Federal Court Throws Out Abortion Restrictions In Texas

Republicans in control of state governments have been trying to restrict access to both abortion and contraception but on Friday a federal judge rule against new restrictions on abortions in Texas:

A federal judge in Austin, Tex., blocked a stringent new rule on Friday that would have forced more than half of the state’s remaining abortion clinics to close, the latest in a string of court decisions that have at least temporarily kept abortion clinics across the South from being shuttered.

The Texas rule, requiring all abortion clinics to meet the building, equipment and staffing standards of hospital-style surgery centers, had been set to take effect on Monday. But in his opinion, Judge Lee Yeakel of the United States District Court in Austin said the mandate placed unjustified obstacles on women’s access to abortion without providing significant medical benefits.

The rule “is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women throughout Texas to seek a pre-viability abortion,” he wrote.

Think Progress has more on Republican efforts to restrict abortions using sham health laws:

One of the most significant innovations developed by lawyers and lawmakers who oppose abortion are sham health laws that, on their surface, appear intended to make abortions safer, but which have the practical effect of making abortions difficult or impossible to obtain. Texas’s House Bill 2 (HB2) is one of these laws. Last October, a provision of HB2 took effect that prohibited doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals. Judge Yeakel halted that provision shortly before it took effect, noting that “there is no rational relationship between improved patient outcomes and hospital admitting privileges.” The Fifth Circuit reinstated the law only a few days later.

On Monday, another provision of HB2 is supposed to take effect. This provision imposes rigid new architectural requirements on Texas abortion clinics, including “electrical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, and other physical plant requirements as well as staffing mandates, space utilization, minimum square footage, and parking design” requirements. Many clinics are physically incapable of complying with these requirements in their existing locations. For those clinics, “[t]he cost of acquiring land and constructing a new compliant clinic will likely exceed three million dollars.” The remaining clinics can expect to pay as much as 1.5 million dollars to bring their facilities into compliance with the law. According to Yeakel’s opinion, should this provision of the law take effect, “only seven facilities and a potential eighth will exist in Texas that will not be prevented . . . from performing abortions.”

Before HB2 became law, by contrast, there were 40 licensed abortion clinics in Texas.

The new architectural requirements require abortion clinics to meet the standards established for what are known as “ambulatory surgical centers” in the state of Texas. Yet, as Yeakel explains, there’s little good reason to treat abortion clinics this way. Many clinics, for example, do not perform surgical abortions at all, only medication abortions that use drugs to terminate a pregnancy. Yet the Texas law requires abortion clinics that perform no surgeries whatsoever to undertake expensive renovations that transform them into surgical facilities.

Even in clinics that do perform surgical abortions, women are more likely to experience higher health risks because HB2 forces clinics close to them to shut down then they are to gain some benefit from the new restrictions. “Higher health risks associated with increased delays in seeking early abortion care, risks associated with longer distance automotive travel on traffic-laden highways, and the act’s possible connection to observed increases in self-induced abortions almost certainly cancel out any potential health benefit associated with the requirement.”

The most remarkable portion of Yeakel’s opinion, however, may be the fact that he does not simply analyze the effect of Texas’s law. He also accuses the state of outright dishonesty. Responding to the state’s argument that some Texans can seek abortions in New Mexico if they are unable to obtain one in Texas thanks to HB2, Yeakel notes that this argument completely undermines any suggestion that these laws are supposed to protect women’s health:

If the State’s true purpose in enacting the ambulatory-surgical-center requirement is to protect the health and safety of Texas women who seek abortions, it is disingenuous and incompatible with that goal to argue that Texas women can seek abortion care in a state with lesser regulations. If, however, the State’s underlying purpose in enacting the requirement was to reduce or eliminate abortion in parts or all of Texas, the State’s position is perfectly congruent with such a goal.

Yeakel, in other words, calls a sham a sham. He recognizes, in the words of the Supreme Court, that the purpose HB2 is to “place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” And he comes just one step from outright accusing the state of lying when it claims that the law was actually enacted to protect women’s health.

Republicans Prefer Out of Context Quotes Over Serious Middle East Discussion

Republicans, lacking any actual coherent policy arguments, love to dwell on taking comments from Democrats out of context, often distorting what was said. They made such an distorted quote the centerpiece of their last national convention. We are bound to hear another out of context quote over and over from Republicans. In response to a question from Chuck Todd, Obama explained why it is premature to take a plan to Congress before specific military targets are determined and arranging a regional coalition to fight ISIS. Republicans are ignoring the substance of what Obama said and taking a few unfortunate words out of context: “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

Follow up discussion by Chuck Todd on  The Daily Rundown this morning (his last as host before taking over at Meet the Press), placed this in context. Todd and Andrea Mitchell were supportive about Obama’s transparency on the issue and consideration of the ramifications of military intervention (video above). It was good to see a news report provide the full context. The failure of other news outlets to do the same has placed the Obama administration in damage-control mode.

