Sami Sparber

US Supreme Court wipes case law supporting Texas pandemic abortion ban from the books

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday voided rulings from lower courts that upheld a ban on most abortions in Texas early in the coronavirus pandemic.

The high court vacated two rulings from the lower U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that sided with Texas GOP officials arguing that Gov. Greg Abbott's March 2020 executive order prohibited abortion under all but a few narrow circumstances in an attempt to preserve medical resources for COVID-19 patients. Abortion providers have said that the procedure rarely requires hospital time and typically does not involve extensive personal protective equipment.

The executive order ended over the summer, allowing abortions in the state to resume, but Planned Parenthood has said leaving the lower court rulings on the books would set harmful legal precedent for abortion rights advocates.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Lawyering Project called Abbott's order “a transparent attempt to chip away at access to reproductive health care by exploiting a public health crisis," and said it was “important we took this procedural step to make sure bad case law was wiped from the books," according to a NBC News report.

After Abbott paused all non-urgent medical procedures and surgeries to slow the spread of COVID-19 and conserve medical equipment, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the order should include a ban on most abortions, setting off a barrage of conflicting court rulings that created confusion for clinics and women seeking to end their pregnancies.

Many Texans left the state to receive abortions during that time, a new study found earlier this year.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/01/25/supreme-court-texas-abortion-ban/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

At least 5 anti-vaccine groups received $850,000 in federal bailout funds as pandemic raged

Texas-based anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network was among five anti-vaccine groups that collectively received more than $850,000 in federal loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, the Washington Post reported Monday. The organization received $166,000 in May 2020, according to founder Del Bigtree.

“Vaccine hesitancy" or “vaccine skepticism" poses a significant and ongoing challenge for health authorities trying to overcome mistrust within communities of color, by the anti-vaccine crowd and general uncertainty nationwide. Doctors and scientists say the coronavirus vaccines currently available in the United States are safe and effective.

“At a minimum, it's a mixed message from the government," said Timothy Callaghan, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. “Those individuals who are hesitant are going to be looking to various pieces of information to help them make this decision...and if one of the key pieces of information coming out is the government funding anti-vaccine groups, it could send a signal to these individuals that maybe they shouldn't be vaccinating," he told The Texas Tribune.

The Austin-based nonprofit has more than 43,000 followers on Facebook and regularly posts information questioning the safety of the coronavirus vaccines. Bigtree's online anti-vaccine talk show was penalized by Facebook and YouTube last year for violating misinformation policies and downplaying the severity of the pandemic.

Facebook has cracked down on several of the groups that received the PPP loans, a spokesperson for the social network told the Post. Informed Consent Action Network's page, labeled with a link to Facebook's Coronavirus Information Center, is not being recommended to users by the company's algorithms, the Facebook spokesperson told the Post.

In an interview, Bigtree said his organization spent the funds on employees' salaries. “Just like everybody else, we were trying to keep employees employed instead of putting them on unemployment," Bigtree told The Tribune. He described the effect of Facebook's anti-misinformation efforts on his organization's content as “censorship" and a “dangerous" sign of the times.

Recent polling shows vaccine skepticism poses a public health threat in Texas, where Republican elected officials have largely echoed President Donald Trump's minimizing of the pandemic, said James Henson, head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. An October University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that if a vaccine against the coronavirus became available at a low cost, 42% of Texas registered voters said they would try to get it and 36% said they wouldn't — a significant drop from the 59% who said in a UT/Texas Politics Project poll in June that they would get vaccinated against the disease.

That anti-vaccine groups received PPP funds “sticks out as being really at odds with public health, but the bigger problem here is that there has been a pronounced lack of consistent messaging on the safety, effectiveness and necessity of the vaccine from both national and statewide leaders, in particular Republicans," Henson said. “That's left a huge vacuum where there should be unambiguous messaging about the vaccine."

The five groups that received the loans are The National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Com Health Resources LLC, Informed Consent Action Network, Children's Health Defense Co., and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, according to the U.K.-based Center for Countering Digital Hate, the Post reported.

Keep reading... Show less

Federal judge temporarily blocks Texas' ban on abortions during coronavirus pandemic

Editor's note: this story has been updated to include comment from AG Ken Paxton.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.