some new places began offering abortion services. However you slice it, the number of clinics that were around to close this year was down sharply from less than ten years ago. We were already a state where getting an abortion was exceedingly difficult to do for many women.

What this all means is that even if Democrats manage to fill the inside straight and put themselves in a position to re-establish abortion rights nationwide in 2023, we’re a long way off from abortion being readily available in Texas again. That process could take a decade or more, and that’s assuming that Republicans don’t gain a trifecta and do a national abortion ban or some other horrible thing. We have some hope of making the laws right again. Getting back to where we were, let alone where we need to be, that is a much longer-term project. Daily Kos has more.

In which I pay a few minutes’ attention to the Miss USA pageant

What can I say? I love some controversy in niche competitive events.

R’Bonney Gabirel

Just days after Miss Texas USA R’Bonney Gabriel was crowned Miss USA, several other contestants have accused the pageant of favoritism and rigging the competition.

During the live broadcast, several contestants walk off stage as Gabriel was crowned instead of congratulating her. In the days after the pageant, some contestants have aired their grievances on social media.

“I think the most important thing is that all the contestants feel like they have a fair shot at the crown and that starts with more transparency in judging,” said Miss District of Columbia Faith Porter in an interview with ABC news.

Miss Montana USA Heather O’Keefe published several videos on Instagram and TikTok, claiming Gabriel had an unfair advantage and said the sponsors showed a preference for Gabriel.

“Most of the Miss USA contestants feel very strongly that there was favoritism towards Miss Texas USA and we have the receipts to prove it,” she said in her TikTok video.

Nancy Shuster, director of talent and media relations, said in a statement the current allegations made by the 2022 Miss USA class of 2022 are misleading and simply not factual. Shuster said the misunderstanding is the fact that Mia Beauté is a sponsor of the State Miss Texas USA Pageant and a sponsor of the National Miss USA Pageant. Mia Beauté has also recently opened a location at Nizuc Resort and Spa, which is also a sponsor of the national Miss USA Pageant.

Shuster said Gabriel did multiple sponsor visits, one with Mia Beauté, at which time they proposed that she finally visit Nizuc Spa. She said Gabriel paid for her own flight.

“Just as other contestants have been engaged by other sponsors before competing and or winning at the National level, Mia Beauté wanted to use R’Bonney’s diversity and representation as the first Filipina American to win Miss Texas USA,” Shuster said in a statement.

Ms. Gabriel has denied the allegations, as you might expect.

New Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel is denying allegations pageant officials favored her over other contestants, asserting the competition was not “rigged.”

Speaking to E! News, Gabriel said she would “never enter any pageant or any competition that I know I would win.”

“I have a lot of integrity,” she added.

Gabriel, the first Filipino-American woman to win the title, is a model and fashion designer who competed as Miss Texas USA. Her win was questioned by contestants after the pageant as questions swirled on social media as to why most of the Miss USA contestants walked off the stage after Gabriel was crowned.

[…]

Gabriel told E! she was open to talking to her fellow contestants.

“I want to be transparent, and I want everybody to know that there was no unfair advantage and nothing was rigged,” she said.

The Miss Universe Organization told the New York Post it is investigating the claims.

“We are aware of the concerns that have been brought forth by this year’s Miss USA contestants,” the organization told The Post in an emailed statement. “We commend the women for bringing these issues to our attention and will always be an organization that encourages women to use their voice.

“We firmly believe everyone has a right to express their thoughts and experiences without retaliation and bullying,” the statement said. “There are existing systems in place to ensure the fairness of our national competitions and as such we have begun an active review into this situation.”

I have done no further research and have no opinion on whether any of the allegations have merit. I’m not that interested in finding out and very likely won’t post any followups unless something really interesting comes up. But I do have an interest in our new Miss USA, because of this.

Within days of receiving her crown, new Miss USA R’Bonney Gabriel of Friendswood sparked debate in that city after a publication reported her stance against Texas’ laws on abortion.

Insider reported that Gabriel said that “as a woman, and as a Texan, it was extremely disappointing” to see the state’s near-total ban on abortions that went into effect after the Supreme Court removed federal protections on the procedure. State law only allows an exception for medical emergencies that threaten the mother’s life or impair a “major bodily function.”

[…]

Insider reported that Gabriel, a 28-year-old model and clothing designer, said of abortion, “At the end of the day, I would want a woman to be able to have that decision. In Texas, even if it’s rape or incest, abortion is still illegal — and I disagree with that.”

Chateara Jackson, 30, a Houston resident who works in Friendswood, said of Gabriel, “She’s standing up for what she believes in, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think a lot of people have the same viewpoint, and she just spoke about it.”

Friendswood resident Joshua Garcia, 22, said he identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ communities and is used to his community speaking out for rights and beliefs.

“With Texas traditionally being a red state and her having the power she has, she’s using her voice,” Garcia said. “It can be hard to speak out on something that can be so controversial. I think it might make old people uncomfortable if they’re fixed in their old ways of thinking.”

Democratic activist John Cobarruvias, whose children attend schools in Friendswood, said Gabriel’s statement represents a generational shift.

