Federal Courts Greenlight State Abortion Bans While State Courts Halt Enforcement
Plus: Video game play time doesn't affect well-being, crypto groups applaud the Virtual Currency Tax Fairness Act, and more...
Courts are delivering mixed results when asked to weigh whether state abortion bans can take effect. Since the Supreme Court issued its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization—overturning Roe v. Wade and upending American abortion access—state abortion bans (some predating Roe, some passed in recent years but unenforced) have begun to take effect. Pro-choice challenges to these laws have been met with mixed results.
Abortion Bans in Federal Court
A federal court blocked an Arizona personhood law—which grants full personhood status to fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs—from applying to abortion providers, who were worried that the 2021 law could be used to criminalize them. The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of two abortion providers, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and several other groups. Under the vague law, it was "anyone's guess" as to how abortion doctors may be treated—"and that is the problem," wrote U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes in his ruling. "When the punitive and regulatory weight of the entire Arizona code is involved, Plaintiffs should not have to guess at whether their conduct is on the right or the wrong side of the law."
However, this doesn't mean abortion is necessarily legal in Arizona right now. "Arizona's personhood law is one of several conflicting laws on the books, including a pre-Roe ban, adding to the confusion on whether abortion providers can resume services," explains the ACLU. "Republican state Attorney General Mark Brnovich said on June 29 that the pre-statehood law could be enforced," notes the Associated Press. "Brnovich said he would seek to remove an injunction in place since shortly after the Roe decision."
Most other post-Dobbs federal court rulings on abortion laws have gone in their favor.
In Alabama, a federal court lifted a 2019 injunction that had been blocking enforcement of the Human Life Protection Act, which bans all abortion except if a mother's life is threatened. In light of the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs, a legal basis for blocking the Alabama ban "no longer exists," wrote U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.
A federal court also allowed "heartbeat laws" in Georgia and South Carolina to take effect. Both laws ban most abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected (which can be as early as a few weeks into gestation); the Georgia law also designates an embryo or fetus as a "natural person."
A July 20 decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit allowed the Georgia abortion ban to take effect immediately. "The new definition of a 'natural person' in Georgia code touches everything from tax provisions to driving in the HOV lane," notes Georgia Public Radio, suggesting that the personhood language "creates more questions than answers for both the state's health care and legal system." The ACLU just filed a new challenge to the law.
Meanwhile, in the Midwest, federal judges lifted injunctions on enforcing an Indiana law that bans a common second-trimester abortion procedure and an Ohio "heartbeat law."
"The [Indiana] law prohibits doctors from performing dilation and evacuation abortions unless to prevent serious health risk or save the life of the mother," notes Politico. "A doctor violating the law could face a felony charge, punishable by up to six years in prison."
The Ohio law, like Georgia's, bans abortion after fetal cardiac activity is present. The day the Dobbs ruling came down, Ohio's attorney general asked a court to lift a 2019 injunction on enforcing the law. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio quickly complied.
Abortion bans in state courts
State courts have also offered up mixed rulings on abortion bans but have been more likely than federal courts to temporarily block them. (This makes sense, considering that Roe has been overturned but state laws and Constitutions may still provide protections for legal abortion.)
Mississippi and South Carolina are the outliers. On Tuesday, a South Carolina judge ruled against a motion to temporarily block the state's heartbeat bill as the state's high court hears a challenge to it. Richland County Judge L. Casey Manning "made the decision after the Republican-led state petitioned to have the case heard by the state's top court immediately, rather than work its way through appeals," reports Reuters. "Manning said he would ask the high court to take up the case."
In early July, a Mississippi judge rejected a motion to temporarily block enforcement of a law banning almost all abortion. The motion was filed by Jackson Women's Health Organization, the abortion clinic at the center of the Supreme Court case. (The SCOTUS case involved a 15-week ban on abortion, but Mississippi also had a 2007 trigger law on the books—banning all abortion except for cases of rape, incest, or where a mother's life was at risk—that took effect upon the overturning of Roe.) The clinic dropped its lawsuit last week, "a day after clinic owner Diane Derzis said that she sold the facility and had no intention to reopen it, even if a state court allowed her to do so," notes Al Jazeera.
Things have gone the opposite way in some other Southern states. For instance, in Louisiana, state judges temporarily blocked the state's near-total ban on abortion from taking effect, after abortion providers sought permission to keep offering abortion while a case against the law moves forward. "That order was granted June 27 but then dissolved July 8, when the lawsuit was moved to a different jurisdiction. For a few days, abortion was illegal throughout Louisiana," notes The Washington Post. Then the new judge granted another temporary restraining order against enforcement.
In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Mitch Perry granted a temporary injunction against enforcement of a 2019 trigger law that banned abortion unless a woman's life was at risk. Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron has since "asked the Kentucky Court of Appeals to intervene on the lower court's order and allow the trigger law to take effect once again," reports the Lexington Herald-Leader. Kentucky is also one of several states that will put abortion to a vote soon.
In West Virginia, a county circuit court issued a preliminary injunction against the state enforcing a pre-Roe abortion ban, following a motion from the Women's Health Center of West Virginia. The more than 150-year-old law makes it a felony to "administer," "cause," or "use any means" to induce abortion and is punishable by three to 10 years in prison. West Virginia's attorney general says the state will appeal the injunction.
A state judge in Utah also blocked a near-total ban on abortion that was passed in 2020 and set to take effect if Roe was overturned. After a June order halting enforcement for two weeks, the judge ruled in July that enforcement would continue to be suspended as a lawsuit against the ban proceeded. However, an 18-week ban, passed in 2019, was allowed to go into effect. The 2019 law had been on hold after Planned Parenthood of Utah challenged it and a federal court issued a temporary injunction on enforcement. After the Dobbs decision, a federal court dismissed that injunction.
You can find more on the state of state abortion bans here.
Study finds little correlation between time spent playing video games and levels of well-being. For the study, researchers looked at play data for players of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Apex Legends, Eve Online, Forza Horizon 4, Gran Turismo Sport, and The Crew 2. They found little connection between either negative or positive well-being and time spent playing games. Their findings were published this week in Royal Society Open Science.
The same group of researchers recently published findings that time spent playing popular online shooter games Apex Legends and Outriders "did not increase aggressive affect; the cross-lagged association between game time and aggressive affect was virtually zero."
"One thing is certain—right now there is not enough data and evidence for policymakers and regulators to be developing laws and rules to restrict gameplay among certain groups in a population," said Matti Vuorre, study co-author and a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute, in a statement.
Bipartisan legislation would stop the need for disclosure of small cryptocurrency transactions. Under the Virtual Currency Tax Fairness Act—co-sponsored by Sens. Patrick Toomey (R–Pa.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D–Ariz.)—small-scale, personal transactions with cryptocurrency would not need to be reported.
"While digital currencies have the potential to become an ordinary part of Americans' everyday lives, our current tax code stands in the way," says Toomey.
"Under current law, every time a digital asset is used, a taxable event occurs," explains a press release from the senators:
For example, if an individual uses digital assets to purchase a cup of coffee, the individual would owe capital gains on the transaction if the digital asset appreciated in value—even if the asset appreciated by only a fraction of a penny. The Virtual Currency Tax Fairness Act would simplify the use of digital assets for everyday transactions by creating a sensible de minimis exemption for gains of less than $50 on personal transactions and for personal transactions under $50.
Leaders of Coin Center, the Blockchain Association, the Crypto Council for Innovation, the Association for Digital Asset Markets, and the Chamber of Digital Commerce support the bill.
28 women held at an Indiana jail are suing after guards gave the keys to their cells to incarcerated men in exchange for a $1000 bribe, allowing the men to rape and assault the women. https://t.co/jw6rQIN4Uy
— Gillian Branstetter (@GBBranstetter) July 26, 2022
• "The federal government's decadeslong war on marijuana, one of the most life-mangling policies ever enacted, could be ended with a single sentence: The Controlled Substances Act shall not apply to marijuana," notes Reason's Matt Welch.
• "One of the most common criticisms of cryptocurrency is that it is just a way to get around financial rules and regulations," writes Tyler Cowen. "That criticism is not entirely wrong—but with crypto, as with many other innovations, regulatory arbitrage is a feature, not a bug."
• The latest in antitrust silliness: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) wants to stop airline mergers, despite evidence that they lower airfares.
• Teen employment rates are way up. The Washington Post explores why.
• Democrats condemn Hulu for refusing to run Democrats' midterm campaign ads.
• In Saudi Arabia, "newly revealed design concepts show a futuristic walled city—its open interior is enclosed on both sides by a mirrored façade—stretching from the Red Sea eastward across the desert and into a mountain range."