Spotlight on California leaders after abortion pill rulings
From CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang:
Doctors and patients in California can rest assured that the abortion pill mifepristone is legal to prescribe and take — for now.
Late Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the most significant part of U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s ruling last week out of Texas that the FDA’s approval of the drug more than two decades ago was “arbitrary and capricious.”
The appellate court’s ruling offers some clarity and security for abortion providers who were hit with a bewildering same-day ruling out of Washington state from a federal judge ordering the FDA to make no changes to the availability of mifepristone in the 17 Democratic-led states in the case. California wasn’t among them. Asked why, a spokesperson for Attorney General Rob Bonta refused to be identified and said they were “unable to comment on legal strategy.”
The Fifth Circuit ruling means that the drug can stay on the market across the country until the full case is heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. The panel of judges however upheld the portion of Kacsmaryk’s decision prohibiting sending the drug to patients by mail and allowing providers other than doctors, like physician assistants and nurse practitioners, to prescribe the medication. The Biden administration quickly filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, which today temporarily put on hold the new restrictions until at least April 19.
Mifepristone is part of a two-drug regimen commonly used in abortions and miscarriage management. It blocks the hormone progesterone needed to carry a pregnancy to term. The second pill, misoprostol, empties the uterus and has not been challenged in court.
Earlier this week, in an effort to uphold California’s position as an “abortion safe haven,” Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a state stockpile of 2 million misoprostol pills. Julia Spiegel, deputy legal affairs secretary for Newsom, told CalMatters the state intentionally chose to stockpile misoprostol over mifepristone because its legality is not in question. Amid fears of a nationwide ban, other states, including Washington and Massachusetts, stockpiled mifepristone.
- Spiegel: “In this immediate moment of chaos and fear and confusion, California and Gov. Newsom wanted to send a very clear message that you can (get a medication abortion) here legally and safely…no matter what is happening in the courts.”
The state has about 250,000 pills on hand — enough for nearly 12,000 medication abortions — and will make them available to providers for free. The California State Board of Pharmacy issued an alert Wednesday clarifying that pharmacists can continue to hand out mifepristone and cannot obstruct someone from “obtaining a prescription drug” that has been ordered for them.
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1 Capitol evacuated due to ‘credible threat’
From CalMatters’ legislative reporter Sameea Kamal:
A “credible threat” prompted an evacuation of the California state Capitol Thursday morning before the Senate’s floor session. Lawmakers moved to a nearby office building on O Street, and staffers who had not arrived were instructed to work remotely.
The suspect, identified as Jackson Pinney, 30, of Hayward, was arrested after 4 p.m. in Granite Bay after authorities asked the public for help in finding the suspect and two vehicles.
Pinney was also linked to drive-by shootings in Roseville Wednesday night at a Kaiser Permanente medical facility and in Citrus Heights early Thursday, according to a statement from the California Highway Patrol. No injuries were reported in either incident, but Roseville police said the suspect was considered armed and dangerous.
Pinney was charged with attempted homicide, assault with a firearm, shooting from a moving vehicle and shooting at an occupied dwelling. Roseville police said the investigation is ongoing, but a motive remained unclear.
Assembly Republicans, who are pushing a raft of crime bills this session, quickly sought to capitalize on what they said was Pinney’s criminal record.
The Capitol was closed during parts of Thursday while authorities were searching for the suspect.
Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon issued a joint statement on the threat, saying that the evacuation was issued out of an abundance of caution.
“We apologize for the adjustments and interruptions to the members of the public who planned to come to the Capitol today to make their voices heard,” the statement said. “In this situation, we must put everyone’s safety and security first. We encourage everyone to stay alert and stay safe.”
2 Cal State students seek to join union
California State University employs more than 13,000 student assistants — undergraduates who have a variety of jobs, including library assistants, clerical workers and food service workers.
But as Rocky Walker of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network reports, some students earn less in their campus jobs than the local minimum wage. And since students working for the universities earn less than they could at outside businesses, the California State University Employees Union, which represents non-student workers in similar roles, wants to add student assistants to its ranks and campaign together for better pay, increased hours, paid sick leave and more.
- Grace Dearborn, a San Diego State student: “This is a real job for a lot of students. We get paid and we use that pay for bills and our personal expenses, and so if you’re expecting for it to be a real job but not receive sick pay, I think that that’s really weird.”
This effort, one of the largest organizing campaigns among undergraduates ever, joins a recent wave of campus labor activism. After the largest higher education strike in U.S. history late last year, 48,000 University of California graduate student workers and academic employees reached a deal with the UC administration.
Cal State teaching assistants and other academic workers already belong to a union of their own. But student assistants argue that joining this union makes more sense because the work they do is less related to their studies.
The university system, however, disagrees, and said that the primary role of a student assistant “is that of a student and not a traditional employee.”
Hearings to decide if the union can include student assistants began in March and will resume June 12.
3 S.F. grapples with conflicting narratives
The fatal stabbing of tech executive Bob Lee drew international attention and tons of news coverage that fed a familiar narrative: Crime in San Francisco is out of control.
But the real story is apparently far different — at least based on the suspect arrested Thursday.
In the early morning of April 4, Lee, 43, was fatally stabbed in Rincon Hill, a neighborhood populated by tech workers near downtown, which is scarred with vacant offices and has yet to bounce back from the pandemic. As condolences and tributes poured in from loved ones and former colleagues, other tech leaders, including Twitter CEO Elon Musk, opined that violent street crime in San Francisco was running amok.
San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins called Lee’s killing a horrific act of violence and Mayor London Breed described it as “a horrible tragedy.”
But on Thursday, the Mission Local news site broke the news that Nima Momeni, 38, a fellow tech entrepreneur from Emeryville who police say knew Lee, had been arrested in connection with the stabbing. The arrest “would appear to undermine the premise that Lee’s violent death was due to street conditions in San Francisco,” Mission Local reported.
Jenkins, in announcing the arrest, criticized Musk for spreading “misinformation.”
- Jenkins, in a news conference: “I must point out that reckless and irresponsible statements like those contained in Mr. Musk’s tweet that assume incorrect circumstances about Mr. Lee’s death serve to mislead the world in their perceptions of San Francisco and also negatively impact the pursuit of justice for victims of crime.”
Now that Lee’s potential killer may not be a random attacker who stalked the streets at night, however, the narrative surrounding Lee’s death grows more complex.
While reporters talked to frustrated residents (and non-residents) who perceived crime rising in San Francisco and said they felt unsafe, crime rates are, in fact, at historic lows or not particularly any worse than similarly-sized cities. But these fact-checks drew their own criticism as well.
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