The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Louisiana law that would have curtailed access to abortions in the state, and that was nearly identical to a measure the court overturned in Texas in 2016.
The ruling is a win for advocates of abortion access, who feared the case could pave the way for states to impose greater restrictions on the procedure. And it could have had far-reaching effects in Texas where there are more than 6 million reproductive age women. More than 53,800 abortions were performed in Texas in 2017, including 1,1,74 for out-of-state residents, according to government data. The GOP-controlled Legislature routinely introduces regulations restricting abortion access, and the state's Republican attorney general recently fought to enforce a near-total ban during the coronavirus outbreak.
Monday's decision was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the liberal justices to strike down the Louisiana law. He had dissented in the 2016 decision that found Texas' restrictions placed an undue burden on a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.
"The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law," Roberts wrote.
The case is seen as a harbinger of how a reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court may rule on abortion issues going forward. Since the Texas case was decided in 2016, the Court's ideological center has shifted to the right with the addition of Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — both appointed by President Donald Trump, who pledged to appoint pro-life justices who would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
At issue in Monday's decision is a Louisiana law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. It's strikingly similar to a Texas law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2016 saying there was no proof the requirement better protected women's health. At the same time, “sufficient evidence" showed the admitting-privileges requirement shut down about half the abortion clinics in the state — more than quadrupling the number of reproductive age women living more than 150 miles away from one.
While the requirement was in effect in Texas, the number of abortions performed in the state declined from around 63,000 in 2013 to 54,000 the next year, according to government data.
In neighboring Louisiana, where some 10,000 women seek abortions each year, one clinic and one doctor would be left to perform the procedure if the admitting privileges requirement went into effect, the law's challengers said.
State officials say admitting-privileges are meant to protect women's health and ensure doctors are qualified. But advocates of abortion access say it is medically unnecessary because the procedure rarely results in hospitalization. When complications do arise, they often occur after the woman has left the clinic, critics of the law say. And admitting privileges are denied for reasons unrelated to the doctors' abilities; abortion providers, for example, can face difficulties qualifying for them because their patients are transferred to the hospital so infrequently, those critics said.
In the case decided Monday, lawyers challenging the Louisiana law argued it is a carbon copy of the Texas requirement, which was struck down for imposing an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The state's lawyers said the facts in Louisiana are different, and that clinics and doctors lack the legal standing to challenge the law for their patients.
Advocates of abortion access celebrated the ruling, but expressed worry about future fights over the procedure.
“We're relieved that the Louisiana law has been blocked today but we're concerned about tomorrow," said Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a nonprofit that represented the Louisiana abortion providers. “Unfortunately, the Court's ruling today will not stop those hell-bent on banning abortion."
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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