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The One Mississippi Abortion Clinic Stays Open, But…

Good news - the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit just refused to reconsider a panel’s earlier decision to block a Mississippi law that would have closed the state’s only abortion clinic. The law required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and was meant to — and would have — forced the sole clinic in the state to shut its doors. But the panel said the law went too far and was unconstitutional — the full court’s decision not to rehear the case means that the clinic stays open. This is great news for Mississippi women who will continue to have access to abortion in their state.

But…. Read more »

Several States Boost Early Care and Education Funding

A number of states have taken important steps forward this year to expand access to high-quality early learning programs, according to a new National Women's Law Center fact sheet. While some states' budgets are still being debated, at least sixteen have already increased funding for child care and early education, and at least another eight are considering proposals for additional funding. 

Progress was made in a wide spectrum of states, including both states already providing substantial support for early care and education as well as states that had not previously made significant investments in this area. Indiana and Mississippi, which had been among the ten states that did not fund prekindergarten programs, established new prekindergarten programs, with Indiana investing $2 million and Mississippi investing $3 million. Michigan increased funding for its existing prekindergarten program by $65 million (60 percent), which will be used to serve at least 10,000 more children. 

A few states acted to enable more families to receive help paying for child care. Maryland has reduced the number of children on the waiting list for child care assistance from over 17,000 in 2012 to just 76 a year later. North Dakota increased its income eligibility limit for child care assistance from 50 percent to 85 percent of state median income (the maximum allowed under federal law) and provided funding to raise reimbursement rates for child care providers and to support grants for child care facilities and other efforts to increase the supply and quality of care. 

However, the news is not all good. Two states significantly reduced families’ access to child care assistance, and two additional states are considering cuts to child care and early education programs. Read more »

Report on the "Crack Baby" Myth Serves as Reminder of the Risks of Prosecuting Pregnant Women

The "crack baby" scare of the 1980s helped fuel a movement by prosecutors across the country to charge women who used drugs while pregnant or whose newborns tested positive for drugs with child abuse, neglect and even manslaughter [PDF]. But what really happened to those babies who were supposed to "overwhelm every social service delivery system that they come in contact with for the rest of their lives," according to one newscaster at the time? Were they, in the words of columnist Charles Krauthammer, doomed to "a life of certain suffering, of probably deviance, or permanent inferiority"? In a word — no. A recent New York Times "Retro Report" video revisited the crack baby hysteria and found no evidence that these dire predictions came true. These findings, which were being reported as early as 1992, should remind prosecutors and judges that the causal link between drug use and a specific pregnancy outcome is speculative, at best. While no one condones drug use in pregnancy, punitive measures do nothing to improve maternal, fetal, or child health [PDF]. Instead, they discourage women from seeking prenatal care and drug-treatment for fear of being prosecuted. 

The Mississippi state Supreme Court recently heard the case of Nina Buckhalter who tested positive for methamphetamine after suffering a stillbirth and was charged with manslaughter. The prosecutor in the case claims the drugs caused the stillbirth even though the actual cause is unknown and there is no clear evidence that methamphetamine use can cause a stillbirth. Read more »

President Obama Makes Historic Nominations

Yesterday, Srikanth Srinivasan became the first South Asian judge confirmed to a federal court of appeals. In addition, President Obama has recently made some groundbreaking nominations. Last week, after Shelly Dick was the first woman confirmed to the Middle District of Louisiana, President Obama nominated Carolyn McHugh, who would be the first woman from Utah to sit on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Elizabeth Wolford, who would be the first woman to sit on the Western District of New York, Pamela Reeves, who would be the first women to sit on the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Debra Brown, nominated to the Northern District of Mississippi, who would be the first African-American woman to serve as a federal judge in Mississippi. Yesterday as well, President Obama nominated Landya B. McCafferty, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, and Susan P. Watters, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in Montana.  Read more »

40 Years After Roe, Just How Far Have We Come?

I love anniversaries, and not just because there’s usually some sort of cake involved, but because they mark significant and positive milestones in our lives and allow us to reflect proudly on overcoming setbacks and making progress throughout time. Last week marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that recognized the right to safe and legal abortion nationwide. Excitingly enough, one of the few things that I like more than anniversaries and cake is being able to exercise my own reproductive freedom. So wouldn’t it have been great to have a big “Happy Birthday, Roe v. Wade!” party with balloons and ice cream and stories happily recounting the wonders and advancements that the last 40 years have brought us? Yeah, not so fast. While women across the country should have spent January 22nd celebrating the 40th anniversary of this landmark decision, our would-be celebration was being rained on by the lingering reminders of hundreds of restrictive laws and stringent policies that have impeded a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortions since Supreme Court decision was handed down in 1973.

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a panel discussion at Georgetown Law School, entitled “Reproductive Rights 40 Years after Roe”. The discussion featured four panelists who each represented a different facet of the reproductive rights movement: Jessica González-Rojas from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Helene Krasnoff of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Walter Dellinger, partner with O’Melveny & Myers LLP and former acting U.S. Solicitor General, and Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center. Read more »