Editorial Roundup: United States

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

June 25

The Washington Post says GOP support for gun bill offers hope for more reform

Fifteen Republicans in the Senate and 14 in the House joined with congressional Democrats this week to break more than 25 years of inaction on gun safety. That these Republicans, many of whom had ratings of A or A-plus from the National Rifle Association, defied the gun lobby with their support of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act suggests they saw the political peril in doing nothing about the gun violence gripping the country. Indeed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted for the bill, admitted as much when he said he hoped GOP support for the measure “will be viewed favorably by voters” as the party seeks to regain the majority next year.

The public sentiment for gun safety that has steadily built with each mass shooting, finally forcing Republicans to drop their ironclad opposition, offers hope that the legislation, signed into law by President Biden on Saturday, will be the first and not last step in bringing some rationality to the nation’s gun laws.

The 80-page bill, produced by a small group of Republican and Democratic senators in the aftermath of back-to-back mass shootings at a Buffalo grocery store and a Texas school, falls far short of the tough but common-sense measures long sought by gun-control advocates. There are no universal background checks, no ban of large-capacity magazines, no requirements for safe storage of weapons and no action — not even raising the minimum age of purchase — on assault weapons. That, though, does not detract from the significance of what was achieved.

Among the worthwhile reforms: enhanced background checks for younger gun buyers to include juvenile and mental health records; incentives for states to adopt red-flag laws that allow guns to be temporarily confiscated from people deemed dangerous by a judge; tougher penalties on illegal gun purchases; and revision of a federal law intended to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers to close the “boyfriend loophole.” Those measures — along with billions of new federal dollars to expand mental health programs and improve school safety — will save lives.

Credit for the hard work of fashioning a compromise that both sides could agree to goes to Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R- Tex.), aided by Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Mr. Murphy had just been elected to the Senate in 2012 when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in his home state and has been tireless in his pursuit of common-sense gun control despite many setbacks. Mr. Cornyn’s willingness to negotiate — and his refusal to back down even when faced with withering criticism from former president Donald Trump, Fox News and his state GOP party — is equally praiseworthy. So is his forthrightness in standing up to the NRA. “We worked with the NRA, listened to their concerns, but in the end I think they simply — they have a membership and a business model that will not allow them to support any legislation,” Mr. Cornyn said.

Passage of the bill came a day after the Supreme Court expanded gun rights by striking down a New York law limiting the carrying of guns in public. That ill-advised and dangerous ruling may have tempered any celebration over the gun bill, but it can’t squelch the public sentiment that has risen up in support of rational gun-safety laws.

ONLINE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/25/republican-support-gun-legislation-bigger-reforms/

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June 25

According to the New York Times, the SCOTUS puts gun rights above human life

The Supreme Court this week embraced a vision of the Second Amendment that is profoundly at odds with precedent and the dangers that American communities face today, upending the longstanding practice of letting states decide for themselves how to regulate gun possession in public.

This decision reveals the vast gulf between ideologues on the court and those Americans — ordinary people and their representatives in Congress — who want this country to be safer from guns. As the high court issued its 135-page ruling, the Senate, across the street, approved an 80-page bipartisan bill that tightens restrictions on who can possess and purchase a gun. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Friday, and President Biden signed it Saturday. This breakthrough came after decades of virtually no congressional action on gun safety and was fueled by public outrage over a series of mass shootings, including the recent massacres in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo.

Gun enthusiasts and gun manufacturers have long sought a ruling like the one the court delivered on Thursday: Its decision in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, is an assertion that the Second Amendment trumps reasonable efforts to protect public safety. The United States as it exists today — awash in insufficiently regulated, high-powered weapons and afflicted by staggeringly high rates of gun homicide and suicide — is the society that their preferred policies have created. The best that gun control advocates can hope for after the Bruen ruling is what Congress passed: gradual legislative tinkering.

In its 6-to-3 ruling, the supermajority of Republican-appointed justices struck down a century-old New York law that placed strict limits on handguns. But the decision will also affect similar laws in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii and California. Many of those are states with some of the lowest rates of gun deaths in the country. Extensive research has shown that strict regulation of guns leads to fewer deaths.