“This issue has energized young women, and I’m glad that she spoke out,” he said.

Here’s the Insider story, in which she also expressed dismay with Texas’ ridiculous gun laws. Gotta say, this is refreshing and more than a little unexpected, given the nature of pageant culture. Whatever the case, I welcome her words and hope that if she gets invited to a photo op of some kind with one of our state elected officials that she tells them the same things to their faces.

Telemundo and Asian Texans For Justice polls

Saw this on Twitter:

In the comments I found this link to the data. This was a live phone poll of 625 Hispanic registered voters in Texas, who said they were “likely” to vote. There isn’t a representative-sample poll of the state, this was specifically a poll of Hispanic voters, so that’s what you get. Of interest was the breakdown of the numbers by geographic region – read these as the totals for Beto, Abbott, “other”, and “undecided” left to right:


Dallas/Fort Worth      57% 27% 3% 13%
Houston Metro          57% 30% 2% 11%
San Antonio            54% 29% 3% 14%
Brownsville/McAllen    48% 37% 5% 10%
Corpus/Laredo/El Paso  54% 32% 2% 12%

I don’t know what the 2020 numbers would have been in this formulation. Assume there’s a fairly high margin of error for each, and proceed with caution if you want to draw any conclusions.

I was curious as to how this topline 54-31 number compared to the Hispanic subsamples from other polls, which would also have much larger margins of error as they would be considerably smaller in number. Going through my archives for September, I got this:

Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation: Beto 53, Abbott 39
Spectrum News/Siena College: Beto 58, Abbott 36
DMN/UT-Tyler: Beto 41, Abbott 37 (the two third party candidates combine for 13%, and I will very much bet the under on that)
UT/Texas Politics Project: Beto 52, Abbott 33
UH-TSU Texas Trends: Beto 53, Abbott 38

This result is a bit better for Beto than these others, but not so much so that you’d raise an eyebrow at it.

Telemundo also did a national poll of Hispanic voters in conjunction with NBC News, and I would say that the Texas numbers are more or less in line with the national ones. That’s maybe a bit of a shift from recent years, where Dems generally did a bit better outside Texas with Hispanic voters, but not a huge shift. It’s also consistent with the claim that Republicans have gained some ground in recent years, certainly in comparison with 2012, which looks like a high water mark for Dems right now.

Moving on, I got this in my inbox last week:

Asian Texans for Justice (ATJ) today released a statewide report, “The Deciding Margin: How AAPI Voters Will Shape the Future of Texas,” which found that four out of five Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Texas feel Asian American interests are not well represented in government now. The organization commissioned the poll to demystify an often misunderstood and misrepresented major voting bloc in the state.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Texas have been sidelined on the margins of Texas policy and politics for far too long,” said Lily Trieu, interim-executive director of Asian Texans for Justice. “But the data are clear: AAPI voters are not a silent minority on the margins of Texas politics. They have the potential to be the deciding margin for the future of Texas.”

The fastest growing ethnic group in Texas and nationwide, AAPIs now make up 6.3% of the Texas population. Not only does Texas have the third largest AAPI population, but it is outpacing AAPI growth nationally. According to the 2020 census, Texas’ Asian American population grew by 66.5% and the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population grew by 62% – compared to the national Asian American increase of just 38.6%.

Key Findings:

  1. The majority (64%) of AAPI in Texas are highly motivated to vote in the November 2022 midterm elections. 

  2. The most important policy issues to AAPI voters in Texas are economic recovery, inflation and cost of living, education, and voting rights. 

  3. The overwhelming majority of AAPI Texans are in favor of legalizing abortion (77%), gun safety legislation (83%), and making voting more convenient (85%).

  4. AAPI Texans have more in common with other communities of color (Black and Hispanic) than white Texans when it comes to policy issues, such as Medicare expansion, abortion rights, gun reform, voting rights, and the banning of Critical Race Theory. 

  5. Compared to Texans overall, AAPIs are more likely to identify as Democrats (42% of AAPIs vs 31% of the general population). An equal 29% identify as both Republicans and Independents. AAPI Republicans lean to the left of all Republicans statewide on a variety of issues polled.

  6. Only 20% of AAPI Texans believe AAPIs’ interests are well represented in government now. Almost two-thirds (64%) of AAPI Texans say it’s important to have elected officials who look like you and share the same background.

“Asian Texans are often mistakenly viewed as apathetic about politics,” said Ashley Cheng, founding president of Asian Texans for Justice. “Politicians have just been apathetic about us for far too long, but that is changing.”

The landing page is here and the report is here. No horse-race numbers, but the revelation that AAPI voters are to the left of the state overall was of interest. Read it and see what you think.

Evade this, Kenny

Paxton gets ordered to testify, along with an old-fashioned bench slapping.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge has ordered Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to testify in an abortion rights lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman had previously quashed the subpoena, which Paxton fled his home to avoid being served.

In a hearing last week, lawyers representing abortion rights nonprofits asked Pitman to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman granted their motion on Tuesday.