Steve Benen has a a good take on this “gaffe”

To see deliberate thought and planning as the object of criticism is a mistake – delaying military intervention in the Middle East until a firm strategy is in place is a positive, not a negative.

It’s a feature of the president’s foreign policy, not a bug.

Much of the media seems stunned by the process: “You mean, Obama intends to think this through and then decide whether to pursue military options in Syria?” Why, yes, actually he does. The question isn’t why Obama has adopted such an approach; the question is why so many are outraged by it.

“We don’t have a strategy yet,” without context, lends itself to breathless Beltway chatter. To accommodate the political world’s predispositions, maybe the president should have added the rest of the thought: “We don’t have a strategy yet for possible U.S. military intervention in Syria, which may require congressional approval.”

But that’s effectively all that he said. There is no great “gaffe” here.

If only George Bush had taken the time to develop a comprehensive strategy before going into Iraq.

Peter Beinhart pointed out that Obama does actually have a strategy in the middle east:

President Obama’s critics often claim he doesn’t have a strategy in the greater Middle East. That’s wrong. Like it or loathe it, he does, and he’s beginning to implement it against ISIS. To understand what it is, it’s worth going back seven summers.

In July 2007, at a debate sponsored by CNN and YouTube, Obama said that if elected president, he’d talk directly to the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. Hillary Clinton derided his answer as “irresponsible and frankly naïve.” The altercation fit the larger narrative the media had developed about the two Democratic frontrunners: Obama—who had opposed the Iraq War—was the dove. Hillary—who had supported it—was the hawk.

But less than a week later, a different foreign-policy tussle broke out. Obama said he’d send the U.S. military into Pakistan, against its government’s wishes, to kill members of al-Qaeda. “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf will not act,” he vowed, “we will.” Suddenly, Obama was the hawk and Clinton was the dove. “He basically threatened to bomb Pakistan,” she declared in early 2008, “which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to take.”

So was Obama more dovish than Clinton or more hawkish? The answer is both. On the one hand, Obama has shown a deep reluctance to use military force to try to solve Middle Eastern problems that don’t directly threaten American lives. He’s proved more open to a diplomatic compromise over Iran’s nuclear program than many on Capitol Hill because he’s more reticent about going to war with Tehran. He’s been reluctant to arm Syria’s rebels or bomb Basher al-Assad because he doesn’t want to get sucked into that country’s civil war. After initially giving David Petraeus and company the yellow light to pursue an expanded counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan, he’s wound down America’s ground war against the Taliban. Even on Libya, he proved more reluctant to intervene than the leaders of Britain and France.

On the other hand, he’s proven ferocious about using military force to kill suspected terrorists. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, he’s basically adopted the policy Joe Biden proposed at the start of his administration: Don’t focus on fighting the Taliban on the ground, since they don’t really threaten the United States. Just bomb the hell out al-Qaeda from the air. Compared with George W. Bush, he’s dramatically expanded drone strikes, even though they’re unilateral, legally dubious, and morally disturbing. And, as promised, he sent special forces to kill Osama bin Laden without Pakistan’s permission, even though his vice president and secretary of defense feared the risks were too high.

When it comes to the Middle East, in other words, Obama is neither a dove nor a hawk. He’s a fierce minimalist. George W. Bush defined the War on Terror so broadly that in anti-terrorism’s name he spent vast quantities of blood and treasure fighting people who had no capacity or desire to attack the United States. Hillary Clinton and John McCain may not use the “War on Terror” framework anymore, but they’re still more willing to sell arms, dispatch troops, and drop bombs to achieve goals that aren’t directly connected to preventing another 9/11. By contrast, Obama’s strategy—whether you like it or not—is more clearly defined. Hundreds of thousands can die in Syria; the Taliban can menace and destabilize Afghanistan; Iran can move closer to getting a bomb. No matter. With rare exceptions, Obama only unsheathes his sword against people he thinks might kill American civilians.

Understanding Obama’s fierce minimalism helps explain the evolution of his policy toward Syria and Iraq. For years, hawks pushed him to bomb Assad and arm Syria’s rebels. They also urged him to keep more U.S. troops in Iraq to stabilize the country and maintain American leverage there. Obama refused because these efforts—which would have cost money and incurred risks—weren’t directly aimed at fighting terrorism. But now that ISIS has developed a safe haven in Iraq and Syria, amassed lots of weapons and money, killed an American journalist, recruited Westerners, and threatened terrorism against the United States, Obama’s gone from dove to hawk. He’s launched air strikes in Iraq and may expand them to Syria. As the Center for American Progress’s Brian Katulis has noted, the Obama administration is also trying to strengthen regional actors who may be able to weaken ISIS. But the administration is doing all this to prevent ISIS from killing Americans, not to put Syria back together again. Yes, there’s a humanitarian overlay to Obama’s anti-ISIS campaign: He’s authorized air strikes to save Yazidis at risk of slaughter. But the core of his military effort in Iraq and Syria, and throughout the greater Middle East, is narrow but aggressive anti-terrorism…