Relying on a highly selective reading of history, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his majority opinion that these gun restrictions violate the court’s new interpretation of the Second Amendment. (It was only in 2008, with its decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, that conservatives on the court divined an individual right to bear arms hidden somewhere in the 27 words of the Second Amendment.)

New York’s law requires that a person seeking a concealed carry permit for a handgun must show a good reason for doing so, known as proper cause, which covers law enforcement officers and others who can demonstrate a reason to fear for their own safety.

“We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need,” Justice Thomas wrote. “It is not how the Second Amendment works when it comes to public carry for self-defense.”

The majority left open the ability of states to ban guns from certain “sensitive” places such as schools and government buildings, but it cautioned that “there is no historical basis for New York to effectively declare the island of Manhattan a ‘sensitive place.’”

What about, for instance, the subway, the site of a mass shooting in April? The court didn’t say, as Justice Stephen Breyer noted in his dissent.

That leaves an opening for the states to decide which spaces are off limits. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York plans to call the Legislature back for a special session to address the ruling for just that reason. Lawmakers will consider legislation that could designate New York’s public transit system a sensitive place, along with schools, parks, hospitals and office buildings, and buffer zones around them. The state should also institute extensive training requirements for concealed weapons permits.

Lawmakers in several other states that will likely be affected by the decision said they were working to tweak their laws to meet the court’s new standard for permissible firearms regulation.

The justices bickered openly in their written opinions in the Bruen ruling, with the three liberals on the court pointing to various grim statistics on mass shootings and suicides, while Justice Samuel Alito asked what any of those deaths had to do with handgun regulations.

Their discord reflects a grim truth about gun violence in the United States: It is several distinct and deadly crises happening simultaneously — suicides by firearms, homicides related to domestic violence, gang killings and spectacular mass shootings.

Cities, states and the federal government have approached these overlapping crises in various ways and with varying degrees of success. Broadly speaking, regulating guns saves lives. More guns and less regulation of them result in more deaths. The new legislation aims to tackle several types of gun violence at the same time.

Called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the law will enhance background checks for potential gun buyers under age 21, which might have helped thwart the mass shooting in Uvalde. It directs millions of dollars to states to put in place so-called red flag laws or other crisis intervention efforts, which will help stop domestic violence-related killings and suicides. It adds “serious dating partners” to the list of domestic abusers prohibited from buying guns, which is now limited to spouses and domestic partners. It also directs millions of dollars to mental health and school safety programs.

The specifics of this bill matter. Of equal importance is the fact that the bipartisan legislation tackles an issue that has stymied Congress for decades. It isn’t quite true, as some supporters of the new bill claim, that there hasn’t been any gun control legislation passed in the past 30 years. Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a minor update to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in 2018. But no legislation equal to the size of the problem has made it to a president’s desk.

With this new law, however limited, lawmakers are at least responding to the fundamental mandate of every elected government to protect its citizens. Given the political paralysis in Congress on so many other issues, any progress on guns is progress worth making.

ONLINE: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/25/opinion/supreme-court-gun-control-bill.html

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June 24

The Wall Street Journal suggests that abortion will still be widely available in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion could soon become illegal in half of the country. Or so Democrats warn. But it’s impossible to know how the debate will play out in many states. And a study this month by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, suggests that the practical consequences for abortion could be far less severe.

Many GOP states have increased abortion regulation in recent years, including parental consent and notification requirements for minors and mandated waiting periods. Yet abortions increased 8% nationwide between 2017 and 2020, according to Guttmacher’s abortion provider survey.

More abortions aren’t something to celebrate, especially as births simultaneously declined 6% in the same period. But Guttmacher claims it may be a positive development “if it means people are getting the health care they want and need.” This is a tacit admission that stricter laws in GOP states haven’t stopped women from obtaining abortions.