These nonprofits, called abortion funds, brought the lawsuit in August, seeking assurance that they will not be criminally or civilly penalized for helping Texans pay for abortions out of state. They have argued that Paxton’s statements on social media and in the press make it clear that the state’s top lawyer believes the abortion funds can and should be prosecuted for their work over state lines.

[…]

[I]n Tuesday’s order, [Judge Pitman] said he [originally quashed the subpoena] “on the assumption that counsel for Paxton had made candid representations to the Court … only to learn later that Paxton failed to disclose Plaintiffs’ repeated emails attempting to inquire as to whether Paxton could testify.”

Pitman also sided with the abortion funds’ argument that Paxton has unique, first-hand knowledge that requires him to testify.

“The Court will not sanction a scheme where Paxton repeatedly labels his threats of prosecution as real for the purposes of deterrence and as hypothetical for the purposes of judicial review,” Pitman wrote.

He also rejected the argument that requiring Paxton to testify would be too much to ask of the state’s top lawyer.

“It is challenging to square the idea that Paxton has time to give interviews threatening prosecutions but would be unduly burdened by explaining what he means to the very parties affected by his statements,” Pitman wrote. “The burden faced by Plaintiffs—the effective cessation of many core operations—outweighs the burden of testimony faced by Paxton.”

Pitman gave lawyers on both sides a week to determine how and when Paxton will testify.

See here, here, and here for the background. Judge Pitman’s order is practically perfect. I have no notes. I look forward to seeing how Paxton responds to questions from someone who isn’t a sycophant. The Chron has more.

The Paxton subpoena-fleeing saga gets more ridiculous

Because of course it does.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers in an abortion lawsuit tried for days to subpoena Attorney General Ken Paxton before sending a process server to his home Monday, and notified his office that their server was there before Paxton fled in a truck driven by his wife, according to court records detailing the communication.

Paxton said he left his house in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, because a “strange man” made him fear for his safety; his attorneys say they didn’t know he’d be served the subpoena at his home.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman quashed the subpoena on Tuesday, but attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider and require Paxton to testify. Pitman has not yet ruled on that motion, or the merits of the case, which concerns whether nonprofit groups, known as abortion funds, can help Texans pay to get abortions out of state.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in August, names Paxton as one of the defendants, and the plaintiffs sought to call him to testify at the preliminary injunction hearing Tuesday.

Four days before the hearing, on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, Austin attorney Elizabeth Myers emailed assistant attorney general Amy Hilton, saying that since it was not clear whether Paxton intended to be at the hearing, they were going to issue a subpoena out of “an abundance of caution.”

“I assume you’d like for us to serve that through you, but will you please confirm by noon today that you will accept service,” Myers wrote. “Otherwise, we’ll start the personal service process. I’d really prefer not to have to do that, of course.”

Hilton did not confirm whether they could accept the subpoena on Paxton’s behalf, so the lawyers had a process server deliver the subpoena to Paxton’s office Friday afternoon, emails indicate.

But on Sunday, attorneys from the Texas attorney general’s office told Myers that the subpoena was invalid because it was served through Paxton’s office but sought to depose him in his individual capacity, according to the plaintiffs’ motion before Pitman.

Attorneys for the state said that Paxton would be represented in his official capacity at the hearing by assistant attorneys general, and “declined to clearly indicate whether they would accept a revised subpoena,” according to that motion.

“Myers then indicated that this meant General Paxton needed to be served personally, and Ms. Myers asked if General Paxton’s counsel knew where General Paxton was so that he could be located and served,” the filing reads.

The representatives from Paxton’s office declined to provide that information but said they would determine whether they could accept a subpoena on his behalf, the filing says. By Sunday evening, though, Hilton said they did not yet have an answer for the plaintiffs’ legal team.

“Please let me know ASAP if you are authorized to accept service so I can adjust our process server instructions,” Myers wrote in an email sent Sunday at 6:50 p.m.

The attorney general’s office acknowledged in a motion filed Tuesday that they were aware that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were going to attempt to serve Paxton with a subpoena. But they did not know that that meant they “intended to attempt personal service on Ken Paxton at his private residence.”

See here and here for the background. The story goes on from there, with the plaintiffs trying to get an answer from the AG’s office about how best they can do this totally normal procedural thing and getting stonewalled, then a flunky from the AG’s office whining about the plaintiffs doing what they said they would do if they couldn’t get an answer from them. It’s a level of clownishness from the AG’s office that even I hadn’t expected from them, which probably means I need to recalibrate my cynicism again. There was a time when I would have wondered if the people who keep defending Ken Paxton might be feeling even a little bit of shame at these displays, and then I remember that those people haven’t felt any shame since at least 2015, so there you have it. I don’t know what else there is to say.

In case you needed a clear example of the moral depravity of the “right to life” movement

So a couple of days ago State Sen. Robert Nichols, who has a consistent anti-abortion voting record, said at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would be willing to add a rape exception to Texas’ extremely strict forced birth laws. In other words, he’d be willing to support adding a provision to the existing law that national and state polling says is overwhelmingly popular, like in the 90% range.

