AUSTIN (Nexstar) — On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to hear arguments on Texas’ abortion law, which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, without exceptions for rape or incest.
Texas’ abortion law is unique, because it’s enforced by private citizens, not the state.
This time around, however, the court won’t be considering the substance of the law and whether it violates Roe v. Wade. Instead, it will hear arguments in two cases challenging whether Texas’ restrictive abortion law can stay in place while lower courts consider legal challenges. These cases were brought by the U.S. Justice Department and abortion providers.
“The Texas case will not focus on the difficult issue of when states can ban abortion,” Blackman said. “The Texas case will focus on a very narrow question, a procedural question: ‘how can this unique law be challenged in court?’”
There are two key questions: does the United States have the right to sue Texas and can Texas pass a law that effectively bans an otherwise constitutional right when enforcing the law is up to private citizens, not the state.
While the DOJ argued the state of Texas is trying to prevent the High Court from reviewing SB8, Texas argued the only way to argue against the constitutionality of SB8 is to wait for a lawsuit against someone who performed an abortion.
“Texas argued, as it has before, that these are not proper suits, that the way to test the constitutionality of SB8 is to actually perform the abortion and wait to be sued and see what the courts say,” said Blackman.
However, the law has already had a ripple effect on abortion access in Texas. Some fear if the Supreme Court allows the law to stay in place, it will further limit access and cause harm to women.
“Senate Bill 8 will only lead to more unsafe abortions. The kind of unsafe, risky abortions that killed my patient nearly 50 years ago,” said Dr. Harold Miller, a retired OB/GYN in Houston.
If the Court’s majority determines the DOJ cannot sue Texas to block the law, things will remain the same for now.
And if the Court favors Texas, Austin Kaplan, a civil rights attorney, warns the decision could have implications on much more than abortion laws.
“They’ve basically greenlighted legislatures across the country to write laws to do away with any constitutional protections they don’t like,” Kaplan said.
“So if California passes a law that’s hard to enjoin but bans gun ownership, are we going to just allow that?” Kaplan asked.
Those who support Texas’ abortion law argue it’s protecting lives.
“We estimate that the Texas Heartbeat Act saves between 50 to 100 lives every single day,” said Kimberlyn Schwartz with Texas Right to Life.
Texas program helps students fight the ‘COVID Slide’
Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers allocated more than $16 billion to combat the “COVID slide” — learning loss due to the pandemic.
The Texas COVID Learning Acceleration Supports program, or TCLAS, offers school district grants to help pay for extra tools to catch students up.
“We can’t afford for this child to fail and for the system to fail him,” Lisa Ownes said, talking about her nephew Kingstan. She advocates for his education.
Kingston is now in sixth grade, with special needs, and struggled when his classes went virtual last year.
“Because he processes things slowly, doing work on the computer for him is like doing double the work, because he can’t just do it on the computer, he has to do it on paper first,” Owens explained.
He’s not alone. The Texas Education Agency studied just how much COVID-19 impacted Texas students.
“Prior to COVID, in 2019, on average we were at close to 50% proficiency in both reading and math across the state. After the COVID impact in 2021, we were at 43% in reading and only 35% in math,” Kelvey Oeser, TEA’s deputy commissioner of educator support, explained.
TCLAS program grants cover some accelerated learning courses during regular school hours.
But Owens said her nephew’s school district had trouble fitting those courses in without taking away from the existing curriculum. They took Kingstan out of band and then a writing class.
“When he tried out for percussion in band, he actually made it on his own. So you definitely didn’t want to take that away from him,” she explained.
Afterschool programs were already part of the state’s grants. But this coming semester, the state is increasing grants offered for the TCLAS after-school programs.
“We heard this as an additional want, need from our districts… it could go toward personnel costs for district staff to run the afterschool program or afterschool programming, if they are partnering with a nonprofit, technical assistance,” Oeser explained.
“Actually having time to be focused on that may be more successful than just trying to squeeze it into your day,” Owens said. She was a teacher for 16 years and said she has seen the success these afterschool programs can have with proper funding and resources.
“I’ve actually worked in those programs to tutor third, fourth and fifth graders in math and reading intervention in the past. It makes a long day for those kids. But because there’s something fun and engaging to do and time for homework, in addition to the tutoring, it usually works pretty well,” Owens said.
This funding, which can cover personnel, also lightens the burden on teachers already overwhelmed in each district.
“We definitely don’t want districts to be putting this on top of teachers on top of everything else that teachers have on their plates, especially without additional funding and support in order to do that,” Oeser said.
The deadline for school districts to apply for the afterschool program is Nov. 12. School districts have the discretion to determine which students qualify, and the TEA says it should always be optional.
Pediatricians look for answers about state plan on vaccines for children
The Texas Department of State Health Services says pediatricians will play a big role in getting children ages 5-11 vaccinated against COVID-19.
Friday, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for younger children. The vaccine for children still needs CDC approval, which could come next week.
During a briefing Monday, DSHS said there are roughly 2.9 million children who would be eligible for shots, and that Texas is set to receive 1.3 million doses initially.
The agency said it is “actively encouraging” pediatricians to enroll and become official vaccine providers.
“For all the ones that are already registered, we’ve been in close communication, encouraging them to place orders within the system to ensure they get some of the first doses that arrive in Texas,” said Imelda Garcia, the DSHS associate commissioner of laboratory and infectious disease services.
Austin pediatrician Dr. Samuel Mirrop told KXAN his office plans to offer the vaccines but said providing them can be sometimes be “complicated.”
Mirrop said, unlike other immunizations, the COVID vaccines are not delivered directly from the manufacturer, they come from the government. But a DSHS spokesperson said Tuesday the Pfizer vaccines, including the pediatric vaccine, are shipped by Pfizer.
“Another tricky part is after you get the vaccine, like grownups, [children] have to wait for 15 minutes,” Dr. Mirrop said. “For us to try and do that during our regular office hours, we only have so many exam rooms.”
According to DSHS, by last week more than 800 providers in Texas had already pre-ordered Pfizer’s pediatric doses. Those pre-orders are required to be a minimum of 300 doses.
Texas regulators report progress in winter energy preparations
The agency that regulates natural gas producers in Texas is reporting progress in preparations for winter weather. Wei Wang, who leads the Railroad Commission of Texas, told commissioners that inspectors have inspected more than 300 facilities across the state.
“Our goal was to focus on the large producing leases, the gas processing plants, underground storages and transmission pipelines,” Wang told commissioners during their Tuesday meeting. He added that teams used the visits to “ask their staff on site, about their plans and process and technology and equipment they’re using for this upcoming winter.”
During last February’s storm, freezing conditions knocked out equipment for some gas suppliers in Texas. That prevented them from providing fuel to electric power plants, which was a key factor in blackouts across Texas.
Wang’s update at the meeting received praise from the three Railroad Commissioners.
“Just on point and on task… frankly ahead of the game,” commissioner Christi Craddick said of the teams doing site visits.
Wang, and the Railroad Commission, faced criticism from state lawmakers earlier this fall, accused of not doing enough to ensure gas providers are prepared for winter weather.
Wang’s update came a few days after the Texas Public Utility Commission approved new mandatory weatherization rules for power plants. The PUC order requires power plant operators to implement winter weather plans outlined in a report that came after the 2011 freeze. That storm also led to widespread blackouts in Texas. The 2011 report had several recommendations to prevent future freeze-related blackouts, but at the time, the recommendations were not made mandatory.