Connect with us

Health

State’s order closing businesses wrongfully blocks abortions, ACLU and clinics say

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

UPDATE at 8:15 p.m.: Federal Judge Myron Thompson issued a temporary restraining order Monday night, barring the state of Alabama from prohibiting abortions during the novel coronavirus outbreak. The temporary restraining order comes after abortion clinics and the ACLU sued the state, alleging that the statewide business closures ordered last week wrongfully and illegally prohibited abortions.


The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Alabama on Monday filed a court document arguing that Alabama is restricting access to abortions under the guise of protecting the public from COVID-19. 

Without a court injunction before 8 p.m. on Monday the groups tell the court in the filing that more than 20 abortions in Alabama will have to be canceled this week, including one for a woman “who will be pushed past the legal limit for abortion in Alabama if she does not obtain an abortion this week.” 

Both groups filed a supplemental complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama that argues Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris’s March 27 public health order effectively bans abortions in Alabama, despite the court’s previous ruling blocking the state’s near-total ban on abortions. 

“On March 19 and 20, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the State Public Health Officer issued a series of emergency orders restricting ‘elective’ medical procedures in an effort to enforce ‘social distancing,’” the court filing states. “At the time, counsel for the Alabama Department of Public Health … assured counsel for the Plaintiffs that the Department did not intend to enforce the orders against abortion clinics, which provide essential, time-sensitive medical care.” 

But Harris’s March 27 order prohibits any medical or surgical procedure except those necessary to treat an “emergency medical condition” or to “avoid serious harm from an underlying condition.” 

“The Attorney General has taken the position that the March 27 Order prohibits some unknown quantity of pre-viability abortions,” the court filing reads. “Because Plaintiffs cannot risk criminal, along with licensure penalties, for continuing to perform abortions under these circumstances, they have had to stop performing pre-viability abortions. As such, the recent actions of the Attorney General and ADPH have effectively nullified the relief this Court granted in its preliminary injunction ruling.” 

Public Service Announcement

In emails attached as exhibits to the supplemental complaint, Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, sought clarification from the attorney general’s office as to whether the March 27 order banned all or some types of abortions, whether through medication or surgery. 

“Per the order, we are unable to provide you with a blanket affirmation that abortions will, in every case, fall within one of the exemptions,” wrote Katherine Robertson, chief counsel in the Alabama Attorney General’s office in response to Randall Marshall at the ACLU of Alabama’s request for clarification. 

Jennifer Dalven, the director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at ACLU, in a response to APR’s question, said in a call with reporters Monday that the Alabama Attorney General’s office’s vague response is troubling. 

ADVERTISEMENT

This law, or this action, threatens doctors with criminal penalties just for providing essential health care to their patients,” Dalven said. “And the refusal of the Attorney General and the Department of Health to provide any clarity about what they think doctors are allowed to do, and what they’re not allowed to do puts doctors in a terrible position of being forced to risk their licenses and risk prosecution if they provide this care.”

“Government response to the spread of COVID-19 must be grounded in science and public health, not politics,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, senior attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement. “As leading medical experts have recognized, abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care. Alabama’s attempts to prevent patients from accessing abortion care does nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19, it just stops people from getting this essential care.”

“Abortion providers take seriously their responsibility to protect the health and safety of their patients, the staff, and their community,” the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama said in a statement. “But pregnant people need health care whether it’s prenatal care and childbirth services or abortion care. Preventing them from getting an abortion doesn’t do anything to stop the COVID-19 virus, it just takes the decision whether to have a child out of their hands.”

Candace O’Brien, healthcare services programs manager for the Yellowhammer Fund, an Alabama nonprofit that supports and advocates for access to abortion, in a statement Monday called for Alabama to end the ban on abortions during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

“Unlike truly elective medical procedures, abortion is performed in stand-alone clinics, reducing the likelihood of patient exposure to and transmission of COVID-19, which cannot be said about surgeries in hospitals or visits to a community medical clinic,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Finally, abortion actually reduces long-term need for medical care that will be required for prenatal and post-partum office visits as well as the resources a hospital labor and birth require. Abortion is quite literally healthcare in this sense – essential healthcare that cannot be delayed or ignored. For any person facing an unwanted pregnancy, especially now that we are in a worldwide pandemic, abortion needs to be even more accessible.” 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall responded to ACLU’s court filing on Monday, and in a statement said, “Put simply, no provider or clinic is excused from compliance with this order.”

Marshall on Monday also joined 14 other Republican attorneys generals attorneys in a court filing supporting the states of Ohio and Texas as both states are involved in similar lawsuits over abortion bans related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Federal judges in both Ohio and Texas issued restraining orders Monday evening lifting restrictions on access to abortions.

Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

Advertisement

Health

Alabama has fourth highest rate of coronavirus cases

Alabama has the fourth-highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, trailing only fellow Southern states Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi.

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama has the fourth-highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the country, trailing only fellow Southern states Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi.

Alabama has so far recorded at least 29,896 cases per million people, which amounts to 2.9 percent, nearly 3 percent, of the people in Alabama.

The Alabama Department of Public Health on Monday reported that 818 more Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus. This takes our state up to 145,780 diagnosed cases. At least 61,232 Alabamians have recovered from the virus.

But 82,109 Alabamians have active coronavirus cases. This is the ninth-highest raw total in the nation, trailing only Florida, California, Georgia, Arizona, Virginia, Maryland, Missouri and Texas — all states with higher populations than Alabama.

Alabama’s high rate of infection is not due to the state doing more testing. ADPH announced 5,500 more tests on Monday, taking the state up to 1,059,517 total tests.

Alabama is 40th in the nation in coronavirus testing.

Public Service Announcement

Tests as a percentage of the state’s population is just 22.8 percent. Louisiana on the other hand has 47 percent — the fifth highest rate of testing in the nation. Even Mississippi, at 26.4 percent, is testing at a higher rate than Alabama and are 29th in testing. Florida is 37th.

On Monday, ADPH reported two more Alabamians have died from COVID-19, taking the state death toll to 2,439. Alabama is 21st in death rate from COVID-19 at almost .05 percent.

New Jersey has had the highest COVID-19 death rate at .18 percent of the population. At least 257 Alabamians have died in September, though, to this point, September deaths are trailing both August and July deaths. At least 602 Alabamians died from COVID-19 in August.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are also down. 780 Alabamians were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday, down to levels not seen since before the July 4 holiday. At least 1,613 Alabamians were in the hospital suffering from COVID-19 on Aug. 6.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s July 15 mask order is being credited with decreasing the number of coronavirus cases in the state, which had soared to a seven-day average of 1,921 cases per day on July 19. The current seven-day average is 780 cases per day but is little changed in the last ten days.

The mask order expires next month, but most observers expect the mask order to be continued into November.

High school football and the Labor Day holiday weekend did not lead to a surge in cases; however, public health authorities remain concerned that colder weather and the return of flu season could lead to another surge in cases.

President Donald Trump has expressed optimism that a coronavirus vaccine could be commercially available this fall. A number of public health officials, including the CDC director, have expressed skepticism of that optimistic appraisal.

At least 969,611 people have died from COVID-19 globally, including 204,506 Americans.

Continue Reading

Health

Study: Those with COVID twice as likely to have dined in restaurants

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes. 

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that adults who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten in restaurants, which builds upon known factors about how the disease is transmitted, experts say, but the study has limitations.

The study surveyed 314 adults in 10 states and found that those who tested positive for COVID-19 were twice as likely to have eaten at restaurants within the previous 14 days. Researchers found that there was no significant difference between those who tested both positive and negative and who said they had gone to gyms, coffee shops, used public transportation or had family gatherings.

“Masks cannot be effectively worn while eating and drinking, whereas shopping and numerous other indoor activities do not preclude mask use,” the study notes.

Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an epidemiologist and associate professor at UAB’s School of Public Health, told APR on Wednesday that the study lends evidence to what the medical community knows are potential risks for contracting COVID-19, which include being indoors and unmasked, but there are nuances to each of those activities that can either increase or decrease that risk.

The study did not differentiate between indoor and outdoor dining, and infectious disease experts say being outdoors decreases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It’s also hard to know what policies are in place where these people were recruited from for this study,” Hidalgo said. “Whether they’re required to be masked or if there’s a decreased capacity in a restaurant.”

Monica Aswani, assistant professor at UAB’s School of Health Professions, said she would be cautious about interpreting the study through a causal lens.

Public Service Announcement

“People who are willing to dine in restaurants are also likely to engage in other risky behaviors, such as not wearing masks. Since this is a survey, there is not enough evidence to suggest that the source of exposure was restaurants without contact tracing to supplement it,” Aswani said. “Likewise, respondents may have misreported their behaviors, given the sensitive nature of the questions. The authors note this as a limitation and highlight how participants were aware of their Covid-19 test results, which may have influenced how they responded.”

Aswani also noted that the questions about dining did not differentiate between indoor versus outdoor seating, “which represent different levels of risk to exposure.”