One reason is that left-leaning states have expanded access to abortion. Abortions increased by 25% between 2017 and 2020 in Illinois as more pregnant women came from surrounding states with more restrictive laws. Illinois in 2018 also began covering abortions with state Medicaid funds. Abortion providers responded to increasing demand by opening more clinics.

Progressives claim traveling to other states to get an abortion will be a grave hardship for women. But the Guttmacher report suggests that thousands of women already do so. Many employers in recent months have also offered to cover the travel costs of employees in states where abortion is banned to get an abortion elsewhere.

Abortions have also increased as “local and national abortion funds increased their capacity and helped even more people pay for their abortions,” the report says. Many pro-abortion rights groups have used the potential demise of Roe to boost their fundraising. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday will be a fundraising boon for Planned Parenthood.

States that are more likely to ban abortion already regulate it more strictly, so the Court’s decision may have a smaller effect in those states. The Guttmacher report notes that because restrictions in recent years “were adopted in states generally considered hostile to abortion rights already, they may not have played as much of a role as the measures expanding access” in other states.

This evidence from an abortion-rights group suggests that abortion will still be widely available in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade. States will respond to the Court’s decision in different ways, and that’s the beauty of the U.S. federalist system.

ONLINE: https://www.wsj.com/articles/abortion-in-the-states-after-roe-guttmacher-institute-supreme-court-dobbs-v-jackson-11656109885

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June 24

The Los Angeles Times says Roe being overturned should serve as a call to action – to fight to get it back

In a dreaded and once-unfathomable decision, the Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade. It’s a dark time in America as this once-revered institution has taken the rare and awful path of depriving people of their rights.

With its 5-4 decision the court abolished the constitutional right to an abortion up to the point of viability of the fetus outside the womb, forcing the nation back 50 years to a time when state legislators decided whether to allow pregnant women control over their bodies.

Or maybe the court has taken us back even further in time. Part of the justification for overturning Roe was because centuries of history indicate abortion was criminalized. “When the majority says that we must read our foundational charter as viewed at the time of ratification (except that we may also check it against the Dark Ages), it consigns women to second-class citizenship,” the three dissenting justices wrote.

The decision was not a surprise, because a draft had been leaked earlier this year. But it’s devastating nonetheless that the Supreme Court has chosen to take away a constitutional right. The repercussions will be quick and severe: 13 states have trigger laws and others have pre-Roe bans still on the books. In Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi — the state that brought the case that led to the ruling Friday — the ban will go into effect within hours of Roe being overturned.

Even if we don’t return to the time of back-alley abortions, what’s ahead is uncertainty. For those living in states that outlaw or severely restrict the procedure, getting an abortion will now involve traveling hundreds of miles out of state to find care — with all the attendant costs — or obtaining medical abortion pills. But obtaining the drugs through the mail might be considered a crime under these state laws and subject to prosecution. Some states are considering how to ban the pills.

As always, abortion restrictions fall heaviest on those who already have trouble accessing healthcare — people of color, people in rural areas, disabled people and those with low incomes who have less ability to pay for the procedure as well as arrange for child care and time off from work while they go to another state for abortion care.

This is not a simple matter of returning a controversial issue to the states to decide, as Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. makes it sound in his opinion. The Supreme Court is depriving people of the right to control their own bodies and allowing state politics to determine the existence of a fundamental liberty.

Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right to choose a path — to either end or continue a pregnancy. It is incalculable how much that freedom, that opportunity, that choice to control one’s body shapes a person’s life. And everyone, not just those who can get pregnant, should be outraged that the court would do more to ensure that people can carry a concealed gun in public than defend the right of Americans to make personal reproductive decisions.

The three liberal justices who dissented in this decision — Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — ended their opinion with this heartbreaking coda: “With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.”

So be angry about what the court did. Feel betrayed that Brett M. Kavanaugh, Neil M. Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett all said during their Senate confirmation hearings that Roe was a precedent, which many took to mean they wouldn’t seek to overturn it.

The conservatives on the court have forced this nation back to an age that most Americans don’t remember well, if at all. The work now falls on this generation to restore the right to abortion and personal freedom.

What abortion rights advocates are doing — and what everyone should be focused on — is how to make abortion accessible across the nation in a post-Roe world. Dozens of organizations across the country are raising money to help needy people without means to travel for an abortion.

A number of states have introduced motions to enshrine the right to abortion in their constitutions. California is one of them. Legislators here have also introduced bills to help fund abortions and thwart other states’ efforts to criminalize any of their residents when they seek abortions in this state.

The Biden administration is exploring options to help women get abortions as well — including declaring a public health emergency, which might protect doctors in states that allow abortion when they provide the procedure to people from states that don’t allow it. The Food and Drug Administration already allows abortion pills to be shipped to a person after a telehealth consultation. There is a move afoot to get the Food and Drug Administration to declare that its federal authorization of the use and shipment of the drugs nationwide overrides any state trying to ban the sale or receipt of them. Sadly, the Women’s Health Protection Act, a federal bill that would ensure the right to an abortion, was voted down in the Senate recently.

This is just the beginning of a battle over reproductive rights in America, and possibly for other rights as well. In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider landmark decisions on contraception, sodomy laws and same-sex marriage. If that seems unthinkable, consider how unlikely it seemed even a year ago that Roe vs. Wade would fall.

Dark times, indeed.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-06-24/editorial-roe-overturned-supreme-court-outraged

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June 26

The Guardian

The decision, when it came on Friday, was not a surprise. Even before the dramatic leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion last month, it was widely predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would grab the opportunity presented by the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case to rescind the decision made in 1973 in Roe v Wade. This, after all, was the purpose of President Trump’s three Supreme Court selections – and the culmination of a decades-long campaign by anti-abortionists to return to states the authority to ban the procedure. But the announcement still came as a shock. The U.S.’s global influence means that the decision to remove a woman’s constitutional right to abortion there reverberates far beyond its shores.

The speed with which multiple U.S. states reacted is disturbing; already, abortion has been outlawed in 10, with 11 more expected to follow shortly. While all women should be entitled to control their own lives and bodies, there are instances when denying this is particularly cruel. Americans who oppose forced pregnancy and birth now face the horror of rape and incest victims, including children, being compelled to become mothers. The U.S. is exceptional in its lack of federal maternity provisions; children as well as parents will suffer the consequences of unwanted additions to their families, with poor and black people the worst affected.

Early signs are that the most extreme Republican legislatures could try to block girls and women from travelling out of state for treatment, and impose further restrictions on care delivered remotely including medication sent by mail. The potential for personal data stored online, including on menstrual apps, to be used against women is causing justified alarm. Having relied on Roe v. Wade to protect access to abortion for half a century, politicians can no longer do so. Abortion is now set to become a key issue in this autumn’s midterms.

How this pans out will depend on public opinion; polling data suggest that 85% of Americans support legal abortion in some circumstances, and Democrats hope that this could work to their advantage. But the anti-abortion right is a formidable force. With hindsight, President Obama’s decision not to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s choice not to retire when he could have nominated a replacement, look like disastrous errors.

The three liberal justices who dissented said they did so with sorrow for “many millions of American women” and also for the court itself. With this decision, it has chosen to reopen deep wounds. The 14th amendment on which Roe v. Wade rested granted rights to former slaves, and is the basis for other crucial decisions including on same-sex marriage. By dismissing Roe v. Wade in the way that they did, and against the wishes of Chief Justice John Roberts (who argued to retain it, while allowing Mississippi’s 15-week rule to stand), the court’s hard-right wing has seized control.

Unprecedented division, and greatly increased hardship and risk for those denied safe healthcare, will be the outcome. While there is reassurance in noting moves elsewhere towards liberalization, U.S. anti-abortionists are far from unique, as tightened restrictions in Poland and the situation in Northern Ireland show. It is too soon to say whether Trump’s justices and their backers have overreached from an electoral perspective. If there is an early lesson to be drawn, it is that once gained, women’s rights must be constantly defended.

ONLINE: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/26/the-guardian-view-on-overturning-roe-v-wade-anti-abortionists-reign-supreme

END

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