This of course caused an immediate backlash among the most virulent of the forced-birth fanatics. Within a day or so, one of those groups announced on Twitter that they had rescinded their endorsement of Sen. Nichols, who I remind you again has been a stalwart ally and who – in fairly conditional and qualified language – offered support for an amendment to Texas law that would allow rape victims to legally access abortion, which is something that a huge majority of Texans support.

Okay. Now that you have all that, I want you to read the quote – on the record, for publication – that the leader of this organization gave in response to a question about why they no longer endorsed Sen. Nichols:

Sxxx, of Texas Right to Life, said it was “mind-boggling” to hear that other groups that bill themselves as pro-life would continue to support Nichols.

“It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be pro-life,” said Sxxx. “To say that you’re going to punish the child for a sin of the father — that misses the point. That’s pro-life 101.”

Yeah, the fact that there’s absolutely no mention of the mother in this quote is the perfect distillation of this warped and immoral viewpoint. Not even the possibility that the mother could well be a little girl, it not only doesn’t matter, it doesn’t even bear consideration. The person who is pregnant does not matter to them, not even a little bit. Their words make that clear. I could not illustrate this any better if I tried.

CCA tells Paxton again that he’s not the supreme prosecutor

Good, but this isn’t over. It just means that the fight will have shifted.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s last-ditch attempt to regain the power of his office to unilaterally prosecute election cases was rejected by the state’s highest criminal court Wednesday.

The Court of Criminal Appeals instead upheld its previous ruling that says that the attorney general must get permission from local county prosecutors to pursue cases on issues like voter fraud. Paxton had been fighting to overturn that ruling as the issue of prosecuting election fraud has become fraught in recent years. Paxton sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and has aggressively pursued individual cases of fraud, outraging some voting rights advocates who see the punishments as too harsh for people who made honest mistakes.

Last December, eight of the nine members on the all-GOP court struck down a law that previously allowed Paxton’s office to take on those cases without local consent. The court said the law violated the separation-of-powers clause in the Texas Constitution.

In the aftermath, Paxton, joined by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, led a political push to get the court to reconsider its decision, warning that it would allow cases of fraud to go unpunished. His office filed a motion asking the Court of Criminal Appeals to rehear the case, vacate its previous opinion and affirm an appellate court’s judgment, which was in his favor.

The court’s decision Wednesday came with no explanation, though one judge wrote a concurring opinion.

“I still agree with our original decision handed down in December, when we recognized that the specific powers given to the Attorney General by the Texas Constitution do not include the ability to initiate criminal proceedings—even in cases involving alleged violations of the Election Code,” Judge Scott Walker wrote.

Two judges dissented in the case.

See here and here for the background. It’s good that the CCA was able to withstand the political pressure to change their ruling to something that sated Paxton’s blood lust, but that pressure isn’t going to just dissipate on its own. The usual suspects are now agitating for the Legislature to step in and change the law. As far as I can tell, the CCA made its ruling not on statutory grounds but on Constitutional grounds (*), and as such it would take a Constitutional amendment to change this. Which is good news because the Lege won’t have a two-thirds Republican majority in both chambers, which would be needed for this to happen. But that doesn’t mean they won’t try it anyway, and if it comes back through the courts again on those grounds, who knows what could happen. You know what the solution to this is, I don’t have to tell you. The Chron has more.

(*) Noted in some of the coverage of this is that the same ruling means that Paxton couldn’t unilaterally decide to pursue prosecutions of any abortion “crimes” he likes, either. The Lege is sure to work on bills that would allow DAs from other counties to prosecute such charges in the event that the DA of the county in question chooses not to, so that may not make much difference. That same logic might also apply to whatever “vote fraud” charges these guys want to include, too.

The hearing that Paxton was trying to flee from

It’s about whether the First Amendment rights of abortion funds have been abridged by threats of prosecution from people like Ken Paxton. You know, no big deal.

Leaders of Texas’ most prominent abortion funds on Tuesday implored a federal judge to give them clearance to resume providing assistance to people seeking abortions in states where the procedure is legal.

The funds filed the class-action suit in August seeking to block state and local prosecutors from suing them if they get back to work offering Texans funding and support for travel, lodging, meals and child care, among other expenses incurred while they obtain abortions. On Tuesday, they sought to temporarily block any potential prosecutions until the case is decided.

The groups halted abortion support operations in June after the Supreme Court issued its decision this summer overturning federal protections for the procedure. The decision also led clinics throughout the state to stop providing abortion services.

The legal battle carries immense implications for thousands of Texans seeking abortions, who will inevitably incur higher costs as they depend on other states due to Texas’ near-total abortion ban. Studies show the vast majority of pregnant people pursue abortion for financial reasons, and most who obtain abortions are low-income people of color.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, is named as a defendant in the suit, as well as a number of county and district attorneys who are responsible for enforcing the state’s abortion bans. Some local prosecutors in liberal-leaning counties have pledged not to prosecute, while others in redder counties have said they will.

The plaintiffs point to “myriad threats” of prosecution by the attorney general “and his associates,” including social media posts, statements and cease-and-desist letters sent by members of the hard-line conservative Texas Freedom Caucus to corporations.

