Update (10/14/2014): This afternoon, the Supreme Court blocked a ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that had shuttered most of Texas' abortion clinics. Thirteen clinics in the state will be able to reopen tomorrow, according to the New York Times.
On October 2, the Fifth Circuit overturned a Texas district court ruling from August that had blocked the ambulatory surgical center provision of HB2—arguably the most onerous for abortion clinics—from kicking in on September 1, 2014. The appeals court decision left just eight clinics open in the state, all in metro areas, leaving nearly a million women more than 150 miles from their nearest clinic.
Today's Supreme Court's order blocked portions of the Fifth Circuit's ruling that upheld HB 2's surgical center provision, as well as the requirement that doctors performing abortions at McAllen and El Paso clinics must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Update (8/29/14): Judge Lee Yeakel of the US District Court in Austin blocked a key provision of HB 2 today. This portion of the law, which required abortion clinics to meet the standards of hospital-like ambulatory surgical centers, was set to go into effect Monday, September 1.
The state of Texas has already announced it will appeal Judge Yeakel's decision to the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans. This past March, the Fifth Circuit upheld a different provision of HB 2, reversing a block on the rule also issued by Yeakel.
At the new Planned Parenthood clinic in Dallas earlier this month, exam rooms were stocked, desks, chairs, and computers were installed, and even a few phones had started to ring. Construction workers came in and out, and the waiting room stood empty, save for a corner stack of moving boxes.
"We're just waiting for furniture," said Kelly Hart, senior director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, while giving a tour of the clinic, which opened to patients two weeks ago.
This facility, a preexisting ambulatory surgical center that Planned Parenthood purchased and refurbished, will cost the organization $6.1 million. It's an unexpected bill they've spent months fundraising to cover, because a year ago, Planned Parenthood had no plans for a new Dallas facility: A different clinic already provided safe, legal abortions and vasectomies to patients.
"It was working just fine," says Hart.
But come next week, abortions can no longer legally be performed at that old facility thanks to HB 2, the omnibus abortion bill that made national headlines last summer after Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster. The law requires that abortions—though not vasectomies—be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, hospital-like facilities that specialize in outpatient surgery. This provision goes into effect on September 1.
Ahead of this deadline, women's health care providers have raced to meet HB 2's burdensome requirements, spending millions of dollars and countless hours of fundraising and construction labor. Converting a medical facility into a full-blown ambulatory surgical facility can be very expensive. Texas has 114 pages of regulations governing ASCs, which mandate wide, gurney-accommodating hallways, larger operating rooms, and sterile ventilation. According to one Texas provider, it will cost them about $40,000 more each month to operate an ASC than it would a regular clinic.
In the face of the law's requirements, all but eight abortion clinics in the state will close by September 1. Many were forced to lock their doors earlier this year as other HB 2 provisions went into effect, including a rule that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions by the end of October 2013.
While supporters of HB 2 argue that the ASC requirements are vital for women's health and safety, medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have repeatedlynoted that typical doctor's offices are fully able to perform medically safe abortions, and that ASCs do little to enhance the standard of care. (Texas has required that second-trimester abortions take place in ASCs since 2003.)
Come September 1, about 750,000 Texas women will live 200 or more miles from the nearest abortion provider. There were only 10,000 women in that situation just a year ago.
Black residents of Ferguson, Missouri, the working-class city in northern St. Louis county where an unarmed black teenager was shot dead by police officers on Saturday, say the town has been a "powder keg" of racial imbalance for decades. "They treat us like second class all the way down the line," one black resident told the LA Times. A black city alderman said the ensuing protests are "a boiling over of tensions that had been going on for a long while."
Here's a by-the-numbers look at who lives in Ferguson, who's in charge, who gets stopped by police, and more.
A body is moved from the scene of a domestic mass shooting in Maine.