Hundreds of Thousands More People To Obtain Health Care Coverage Under Obamacare With Pennsylvania Joining Expanded Medicaid Program

Pennsylvania has become the 27th state, and 9th with a Republican governor, to accept the expanded Medicaid program. This significantly increases the number of people to receive health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting with about 300,000 and increasing to over a half million over the next two years. Some Republican governors are vulnerable for failing to join the program, especially considering that the federal government will pay 100% of the expense for expanding health care coverage through 2016, and afterwards it will gradually fall to 90 percent. Corbett is in danger of losing his reelection bid in Pennsylvania but it does not appear that his late adoption of the program will be enough to save him.

Currently three additional states, Indiana, Missouri, and Utah, are considering expansion and twenty states are not  considering Medicaid expansion at this time.

Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Study Shows Reduction In Opioid Overdoses By 25% In States Which Have Legalized Medical Marijuana

A major problem with narcotic pain medications is the risk of overdose. This problem has led to the DEA announcing last week that hydrocodone combination pain medications such as Norco and Vicodin are being reclassified as Schedule II narcotics, with additional restrictions being placed upon prescribing them. Any measures to help control chronic pain while reducing the incidence of overdose would certainly be welcome. The August 25, 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine presents a study of states which have legalized medical marijuana, showing a reduction in opioid overdoses by almost 25 percent:

Three states (California, Oregon, and Washington) had medical cannabis laws effective prior to 1999. Ten states (Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont) enacted medical cannabis laws between 1999 and 2010. States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate (95% CI, −37.5% to −9.5%; P = .003) compared with states without medical cannabis laws. Examination of the association between medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in each year after implementation of the law showed that such laws were associated with a lower rate of overdose mortality that generally strengthened over time…

The study did not indicate the cause of this association. It is speculated that some people with chronic pain might use less opioid when medical marijuana is available. More study is needed to confirm this, but considering the problems faced with opioid overdoses, marijuana should be considered as an alternative. At very least, when considering any potential adverse consequences to legalization of medical marijuana, it must be kept in mind that the currently used medications for chronic pain do have a serious potential for adverse effects themselves.

Marijuana is now classified as a Schedule I drug which prevents prescribing it. (In states where medical marijuana is legal, the change in the law protects those using it from prosecution but marijuana still cannot be prescribed). Many have already questioned the classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug as it appears to show less risk of problems from overdose compared to current Schedule II and Schedule III drugs. This study suggests that marijuana might also help protect against some of the adverse effects of narcotics.

Patrick Stewart Shows How To Handle The Ice Bucket Challenge

Yesterday I posted the videos of Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Here’s one for Star Trek fans in which Patrick Stewart shows the right way to do this.

My wife and I had sort of the same idea yesterday. We both mixed up a couple of glasses of gin and tonic and sent in a contribution.

Contributions to the ALS Association can be sent through their web site.

Quote of the Day: Conan on What Republicans Do For Fun

“Disneyworld has become a popular location for Republican fundraisers. A favorite activity is to ride through It’s a Small World and deport most of the dolls.” –Conan O’Brien

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; Matt Smith and Benedict Cumberbatch Take Ice Bucket Challenge; Gotham; True Blood; Minority Report; Dating Naked; Richard Attenborough

Doctor Who Deep Breath

We now have a new regeneration of the Doctor, a redecorated TARDIS, and a new title sequence on Doctor Who. Unfortunately the plot of Deep Breath was not very good. There was the return of the droids from The Girl in the Fireplace. Unlike the challenge of not blinking in Blink and other stories with the Weeping Angels, the challenge in this episode was seeing how long you could hold your breath. There was plenty of humor between the confusion of the Doctor post-regeneration, along with cultural misunderstandings and the usual Strax humor. In addition, Moffat’s inner teenager came out wigh having a dinosaur and multiple allusions to Clara either removing her clothes or having sex. The Doctor did do some flirting, but only with the female dinosaur and not Clara, plus there was a human/lizard lesbian kiss. There was even the reported cameo by Matt Smith, telephoning Clara from his past.

While this episode was far from one of the better post-regeneration episodes, the episode did leave me confident that Peter Capaldi will make an excellent 0ld school style Doctor, and of course Jenna Coleman remains an excellent companion, even if there is no flirting or actual removal of her clothing. There are some vague clues of things to come. While we know that the reason the Doctor has seen his face before is because Peter Capaldi has appeared on Doctor Who in other roles, it appears that the reason for the same face will be given an explanation within the story in future episodes. The end of this episode left open the possibility that this could be the start of a new arc, with Missy apparently having had key roles in the past, such as giving Clara the Doctor’s phone number in The Bells of St. John. Capaldi presented what could also be a theme for the season: “I’m the Doctor, I’ve lived for over 2,000 years, and not all of them were good; I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.”