Caucus member and Deer Park Republican state Rep. Briscoe Cain has also sent similar letters to Texas abortion funds, including plaintiff organizations, saying their donors, employees and volunteers are subject to prosecution under the pre-Roe statutes, according to the suit.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that the state’s pre-Roe statutes, which make it illegal to “(furnish) the means for procuring an abortion,” are enforceable.

The plaintiffs also cited an advisory issued by Paxton just hours after the Dobbs decision was announced that stated the pre-Roe statutes could be enforced by district and county attorneys immediately.

[…]

The abortion funds claim in their suit that charitable donations are a protected form of freedom of speech and association under the First Amendment, but the possibility of debilitating litigation has chilled their exercise of those rights. It has also, they argue, scared some donors out of giving freely to the group.

“Despite their strong desires and commitment to assisting their fellow Texans, Plaintiffs will be unable to safely return to their prior operations until it is made clear that Defendants have no authority to prosecute Plaintiffs or seek civil penalties from them for their constitutionally protected behavior,” they state in the suit.

See here for some background, and I’ll get back to this in a minute. The Trib adds some details.

They have asked U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for a preliminary injunction that would stop Paxton from pursuing criminal charges or civil penalties against abortion funds. The state has countered that their fear of prosecution is “self-imposed,” as the attorney general cannot bring criminal charges and the law that allows him to bring civil penalties does not apply to abortion funds.

At the end of the seven-hour hearing Tuesday, Pitman noted that while attorneys for the state had repeatedly implied that the abortion funds had “nothing to worry about,” they had stopped short of saying so directly.

Pitman is expected to rule on the request for a preliminary injunction in the coming weeks but in the meantime is also considering a motion to require Paxton to testify himself. Before the hearing Tuesday, Pitman quashed a subpoena seeking the attorney general’s testimony, but lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked him to reconsider. Paxton fled his home Monday to avoid being served with the original subpoena.

The lawsuit also seeks clarity on whether a Texas-based abortion provider can perform abortions for Texans in other states where the procedure remains legal, or provide telehealth services from Texas to patients in other states.

On that question, the attorney for the state was even less definitive about whether the attorney general would try to enforce the civil penalties in the law, saying that situation was not amenable to a clear “up or down” answer but would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

[…]

But all of that changed when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, allowing states to set their own laws on abortion. Immediately, Paxton issued guidance that said prosecutors could “immediately pursue criminal prosecutions based on violations of Texas abortion prohibitions predating Roe that were never repealed by the Texas Legislature.”

“Under these pre-Roe statutes, abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today,” Paxton wrote.

But those pre-Roe statutes don’t criminalize just abortion providers — they also criminalize anyone who “furnishes the means” for an abortion, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Immediately, abortion funds in Texas stopped their operations, citing confusion over whether paying for abortions out of state constituted furnishing the means for an illegal abortion. As the leaders of several abortion funds testified to on Tuesday, they were particularly alarmed by Paxton’s statement that his office would “assist any local prosecutor who pursues criminal charges.”

Their fears were exacerbated, according to testimony, when a group of conservative lawmakers in the Texas House, including Cain, issued a letter to Sidley Austin, a prestigious law firm that had offered to pay for its Texas-based employees to travel out of state to get abortions. In the letter, the lawmakers threatened the law firm with criminal prosecution for their actions.

Based on these indications from Paxton and lawmakers, “we believed we would be prosecuted, to be frank,” Anna Rupani, the executive director of Fund Texas Choice said Tuesday.

This freeze on their work came with other consequences, according to Tuesday’s testimony. Several of the funds said they had lost donors or had to spend more time reassuring donors who were confused and worried. Some said they had lost staff or board members over fear of criminal prosecution.

Lawyers for the state, though, argued that this chilling effect was “self-imposed” and “unreasonable.” None of the people the abortion funds cited threats from — Cain, the other legislators or Paxton himself — have the ability to bring criminal charges against anyone.

Only district and county attorneys can bring criminal charges in Texas; the prosecutors named on this lawsuit have agreed not to press charges against abortion funds for paying for out-of-state abortions until the case is fully resolved.

Paxton, though, still has the ability to pursue civil cases and, in the case of Texas’ more recent abortion laws, is actually required to by state statute.

To me, the most salient fact of this case is this, and here I quote from my earlier post: “[I]n their amicus brief to a writ of mandamus that blocked a lower court order that would have enjoined the 1925 state law criminalizing abortion, 70 Republican legislators argued that criminal penalties should apply to people who help others get an abortion.” I Am Not A Lawyer, but it seems to me that a very credible threat of being thrown in jail for your political advocacy is a First Amendment issue. That said, I think we all know what will happen here: Judge Pitman will grant the restraining order, and the Fifth Circuit will block it for no good reason. And so back to SCOTUS we go, and I sure hope they enjoy being constantly dragged into every abortion fight that they said should have been a state issue. What happens from there, I have no idea.

Run, Kenny, run!