In Saco, Maine on Saturday night, 33-year-old Joel Smith used a pump-action shotgun to kill his 35-year-old wife, Heather Smith, his 12-year-old stepson, and the couple's two biological children, a 7-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl, before turning the gun on himself. The horrific scene was discovered on Sunday morning after a concerned family friend called the apartment complex where the Smith family lived and asked a maintenance worker to check on them. In a statement to the media, a Maine State Police official called the mass shooting "one of the worst cases of domestic violence in Maine's history."
A photo of Heather Smith, left, and her sons from one of her Facebook albums Facebook
The night before the shooting, Heather Smith told a friend that her husband had threatened suicide earlier in the week, pointing a gun to his head, according to the Portland Press Herald. Joel Smith's mother, Jerys Thorpe, told the Herald that she'd long been trying to get her son to see a therapist for his depression. "His mind was just gone, he had to be," she said, regarding the murder-suicide. Research shows a strong correlation between suicidal thoughts and deadly domestic violence. As Maine Attorney General Janet Mills put it in a statement on Monday: "Recognizing the signs of abuse—and acting upon them—is key to preventing future tragedies like this."
Police investigators also said that the couple had been struggling with "domestic issues," including financial problems, but that they were aware of no protective court orders or history of abuse regarding the couple, who moved to Maine from Arizona about three years ago. But even if there had been such a history with the legal system, it's likely that Smith still would have been able to possess a gun, because state and federal laws generally do a poor job of keeping firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers. Most state laws overlook various groups of men who potentially pose a threat, including misdemeanant stalkers, abusive dating partners, and subjects of temporary restraining orders. And Maine is no exception—its laws are among the more lax, as this chart shows:
Moreover, data suggests that states with weaker gun laws regarding domestic abusers see more murders among intimate partners involving guns.
Three federal bills aimed at addressing these problems—opposed by the National Rifle Association—are currently stalled in Congress. But a handful of states have passed tougher laws this year, in part due to lobbying by groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, and the issue may now be rising on Washington's radar: On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds its first-ever hearing on domestic violence and guns.
In the age of "leaning in" and "having it all," the superwoman model for female living persists with a vengeance. Feminism is supposed to be a refuge from all that perfection-seeking, but even there, it's easy to feel bested, lured by things that are bad for women but great for entertainment: Cue your guilty dancing every time "Blurred Lines" comes on the radio.
In her new essay collection, Bad Feminist, out August 5, author Roxane Gay wrestles with this conundrum. "When I drive to work, I listen to thuggish rap at a very loud volume, even though the lyrics are degrading to women and offend me to my core," she writes. "I am mortified by my music choices."
Gay—literature professor, novelist, prolific Twitterer, and blogger who imparts life wisdom couched in cooking advice—is best known for her deeply personal essays about everything from politics to pop culture. Most of the writings in this collection have been published at various outlets, including at The Rumpus, where Gay is essays editor.
Bad Feminist reads like an autobiography, segueing from elements of Gay's life—her Nebraska upbringing, her Haitian-American family, her cooking—into smart critiques of everything from reproductive rights to the Sweet Valley High and Twilight books. It's a mix of the somber and the hilarious; Gay aptly quotes both Judith Butler and the Ying Yang Twins. "I am flawed and human," Gay writes. "I am messy." And capital-F feminism could do with a little more messiness.
I caught up with Gay a few weeks after the release of her latest novel, An Untamed State, as she prepped for back-to-back summer book tours, to discuss her survival tactics for social awkwardness, her Scrabble obsession, and why she never shows her writing to her parents.
Mother Jones: With two books coming out just three months apart, you must be going insane.
Roxane Gay: Yes, I am! It's a good problem to have, but it's a lot more time-consuming than I ever imagined. Never again.
On Sunday's Last Week Tonight, host and comedian John Oliver ripped into American politicians' colossal mishandling of the US wealth gap, which continuesto grow to ever more astronomical proportions. As Oliver points out, plenty of lawmakers insist the game isn't rigged against the poor—ahem, Marco Rubio—while others recognize the problem but are too afraid to be gung-ho on the issue because of, well, politics.