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The Post-Trump Wave of Anti-Abortion Proposals Just Hit Florida

Mother Jones

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Over the last few weeks, the election of Donald Trump and new Republican control over several states have inspired a wave of anti-abortion proposals. Among the most pervasive have been 20-week abortion bans: Ohio and Kentucky have both passed these in the last month, and they have been proposed in Virginia and now Florida.

On Tuesday, Florida state Rep. Joe Gruters—the former co-chair of Trump’s Florida campaign who began his first term in the Florida House this month—filed the proposed ban, along with sponsor Rep. Don Hahnfeldt.

“Proud to stand up for life in the first bill that I file as a member of the State House,” Gruters wrote on his Facebook page.

Titled the “Florida Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” the bill would make it a third-degree felony to perform an abortion after 20 weeks, unless there is a “serious health risk” for the mother. The bill would also require doctors to file a report about every abortion they perform to the state’s health department and would allow the fathers of the unborn, as well as mothers, to sue their abortion providers for actual or punitive damages.

The bill’s text argues that the ban is necessary because at 20 weeks, fetuses can feel pain. This point is contested by pro-choice advocates and refuted by the vast majority of scientific research.

The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion in Roe v. Wade ruled that a state can only ban abortions after a fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically considered to be at 24 weeks. The 20-week bans have been one of the anti-abortion movement’s primary strategies for challenging Roe, by calling into question its viability standard. Only about 1.3 percent of abortions take place after 20 weeks, and they usually occur because of an unforeseen medical complication—a risk to the mother’s health, for instance, or the discovery of a severe fetal anomaly in the later stages of pregnancy. They might be necessary for women experiencing major difficulties in their lives, such as domestic violence or the inability to access abortion for financial and other reasons. “Such bans will disproportionately affect young women and women with limited financial resources,” wrote the authors of a 2013 study on women who get later abortions.

“The 20-week ban was nationally designed to be the vehicle to end abortion in America,” Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis told the Columbus Dispatch in December, following the state’s passage of its own 20-week ban.

Lawsuits challenging these bans have made it all the way to the US Supreme Court. In 2014, the Supreme Court declined to review a case challenging Arizona’s 20-week ban, cementing a lower court’s decision that the law was unconstitutional. Reproductive rights advocates have also mounted lawsuits opposing 20-week bans passed in several other states, including North Carolina and Georgia.

Perhaps in anticipation of similar lawsuits to come, Florida’s proposed 20-week ban would also establish a legal defense fund, financed with taxpayer dollars and private donations, which would be managed by Florida’s legal affairs department and would pay for the state attorney general’s legal defense against challenges to the bill.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has not said publicly whether he would support a 20-week abortion ban. But he identifies as pro-life and in the past has supported other restrictions on later abortions. In 2014, Scott signed a bill into law redefining fetal viability to when a fetus can survive outside the womb “through standard medical measures,” further limiting when some later abortions would be permitted.

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The Post-Trump Wave of Anti-Abortion Proposals Just Hit Florida

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Why Dylann Roof’s Death Sentence May Never Be Carried Out

Mother Jones

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On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot and killed nine worshippers after reading Bible verses with them. As it was later revealed, the 22-year-old Roof was a white supremacist. After an eight-day trial in the Charleston federal district court, on December 15 the jury found Roof guilty of all 33 federal counts—including hate crimes and obstruction of exercise of religion—18 of which carry the federal death penalty. This week, after less than three hours of deliberation, the jury sentenced Roof to death, making him the 63rd person who will be held on federal death row.

Federal law classifies the jury’s decision as a binding “recommendation,” which means, according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, “there’s likely a decade worth of appeals.” Roof could be well into his 30s before he is executed.

He likely will not be executed at all, because a federal death sentence often does not result in a lethal injection. To be eligible for federal death row, the defendant’s crime has to have a national angle, such as bombing a federal building. Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death in 2015 for his role in the 2013 attack, but his appeals process is likely to extend for years. Today, 23 people on death row have exhausted their appeals and are eligible to be executed. Three co-defendants who have been on federal death row for the longest period of time were convicted in a series of drug-related murders: Richard Tipton, Corey Johnson, and James H. Roane Jr. have been awaiting execution since 1993.