“Participants who visited a restaurant on at least one occasion, regardless of the frequency, are also considered similar. Consequently, in the two weeks before they felt ill, someone who dined on a restaurant patio once and someone who ate indoors at five different restaurants are indistinguishable in their data,” Aswani said.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hidalgo said that while there are clear limitations to the CDC’s study, the findings do back up what the medical community knows about the transmission of the disease.

“I would very much look at this from the big picture perspective, and say we know that indoor activities are an increased risk for COVID-19. This study lends evidence to that,” Hidalgo said.

Continue Reading

Economy

Report: Transitioning to electric vehicles could save Alabama millions in health costs

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

Micah Danney

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama could save $431 million in public health costs per year by 2050, if the state shifted to an electric transportation sector between now and then, according to a new study by the American Lung Association.

Such a transition would reduce other health-related issues, said the organization, which used data on pollution from vehicles and from oil refineries to calculate its findings.

Alabama would experience approximately 500 less asthma attacks per year, about 38 fewer premature deaths and prevent more than 2,200 lost workdays annually.

The transportation sector is one of the main contributors to air pollution and climate change, said William Barrett, the association’s director of advocacy for clean air and the study’s author.

“We have the technology to transition to cleaner cars, trucks and buses, and by taking that step we can prepare Alabama for the future while also seeing the health and economic benefits forecasted in ‘The Road to Clean Air,’” Barrett said. “Especially as our state faces the impacts of climate change, such as extreme storms, this is a powerful and practical opportunity to take action to improve our economy, our health and our future.”

Trading combustion-powered vehicles for electric ones could result in $11.3 billion in avoided health costs across southern states by mid-century, the report estimated, and prevent roughly 1,000 premature deaths.

Nationally, Americans stand to save $72 billion in health costs and $113 billion in avoided climate change impacts, the ALA said.

Public Service Announcement

The path to that future depends on leaders factoring public health effects into decisions about transportation, Barrett said.

That involves steps like pursuing electric vehicle fleets when purchasing decisions are being made and supporting the creation of enough charging stations along highways, roads and at truck stops.

Investing in that infrastructure can drive wider economic benefits, Barrett said. He cited California’s increased manufacturing of electric vehicles.

ADVERTISEMENT

Tesla is the most well-known producer that has located there, but Barrett said that makers of trucks and buses have also chosen to locate their facilities in the state.

Continue Reading

Health

CDC director: Vaccine won’t be available to general public until mid-2021

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

CDC director Robert Redfield (VIA CSPAN)

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during testimony Wednesday before a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee said a vaccine won’t be widely available to the public until mid-2021. 

Wearing a mask is the most important public health tool we currently have in the fight against the deadly disease, he said.

“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” CDC director Robert Redfield told lawmakers.

Asked during the hearing by Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, when a vaccine will be ready “to administer to the public,” Redfield said that he believes there will be a vaccine that will initially be available some time between November and December. 

“But very limited supply, and it will have to be prioritized,” Redfield said. “If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to go back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.” 

Redfield said it will take time to expand vaccinations out from those who need them most direly to the larger public, and said there are about 80 million people in the U.S. who have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk and need the vaccine first. 

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said there will likely be a vaccine available to the public possibly before the November election or even sooner. 

Public Service Announcement

When asked about Redfield’s statements that one won’t be available to the public until the summer or early fall of 2021, Trump said during a press conference Wednesday that Redfield was mistaken. 

“I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information,” Trump said. “And I called him, and he didn’t tell me that. I think he got the message maybe confused. Maybe it was stated incorrectly. We’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced, and it could be announced in October. It could be announced a little bit after October.” 

Trump refuted the CDC head, and said the vaccine will be made available to the general public “immediately” once one is approved. Asked for Trump’s timelines as to when a vaccine will be ready to administer to the wider public, an official at the press conference seated near Trump said that will likely occur by the end of March. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Trump administration on Aug. 14 announced that the McKesson Corporation would be the central distributor of COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. The company distributed the H1N1 vaccine during the 2009-2010 pandemic. 

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trials were put on hold worldwide on Sept. 6 after a volunteer in Britain experienced a serious health problem. The company’s vaccine trials resumed in the United Kingdom on Saturday.

The company in a statement said it was working with global health authorities to “be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume.” 

The drugmaker Pfizer Inc. on Tuesday announced that those enrolled in the clinical trial for the company’s own COVID-19 vaccine were experiencing mild to moderate side effects, but that an independent monitoring committee has not yet recommended pausing the study.

There have been 2,392 COVID-19 deaths in Alabama since the pandemic began, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

At least 193,000 people in the U.S. have died from coronavirus, according to The Washington Post.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement