California preps for abortion pill ruling
From CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang and political reporter Alexei Koseff:
Gov. Gavin Newsom and a cadre of Democratic lawmakers want to be clear: They will protect medication abortion in California no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the issue — they’re just not entirely sure how.
In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and representatives from the Legislative Women’s Caucus and Future of Abortion Council banded together to reassert the state’s commitment to reproductive rights.
- Newsom: “We can no longer count on the Supreme Court, but what you can count on is everybody standing behind me.”
The announcement, however, came with few concrete details other than an intent to act. The administration intends to work with existing abortion bill authors to add language protecting pharmacists who dispense mifepristone, strengthening privacy protections and shoring up the state’s supply chain of the medication. Draft language was not available and specific bill authors have not been concretely identified, spokesperson Anthony York told reporters.
- York: “We’re early in the process. We’re going to see what the courts do…and then work with the author on that bill and also on the pharmacy issue.”
The Supreme Court delayed a much-anticipated ruling from today to Friday that will impact access to the abortion pill mifepristone nationally. The latest legal challenge to abortion accuses the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of acting improperly two decades ago to approve mifepristone, which blocks a hormone necessary for pregnancy and is commonly used for miscarriage management.
The ruling has resulted in a rapid-fire game of judicial ping-pong. Less than a week after a federal judge in Texas invalidated mifepristone’s FDA approval on April 7, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals partially overruled the decision, allowing the drug to stay on the market with significant restrictions. Forty-eight hours after that, conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued an administrative stay on the Fifth Circuit’s order, effectively saying there will be no changes to the drug’s status until the high court decides what comes next.
From here, the Supreme Court could make a decision in any number of directions: It could let the stay expire, removing the drug from the market; it could extend the stay, letting it remain on the market with restrictions that California can’t avoid; or it could broaden the stay, letting it remain on the market as is.
Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President Jodi Hicks put the Supreme Court’s anticipated decision into stark terms: “The reality is we are not immune.”
Should the Supreme Court overturn the FDA’s approval of mifepristone, it’s unclear how a California law allowing pharmacists to continue dispensing the medication would be enforced. On Tuesday, Newsom said he believed in “the rule of law.”
Newsom said the state has “ample supply” of mifepristone, but provided few details. Spokesperson Brandon Richards later clarified that pharmacies across the state have enough mifepristone on hand to meet demand but the state does not have a stockpile. Last week, Newsom announced a state stockpile of 2 million misoprostol pills, a second abortion drug that is not impacted by recent court rulings. Other Democratic-led states have secured stockpiles of both drugs.
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 Lobbying reform clashes with #MeToo
You never quite know when fireworks will happen at a legislative hearing. Case in point: On Tuesday, a bill by state Sen. Aisha Wahab to limit lobbying by former legislative staff faced strong opposition from leaders of the state Capitol’s #MeToo movement against sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace.
To curb conflicts of interest and “bolster the integrity” of the legislative process, the original bill from the Fremont Democrat would have required an employee who leaves a legislative job to wait two years before taking on a new position as a lobbyist, at a lobbying firm or with a lobbyist employer.
But Samantha Corbin and Alicia Benavidez, co-founders of We Said Enough, showed up at the Senate elections committee hearing to oppose the bill, saying it would limit career opportunities. The organization later tweeted that the legislation would “trap staff in hostile or abusive” work environments.
In response, Wahab said that her bill was not about “victims rights” and that she found it “insulting and harmful” to those who experience sexual assault or discrimination for organizations to use their trauma to oppose the bill.
- Wahab: “To be using victims as a prop to not have lobbying reform in the state of California is disgusting and not fair to them.”
Wahab’s comments drew the ire of another We Said Enough co-founder, Adama Iwu, who accused Wahab of “bullying” from the dais.
Other opponents include the group of legislative staffers currently seeking to unionize and the unionization bill’s author, Democratic Assemblymember Tina McKinnor from Inglewood. They argue it’s unfair to put stricter restrictions on legislative staff than on the lawmakers they work for, who are required to wait only one year before taking lobbying positions. McKinnor said Wahab owed the We Said Enough founders “a public apology.”
Wahab said later that she hopes to “continue to engage” with the bill’s opponents. At the hearing, she agreed to amend the bill to shorten the cooling-off period and to narrow it to certain staff.
- Wahab, in an email to CalMatters: “I respect everyone’s right to speak their truth on matters that impact them…. I have always been and will always be a supporter of victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse.”
2 Contamination concerns for CA water
California’s heavy rain season has resulted in historic snowpack levels, major flooding and overflowing reservoirs. But the recent storms have another outcome: Contaminating groundwater with more nitrate.
As CalMatters’ water reporter Alastair Bland explains, towns across California including farm communities in the San Joaquin and Salinas valleys have been plagued for decades with nitrate-contaminated groundwater. But this year’s record-breaking season of rain — which has flushed fertilizer from ranches and dairy farms into underground water supplies and drinking water — could worsen the situation.
- Michael Claiborne, an attorney with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability: “There are a lot of dairies that are completely flooded, and that includes the lagoons where they store their manure.”
Consuming nitrate can cause a blood disorder that leads to suffocation in infants known as “blue baby syndrome.” It has also been linked to multiple types of cancer including ovarian, bladder and thyroid cancer, as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The federal government’s limit for nitrate in drinking water is 10 milligrams per liter. Last June, a sampling of Valley Ford’s three main wells found nitrate at twice the federal standard, and a few months earlier it was nearly triple.
A few of Alastair’s other key findings:
- In six groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley, state officials estimate about 2,400 domestic wells are at risk of nitrate contamination.
- This doesn’t include private drinking water wells, which aren’t as well monitored. (The Central Valley has about 150,000 private wells.)
- One expert calculated that nearly 1 million tons of nitrogen are applied to farmland in the Central Valley annually.
But unseen contamination from storms isn’t the only reason for rising nitrate levels. Some parcels in the Central Valley were intentionally flooded after Gov. Newsom’s March 10 executive order that used stormwater to recharge depleted groundwater.
- Linda Guttierez, who lives in Seville in Tulare County: “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it, and you might get it all at once.”
3 More cash through tax credits?
As federal aid for the pandemic is winding down nationwide, two bills to expand California tax credits seek to help low-income families. But while these bills traditionally receive bipartisan support, they have a combined price tag of $1.1 billion a year and the state budget deficit makes them a tougher sell this session, reports Alejandra Reyes-Velarde from CalMatters’ California Divide team.
Currently, those who earn as much as $30,000 in annual income receive a tax credit of $1 to about $3,400. Assemblymember Mike Gipson of Gardena wants to raise the minimum $1 credit to $300, regardless of number of dependents, as long as a recipient makes less than $30,000 a year. (The story includes a way to calculate your Earned Income Tax Credit, produced by CalMatters’ data reporter Erica Yee.)
The other bill, authored by Los Angeles Democratic Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, aims to extend a tax credit for families with children. Now, the Young Child Tax Credit gives $1,083 to tax filers with a dependent under the age of 6, but the benefit ends once the family’s youngest child turns 6. Santiago’s bill would allow eligible filers to continue qualifying for the credit until the youngest child turns 18, or 23 if they’re a student.
- Santiago: “This program is one of the most effective anti-poverty programs we have. We can expand the current program and help more people than have ever been helped.”
Though the chairpersons of the Assembly and Senate budget committees declined to comment on these bills, the measures do have backing from at least one Republican:
- Assemblymember Tom Lackey from Palmdale, who co-authored Santiago’s bill: “When you recognize the contribution people are making and allow them to reinvest that money themselves, instead of allowing government to take that discretion, it’s a better pathway.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As a three-way battle to succeed U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein plays out, her recent absence from the Senate has renewed calls for her to resign and let Gov. Newsom appoint a temporary replacement.
CalMatters held a contest for students to write opinion pieces about Earth Day.
Third place: California schools remain vulnerable to climate change, writes Andrew Zhou, a junior at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino. Here are excerpts from some of the 120-plus submissions. And read more from our engagement team about the contest.
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