Peak Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton fled his home in a truck driven by his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, to avoid being served a subpoena Monday, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

Ernesto Martin Herrera, a process server, was attempting to serve the state’s top attorney with a subpoena for a federal court hearing Tuesday in a lawsuit from nonprofits that want to help Texans pay for abortions out of state.

When Herrera arrived at Paxton’s home in McKinney on Monday morning, he told a woman who identified herself as Angela that he was trying to deliver legal documents to the attorney general. She told him that Paxton was on the phone and unable to come to the door. Herrera said he would wait.

Nearly an hour later, a black Chevrolet Tahoe pulled into the driveway, and 20 minutes after that, Ken Paxton exited the house.

“I walked up the driveway approaching Mr. Paxton and called him by his name. As soon as he saw me and heard me call his name out, he turned around and RAN back inside the house through the same door in the garage,” Herrera wrote in the sworn affidavit.

Angela Paxton then exited the house, got inside a Chevrolet truck in the driveway, started it and opened the doors.

“A few minutes later I saw Mr. Paxton RAN from the door inside the garage towards the rear door behind the driver side,” Herrera wrote. “I approached the truck, and loudly called him by his name and stated that I had court documents for him. Mr. Paxton ignored me and kept heading for the truck.”

Herrera eventually placed the subpoenas on the ground near the truck and told him he was serving him with a subpoena. Both cars drove away, leaving the documents on the ground.

On Twitter, the attorney general said his sudden departure was motivated by concerns for his family’s safety.

“It’s clear that the media wants to drum up another controversy involving my work as Attorney General, so they’re attacking me for having the audacity to avoid a stranger lingering outside my home and showing concern about the safety and well-being of my family,” he wrote in a tweet.

You can see the affidavit here. I mean, seriously. If this had been a story in The Onion, I’d have rolled my eyes at it for being too on the nose. All this because Paxton was too much of a weenie to give a deposition in a lawsuit that had little to do with him. Other people have righteously mocked Paxton for his Brave Sir Robin impression, and now I will as well.

I think I’m done now. What a miserable, sniveling coward Ken Paxton is. The kindest thing we can all do for him now is to vote for Rochelle Garza, so that he and his family can go back home.

The limitations of Plan B

A helpful and timely explainer from the Associated Press.

WHAT ARE EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTIVES?

Emergency contraceptives are used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex or if a method of birth control fails.

Two types of medications, sometimes referred to as “morning after pills,” are available: levonorgestrel, known by the popular brand name Plan B; and ulipristal acetate, known under the brand ella. They should be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex.

The pills prevent ovulation, which is when an egg is released from an ovary, said Dr. Jonah Fleisher, director of the Center for Reproductive Health at the University of Illinois in Chicago. If an egg is not released, it cannot be fertilized.

ARE THEY THE SAME AS ABORTION PILLS?

No. Emergency contraceptives prevent a pregnancy. The abortion pill, mifepristone, ends a pregnancy after a fertilized egg has implanted in the lining of a woman’s uterus. It’s commonly administered with the drug misoprostol and can be taken up to 11 weeks after the first day of a woman’s last period.

DOES EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION WORK?

Not 100% of the time. The pills’ effectiveness improves the sooner they are taken after unprotected sex, doctors said. The drugs won’t prevent pregnancies if they are taken before sex, Fleisher said.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved Plan B for use up to 72 hours, or three days, after unprotected sex. Ella is approved for up to 120 hours, or five days.

Timing is important because sperm can live inside a woman’s body for up to five days, so a woman can still get pregnant if ovulation occurs after intercourse, said Dr. Dana Stone, an OB-GYN in Oklahoma City. If a woman has ovulated prior to intercourse, the pills are unlikely to help.

“So that’s where the failure comes in. It’s based on the timing,” Stone said.

[…]

WHAT ABOUT RAPE VICTIMS?

Most rape victims don’t report the crime to law enforcement, according to Jude Foster, advocacy medical forensic and prevention programs director for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Many also may not go in for immediate medical care. Not everyone knows that emergency contraceptives are an option and part of a routine rape exam, or that such an exam is free.

“Why is sexual assault used as a political football when you are talking about access to reproductive care?” Foster said. “Please don’t. It just really frustrates me.”

Stone said the belief that a woman can just take Plan B if she is raped is misguided.

“We need all kinds of options for women because nothing is a one size fits all,” Stone said. “People have transportation problems, they have financial problems. There are always barriers to some percentage of women that will keep them from accessing this in the short time frame that they have.”

See here for the reason I’m blogging about this. Note also the mention of cost in that last section. Cost is a legitimate concern.

Plan B One-Step usually costs about $40-$50. Generics like Take Action, My Way, Option 2, Preventeza, My Choice, Aftera, and EContra generally cost less — about $11-$45. You can also order a generic brand called AfterPill online for $20 + $5 shipping. (AfterPill can’t be shipped quick enough to use if you need a morning-after pill right now, but you can buy it and put it in your medicine cabinet in case you need it in the future.)

The brand of EC you buy or how much you pay for it doesn’t matter — all brand-name and generic levonorgestrel morning-after pills work just as well.