Contrast this with executions on the state level. Between 1988, when the federal death penalty was reinstated, and 2016, the government only put three inmates to death. States have carried out 1,439 executions since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that capital punishment does not violate the Constitution. Gulf War veteran Louis Jones Jr. was the last person to be executed by the government, in 2003, for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of 19-year-old Tracie McBride. His was a federal case because the 1995 crime took place on the federal property of a US Air Force base.

There have been no federal executions during President Barack Obama’s two terms. Obama’s efforts to reduce the federal prison population during his presidency and his discomfort with the death penalty, which he described as “deeply troubling,” coincided with the long appeals process and recent questions about the efficacy of lethal injection drugs. The effect was a halt to federal executions. Nationwide support for capital punishment has been dropping steadily over the last two decades. Today, only 49 percent of Americans support the death penalty for murderers, down from 80 percent in 1994. Among Republican voters, however, 72 percent support the death penalty for violent murderers.

President-elect Donald Trump is one of those death penalty supporters. On the campaign trail in December 2015, Trump announced that as president, he would sign an executive order mandating the death penalty for convicted cop killers. As attorney general, Jeff Sessions—who has supported the death penalty—could move this pledge forward by addressing a number of institutional and practical problems that have been obstacles to federal executions.

“It takes a long time and it takes a lot of money to execute folks,” says Monica Foster, a lawyer whose clients include defendants on federal death row. The average cost of defending a federal death penalty case is $620,932. Inmates typically spend more than a decade in the appeals process before entering death row and awaiting execution.

Opponents of capital punishment believe that it’s immoral, racially biased, and not a deterrent for crime. Sixty-two percent of those awaiting death in federal prisons are nonwhite. “The federal death penalty reflects the state penalty system’s problems of racial bias, poor lawyering, and unreliable evidence,” says Miriam Gohora, a law professor at Yale Law School. But Trump’s pick for attorney general disagrees. At a 2001 congressional hearing on racial and geographic disparities in the federal death penalty, Sessions stated he was against a moratorium on the federal death penalty for several reasons, one of them being that “the death penalty deters murder, as studies as recent as this year have found.” A 2008 Death Penalty Information Center survey published in 2009 found that 88 percent of criminologists do not consider the death penalty a deterrent to violent crime.

“I would expect that the incoming administration would be more aggressive in seeking the federal death penalty,” says William Otis a professor of law at Georgetown law school.

If the Trump administration wanted to aggressively pursue the death penalty and carry out more executions, it would have to address the issue of lethal injection drugs. In 2011, the only American manufacturer of lethal injection drugs, Hospira, announced it would no longer produce sodium thiopental, a key ingredient in the serum used to carry out executions. The company originally intended to resume production at its Italian plant, but Italian officials refused to export the drug if it were to be used for executions. Other companies followed suit, leading to a massive shortage. Many states and the federal government were left with no method of execution, forcing a lull in carrying out capital punishments.

Some states sought to use different drug combinations that haven’t been widely tested. In Oklahoma, a new drug combination led to the botched execution in 2014 of Clayton Lockett, who writhed and moaned during the procedure. In the wake of this incident, Obama announced that the government, through the Department of Justice, would be reviewing its death penalty protocols leading to an effective moratorium. The move was considered a victory for opponents of the death penalty.

The state of Texas recently sued the Food and Drug Administration over the withholding of a shipment of lethal injection drugs that the FDA maintains are illegal to import because they haven’t been tested for safety. “Drugs used in executions are not supposed to be safe—they’re supposed to be lethal,” Otis says, adding that the safety requirements would likely be one of the first areas the Trump administration might seek to change.

In death penalty cases like Dylann Roof’s, where there is no question about guilt or innocence, opponents of capital punishment believe that a life sentence without the chance of parole would provide justice. Roof wanted to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, but federal officials rejected the offer. Many family members of the victims opposed the death penalty for Roof. The morning after the jury decided on its verdict, Judge Richard Gergel formally sentenced Roof to death, saying, “This trial has produced no winners, only losers.”

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Why Dylann Roof’s Death Sentence May Never Be Carried Out

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North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill Is Still on the Books Because Republicans Pulled a Bait and Switch

Mother Jones

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In a surprising move, North Carolina lawmakers ended a special session on Wednesday without repealing House Bill 2, one of the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT laws. The decision to leave the “bathroom bill” on the books came as a shock after Governor-elect Roy Cooper announced earlier in the week that leaders in the Republican-majority Legislature had promised to get rid of it. It seemed like a done deal, but on Wednesday the state Senate opted against a repeal, while the House adjourned without voting, leaving the law intact. “The Republican legislative leaders have broken their word to me and they have broken their trust with the people of North Carolina,” Cooper told reporters.