Next week: Daleks.

There is a rumor that Jenna Coleman will be leaving Doctor Who in the Christmas episode. Peter Capaldi denies this.

There are alternative versions of Doctor Who. For example, check out the above video celebrating fifty years of American  Doctor Who. IO9 looked at a porn parody of Doctor Who which can be viewed at Woodrocket.com.

Matt Smith has taken the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise money for research on ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock went even further, including getting naked in the shower for a repeat exposure. Contributions to the ALS Association can be sent through their web site.

Last week I noted that the pilot for A to Z is available on line. A sit-com pilot with an even stronger genre connection was released this week–Selfie staring Karen Gillan.

A four-part You Tube series with background on Gotham has been released. The first part is above.

True Blood finally reaches the true end tonight. Does anyone even care anymore whether Bill really goes through with true death or if the show end with true love? At least there were some humorous moments in the final few episodes, such as Ginger finally getting to have sex with Eric. The scene is discussed more here.

My theory as to how the series ends is that Sookie will decide to become a vampire to convince Bill that the two of them can spend eternity happily ever after. Bill refuses to turn her into a vampire so she goes to Eric. By the time Sookie gets out of the ground she finds that Bill has already died from Hepatitis V. Meanwhile Pam, thinking Eric turned Sookie into a vampire for herself, kills Sookie. Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) then leaves the show for a role on Daredevil. We will find out later tonight if my prediction comes through.

Steven Spielberg is developing a television series based upon the movie Minority Report.

Dating Naked

The big law suit this week stemming from television is Jessie Nizewitz suing Viacom for $10 million because not everything was obscured in the airing of Dating Naked. This led to many web sites (including here) posting the uncensored picture. I do not think a model should film a television show entirely naked if she has any qualms about pictures of her crotch getting out. Plus I would bet that far more people have now seen her nude pictures following the publicity from this law suit.

Richard Attenborough has died at age 90.

Lord Attenborough was one of Britain’s leading actors, before becoming a highly successful director.

In a career that spanned six decades, he appeared in films including Brighton Rock, World War Two prisoner of war thriller The Great Escape and later in dinosaur blockbuster Jurassic Park.

As a director he was perhaps best known for Gandhi, which won him two Oscars.

Doctor Who Returns This Afternoon

Doctor Who first airs at 7:50 London time, so I’m about to make sure Hola unblocker is working fine, and then hooking it up via the HDMI port to my big screen television. For those who are more patient (or won’t be out to dinner as I will be at the time) BBC America is showing it at 8 p.m.

Using Hola to make it appear that my computer is in the U.K. will also come in handy to watch Doctor Who Extra which will be showing on the BBC iPlayer, replacing the old Doctor Who Confidential.

New trailer above, and a scene from today’s episode, Deep Breath, below:

Democrat Running Ad On Benefits Of Affordable Care Act

It is good to see that some Democrats are now campaigning on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, such as in the above ad being broadcast by Mark Pryor. He is yet another Democrat in a close Senate rate in addition to those I mentioned yesterday. Time described the ad:

In the personal new ad, Pryor’s father, David, a former senator himself, talks about his son’s battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 1996. “When Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we thought we might lose him,” David Pryor says in a voiceover. “But you know what? Mark’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.”

By opening up about the struggle for his own life, Pryor aims to connect with his constituents. “No one should be fighting an insurance company when you’re fighting for your life,” he says in the ad. “That’s why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you’re sick or deny coverage from preexisting conditions.”

Pryor’s ad does at least three things right. First, he hones in on the most popular aspect of the Affordable Care Act: coverage for those with preexisting conditions, which has support across the aisle. “We all agree that nobody should be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition,” David Ray, a Cotton campaign spokesman, told TIME in an emailed statement.

Second, Pryor’s ad doesn’t use the term “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act’s nickname first coined by its critics. A Kaiser Health Tracking poll released August 1 found that a little over half of the public—53%—have an unfavorable view of Obamacare. But when referred to by a different name, the law’s negative ratings can decrease, polls show. One Kentucky poll in May found that while 57% of registered voters disliked “Obamacare,” only 22 percent had unfavorable views of Kynect, the state exchange created as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010.

Democrats cannot hide from Obamacare but they can take advantage of the many aspects of it which people support. Most voters want insurance which cannot stop paying benefits when they get sick, and are happy about receiving better insurance at a lower price through the exchanges. Democrats need to learn to place the Republicans on the defensive for the negative changes which would come about from their policy of repealing Obamacare.