You may be able to get the morning-after pill for free or low cost from a Planned Parenthood health center, your local health department, or another family planning clinic. Call your nearest Planned Parenthood to see if they can help you get emergency contraception that fits your budget.

If you have health insurance or Medicaid, there’s a good chance you can get Plan B for free — you just have to ask your nurse or doctor for a prescription so your health insurance will cover them (even though you don’t need a prescription to buy these types of morning-after pills over-the-counter). The staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center can also help you figure out if your health insurance will pay for your morning-after pill. Read more about using health insurance to pay for emergency contraception.

Boy, it sure is a good thing that everyone has either health insurance, or Medicaid, or easy access to a Planned Parenthood near them in Texas, isn’t it? This sure would be a much bigger problem, one that would require engagement and compassion from our state leaders to solve otherwise. So clearly, anyone who needs Plan B can get it any time they want, right?

There are many variables affecting what might happen with abortion law in Texas

Another way to put this: What can Beto do as Governor with a Republican legislature to make abortion laws less bad in Texas?

Toward the end of a virtual campaign event last month, one of Beto O’Rourke’s supporters asked how he would fulfill a key pledge: overturning the Texas ban on abortion.

The Legislature is virtually certain to remain under Republican control next year, leaving O’Rourke with no clear path to restore abortion access if he were to defeat Gov. Greg Abbott in November. But the Democratic nominee insisted he could bring lawmakers around.

“The shockwaves that it will send through this state to have a proudly, boldly pro-choice Democrat win for the first time in 32 years … will give us the political capital, the leverage we need to make sure that we can restore protections for every single woman in Texas to make her own decisions about her own body,” O’Rourke said.

He would also use “the power of the governor’s veto to stop bad ideas that are coming down the pike already,” he said.

But the proposals that most animate O’Rourke’s base — abortion rights, gun restrictions, expanded voting access — would likely face stiff resistance from Republican lawmakers, many of whom will return to Austin with no desire to rescind laws they passed as recently as last year.

Under those conditions, O’Rourke’s ability to enact core parts of his agenda would require a near-impossible level of legislative savvy, and unsparing use of the governor’s limited tools to influence the lawmaking process, such as vetoing bills and budget line items, veterans of Texas politics say.

[…]

On paper, Texas governors have limited power to shape public policy, with no cabinet and less control over state agencies than most of their counterparts around the country.

In recent years, though, Abbott and his predecessor, Rick Perry, have expanded their sway through sheer longevity — each staying in office long enough to stock boards and commissions with allies. Abbott has also used disaster orders to bypass the Legislature and steer policy on border security, the state’s COVID response, Texas National Guard deployments, and more.

Governors can also influence how laws are interpreted and enforced, through their appointments to state boards and commissions and directives to state agencies via executive order.

But governors cannot fire even their own appointees, let alone those of former governors, meaning O’Rourke would be stuck with thousands of Abbott appointees until their terms expire.

He could appoint their replacements between legislative sessions without immediate oversight, though each appointee would eventually require approval from the Republican-majority Senate once the Legislature is in session.

O’Rourke’s most potent tool to influence the lawmaking process would likely be his power to veto laws and spending he opposes, which governors have historically wielded as a powerful bargaining chip. O’Rourke said he would use that power, if necessary, to nix policies like private school vouchers, which Abbott has supported.

“Being able to stop that is incredibly important,” O’Rourke said. “But it also affords the governor leverage, in a broader sense, to bring people to the table and to make sure that we find that common ground, we get to that consensus, and we make some progress.”

The veto argument is one I was making about Wendy Davis back in 2014, before some of the worst anti-abortion legislation was passed. It’s still salient today, though the context is now very different. At the very least, it would be a hard stop against the vengeance fantasies of sociopaths like Briscoe Cain.

I think we can safely put aside any ideas about Beto reaching across the aisle for bipartisan compromise legislation on almost anything. Not that he wouldn’t sincerely try, and he could lead with things that under other circumstances might have genuine bipartisan appeal, like improving broadband access or drought mitigation. I just don’t believe that Republicans will move an inch even on things they have championed in the past to give him a legislative victory – their primary voters will not stand for it. I’d love to be too cynical about this, but it’s very much a prove-me-wrong situation. There may be some opportunities in the budget, where he will have line item veto power and where a lot of sausage making goes on behind closed doors, but don’t look for anything bigger than that. At least one chamber will need to be Democratic-majority before anything like that could realistically happen.

The use of executive power is an interesting possibility, and one where recent history is of much better use than past history. Abbott and Perry have absolutely pushed the bounds on what a Texas Governor can do, though to be fair they have had a docile and largely submissive legislature and a mostly compliant Supreme Court abetting them, neither of which Beto would have. All of the contradictions and hypocrisies that will result when those institutions suddenly decide that maybe there should be some limits on executive power won’t mean much given how little that kind of thing engages the public. All that said, Beto should look for every opportunity to push the envelope. He has little to lose by doing so.

Now, to complicate my earlier assertions about bipartisan legislation and compromise, we do have one slim possible avenue for such a thing.