But why, and what went wrong?

To understand the drama in North Carolina, you need to first understand why Republicans had initially agreed to repeal HB2—which blocks transgender people from bathrooms of their choice and leaves other people open to discrimination. Republican leaders in the Legislature supported the law but told Cooper they’d get rid of it in exchange for something else: Charlotte, the state’s biggest city, had to nix a local nondiscrimination ordinance that protected LGBT people in the city. (Charlotte’s ordinance was a main reason why Republicans had wanted to pass HB2 in the first place, because, among other things, HB2 prohibited other cities from creating similar nondiscrimination ordinances.) With the offer on the table, Charlotte took the next step. After getting a call from Cooper, the Charlotte City Council on Monday voted to repeal key parts of its ordinance, and then Republican Gov. Pat McCrory—a passionate supporter of HB2—called for a special session of the Legislature to do away with the controversial law.

Problems quickly arose. On Tuesday, Republican leaders accused the Charlotte City Council of acting in bad faith by keeping parts of its nondiscrimination ordinance in place—the council had only gotten rid of the section dealing with LGBT protections in public accommodations and bathrooms, not the sections that prevented discrimination by city contractors or taxi drivers. “I think the city of Charlotte has been as disingenuous as anybody I’ve ever seen,” said Republican state Sen. Harry Brown, according to the Charlotte Observer. Charlotte’s city attorney said council members thought they’d done enough by addressing the issues around the public accommodations in HB2, but GOP leaders were not appeased.

On Wednesday morning, hours before the Legislature was set to meet for its special session, the Charlotte City Council called a rare emergency meeting and repealed the rest of its ordinance—effective immediately. When the special session began, however, Democrats did not get what they had hoped. A Republican leader in the Senate introduced a bill that would repeal HB2 in part but would still temporarily ban cities like Charlotte from creating nondiscrimination ordinances to protect LGBT people. LGBT rights groups were outraged—the National Center for Transgender Equality called the Republican proposal “unacceptable” and referred to the Legislature as a “national disgrace.” Cooper urged Democrats not to support the proposal, and in the end it didn’t get enough votes in the Senate. The House adjourned without voting on the repeal, leaving HB2 on the books.

Protesters immediately gathered outside the Senate chamber shouting “Shame!”

“Today the Legislature had a chance to do the right thing for North Carolina, and they failed,” Governor-elect Cooper told reporters. “I’m disappointed for the people of North Carolina—for the jobs that people won’t have,” he said, referring to the companies that have protested the law by scaling back business in the state. “I’m disappointed that we have yet to remove the stain on the reputation of our great state.” North Carolina has lost millions of dollars in revenue because of the law—companies like PayPal and Deutsche Bank decided not to expand operations in the state, musicians like Bruce Springsteen canceled performances in protest, and the NCAA pulled its championships from the state.

The city of Charlotte did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement the city council pledged that its “commitment to maintaining and protecting diverse and inclusive communities remains unchanged.” Meanwhile, a majority of North Carolinians remain opposed to HB2, according to Public Policy Polling. The Rev. William J. Barber II, a progressive leader in North Carolina and president of the state’s NAACP, said Thursday he would ask the national NAACP to call for an economic boycott of the state. And though Republicans in the Legislature seem dead set on fighting Cooper, the governor-elect vowed to keep pushing for a full repeal of the law: “This was our best chance,” he said. “It cannot be our last chance.”

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North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill Is Still on the Books Because Republicans Pulled a Bait and Switch

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After Losing Millions in Revenue, North Carolina Is Set to Repeal Its Horrible Bathroom Law

Mother Jones

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The North Carolina law that famously blocks transgender people from using the bathrooms of their choice appears to be on its deathbed. On Monday, Governor-elect Roy Cooper announced that House Bill 2, seen as the most sweeping anti-LGBT law in the country, would be repealed in a special session of the Legislature Tuesday.

The announcement came after the city council in Charlotte voted Monday morning to rescind a local nondiscrimination ordinance, passed in February, that had inspired state lawmakers to speed HB2 through the legislative process in a single day in March. In addition to blocking trans people from bathrooms, HB2 preempted local governments like Charlotte’s from passing measures that protect gay and trans people from discrimination.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who passionately supported HB2 and narrowly lost his reelection bid, confirmed he would call a special session of the Legislature on Tuesday to repeal HB2. Governor-elect Cooper said the state Senate majority leader and House speaker had assured him they would kill the law because Charlotte had agreed to get rid of its local ordinance. “I hope they will keep their word to me and with the help of Democrats in the legislature, HB2 will be repealed in full,” Cooper said in a statement.

“Full repeal will help to bring jobs, sports and entertainment events back and will provide the opportunity for strong LGBT protections in our state,” he added. North Carolina lost millions of dollars of revenue after the law passed, as companies protested by canceling plans to bring jobs to the state, Bruce Springsteen and other musicians pulled out of concerts there, and the NBA and the NCAA moved sports events to other locations

Charlotte’s city council had previously refused to rescind its nondiscrimination ordinance. On Monday Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts defended the decision to do so. The vote “should in no way be viewed as a compromise of our principles or commitment to nondiscrimination,” she said.

Outgoing Gov. McCrory, whose popularity fell after HB2 was passed, criticized Charlotte leaders for not getting rid of the local ordinance sooner—and argued they waited for political reasons. “This sudden reversal, with little notice after the gubernatorial election, sadly proves this entire issue originated by the political left was all about politics and winning the governor’s race at the expense of Charlotte and our entire state,” McCrory’s office said in a statement.

LGBT rights organizations praised the plan to repeal HB2, which Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin described as “shameful and archaic” legislation. But they added they were disappointed to see Charlotte’s local ordinance go. “The problem has never been Charlotte,” said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro, noting that hundreds of cities across the country have similar ordinances to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination. Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that the repeal of HB2 could open a door for other cities in the state to pass nondiscrimination protections in the future: “Completely repealing HB2 is only the first step lawmakers must take to repair the harm they have done to their own constituents. Even after it is repealed, there will be a long way to go.”

If the Republican-majority Legislature follows through and repeals HB2, it would be a surprising act of cooperation with the incoming Democratic governor. Just last week, Republican lawmakers in the state introduced a series of bills that would curtail his powers in office.

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After Losing Millions in Revenue, North Carolina Is Set to Repeal Its Horrible Bathroom Law

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Pig Farms Can Control When You Get the Flu

Mother Jones

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For a fascinating new study, Duke researchers looked at flu patterns over four years across North Carolina, a state with high concentrations of intensive hog farming in some regions, and very little on others. The idea was to determine whether living near large-scale hog farms affects the way communities experience flu—a key question, because many flu strains mutate quickly and jump easily between people and hogs. The answer, in short, is yes.

To understand the findings, it’s important to note that each flu season brings different dominant strains that infect people. Some years, pig-adapted strains proliferate among people; other years, strains that aren’t adapted to those farm beasts do. Pig-adapted flu strains became more common after 2009, when H1N1 emerged and caused a global pandemic. It has been circulating ever since, and in some flu seasons (like 2015-’16) it is the predominant strain affecting people.

Over the study period, two of the flu seasons were dominated by pig strains—and in both, the flu season peaked earlier in hog-intensive counties, measured by the number of reported cases among people. In the other two non-pig flu years, flu seasons across North Carolina’s counties showed no such pattern.

Infectious-diseases writer Maryn McKenna has an excellent explainer on FERN’s Ag Insider:

What likely happened, they the authors say, is that the virus circulating in those flu seasons was carried onto farms by workers and spread to the pigs — and as it passed from pig to pig, the virus had a chance to reproduce in a manner that would not have happened in the absence of CAFOs. That much larger amount of virus spread back out into surrounding community, spiking the number of flu cases earlier in the flu season.

The upshot, the researchers say, is that vaccine strategies should expand. Currently, public health authorities target kids, elderly people, and people with compromised immune systems for flu-shot campaigns. People who work on and live near hog farms should also be encouraged to achieve “universal influenza vaccination,” they say.

Fair enough. But it also seems worth asking whether it’s a smart idea to concentrate hog farming so tightly. Every year, North Carolina’s confinement facilities churning out 10 million pigs—14.5 percent of total US production—the vast majority of which is crammed into a few eastern counties. These hyper-concentration of hogs creates what the authors call a “crucible for human influenza epidemics.”

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Pig Farms Can Control When You Get the Flu

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