Republican state Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said Friday that he’d support a change to Texas’ abortion laws to allow victims of rape to legally obtain the procedure.

“If I get a chance to vote for an exception to rape, I will vote yes,” the East Texas senator said during a panel of Republican lawmakers at the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival. “I think instead of us telling women what to do, we should show our support for women of this state.”

Nichols is one of the first anti-abortion lawmakers to say he would support loosening the abortion laws when lawmakers meet in January.

[…]

Texas is competing against private companies who are willing to bus their employees out of state for “pregnancy care,” said Nichols. “And what are we doing?”

At the least, Nichols said, the state should provide a minimum of four weeks of paid maternity leave for state employees.

Nichols self-identifies as “pro-life” and has voted in favor of the state’s abortion laws, including the “fetal heartbeat” law that went into effect last September. The law prohibited most abortions after an ultrasound could detect cardiac activity in a embryo, about six weeks into a pregnancy. Nichols’ office did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator would support any other exceptions to the abortion law, such as for incest.

I would point out that as an actual Senator, Nichols could author such a bill himself and perhaps even try to persuade his fellow Republicans to vote for it, including in the House, rather than wait for such a bill to magically appear before him. Crazy talk, I know, but it’s what I do. The question here, as above, is whether Nichols would still support such a bill even if it would then be sent to Governor O’Rourke for a signature, or whether that would be out of bounds as per the same politics I discussed above. My guess is the latter is more likely, but we’ll see. For what it’s worth, signing a bill that merely allowed for a rape exception to the current ban, without at least clarifying the “life and health of the mother” exception that is causing so much chaos and mayhem in the hospitals now would not be a clear win for Beto in my estimation. I believe it would garner at best grudging support from reproductive rights advocates, even if it was clearly the best we could get under the circumstances, just because it’s so incremental and would give some form of approval to that strict a legal regime. I could be wrong about that, I’m just saying that this stuff is more complicated than it looks and there are way too many variables to support making any kind of prediction. We’ll know a bit more after the election, but for now almost anything could happen. We need to do what we can to put ourselves in the best possible position to affect the outcome.

Enough with the “pregnant lady in the HOV lane” schtick

Nothing good comes of this. Please stop.

When a pregnant North Texas woman was pulled over for driving alone in a high-occupancy vehicle lane, she protested.

“I just felt that there were two of us in [the car] and I was wrongly getting ticketed,” the driver, Brandy Bottone, told The Dallas Morning News in July.

Bottone argued that under Texas’ abortion laws, which went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, a fetus is considered a living being. She argued the same should be true when it comes to the state’s traffic laws.

“I’m not trying to make a political stance here,” Bottone said, “but in light of everything that is happening, this is a baby.”

Dallas County officials are now facing unprecedented legal questions about what defines “personhood.” While the district attorney’s office dismissed Bottone’s first citation, she was ticketed a second time in August.

Legal experts, meanwhile, warn that this traffic incident is just a small piece of a larger puzzle considering what it means to treat a fetus the same as a person. Debates about “fetal personhood” have been happening nationwide since the 1960s, when many abortion opponents started championing the idea. In Texas, abortion opponents are divided over whether a fetal personhood law is worth pursuing. But the concept is gaining traction nationwide and could become increasingly salient in Texas, where nearly all abortions have been banned and fetuses already have some legal rights.

“Historically, conversations about fetal personhood have been about introducing increasingly harsh penalties for people who either perform abortions or ‘aid and abet’ abortions,” said Mary Ziegler, a legal historian focusing on abortion at University of California Davis School of Law. “That isn’t the only way you can think about personhood.”

[…]

Kimberley Harris, who teaches constitutional law with an emphasis on reproductive rights at Texas Tech University School of Law, warns that the ultimate impact of fetal personhood laws would be to regulate the decisions of pregnant people.

“If the fetus is now a person,” Harris said, someone who consumes alcohol while pregnant “could be guilty of child endangerment.

“You could potentially be guilty of manslaughter or murder if you had a miscarriage and weren’t taking proper precautions,” she said.

Already, such cases are underway in states like Alabama, where voters have adopted a constitutional amendment protecting fetal rights. The state can legally sentence women to up to 99 years in prison for using drugs during pregnancy and then miscarrying. At least 20 women in the state have faced the harshest possible criminal charges for using drugs and then suffering pregnancy loss, The Marshall Project reported.

Rebecca Kluchin, a reproductive health historian at California State University, Sacramento, said that fetal personhood laws hark back to the era of forced sterilization, when states could forcibly sterilize people deemed unfit to procreate. She said that if fetal personhood is more widely recognized, more women could be forced to undergo unwanted medical interventions, such as cesarean sections, if a doctor believes that treatment is in the interest of the fetus.

“A doctor can say, ‘You need this to save your fetus,’ and it doesn’t matter what you want,” Kluchin explained. “And that takes women’s ability to consent out.”

Brandy Bottone has now made this argument that she can legally drive in the HOV lane all by her pregnant self twice. She says she’s not trying to be political, but that’s naive bordering on contemptuous at this point. Please stay out of the HOV lane until your baby is actually born.