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For indigenous protesters, defending the environment can be fatal

Adán Vez Lira, a prominent defender of an ecological reserve in Mexico, was shot while riding his motorcycle in April. Four years earlier, the renowned activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead in her home in Honduras by assailants taking direction from executives responsible for a dam she had opposed. Four years before that, Cambodian forest and land activist Chut Wutty was killed during a brawl with the country’s military police while investigating illegal logging.

These are some of the most prominent examples of violence faced by environmental activists in recent years — but, according to a new report, they are not unusual. As police crack down on protests demanding justice and equity in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in the U.S., it’s clear that activism in general comes at a heavy price. Environmental activists specifically — particularly indigenous activists and activists of color — have for years faced high rates of criminalization, physical violence, and even murder for their efforts to protect the planet, according to a comprehensive analysis by researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, which was released last Tuesday.

The researchers analyzed nearly 2,800 social conflicts related to the environment using the Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) database, which they created in 2011 to monitor environmental conflicts around the world. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, found that 20 percent of environmental defenders faced criminal charges or were imprisoned, 18 percent were victims of physical violence, and 13 percent were killed between 2011 and 2019. The likelihood of these consequences increased significantly for indigenous environmental defenders: 27 percent faced criminalization, 25 percent were victims of physical violence, and 19 percent were murdered.

“We can think of this as compounded injustice, highlighting the extreme risks vulnerable communities opposing social and environmental violence against them face when they stand up for their rights,” one of the study’s researchers, Leah Temper, told Grist.

Environmental defenders, as the researchers defined them, are individuals or collectives that mobilize and protest against unsustainable or harmful uses of the environment. Examples of the sort of conflict covered by the study are the construction of pipelines on tribal lands, illegal mining in the Amazon rainforest, oil extraction in the Arctic, and the construction of fossil fuel refineries.

The analysis draws on last year’s report from the human rights and environmental watchdog organization Global Witness, which found that at least 164 environmental activists were killed in 2018 alone. The Philippines was named the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders, who have been called terrorists by President Rodrigo Duterte.

In fact, not long after these findings, 37-year-old Brandon Lee, an American environmental activist who was in the Philippines on a volunteer mission, was shot four times in Ifugao province by unknown assailants after his group, the Ifugao Peasant Movement — a farmers group opposing a hydropower project — had been labeled an “enemy of the state” across social media by propagandists. As of April, Lee was recovering in his hometown of San Francisco, but he remains paralyzed from the chest down.

The lead author of last week’s study, Arnim Scheidel, said he hopes that the analysis gives lawmakers and the public a better understanding of the causes of the violence that protesters still face around the world.

“Globally, indigenous peoples suffer significantly higher rates of violence in environmental conflicts,” Scheidel said. “Being aware of these connections may help to connect struggles against various forms of racism worldwide. Protest is key for the success of such struggles, particularly when using diverse channels and building on broad alliances.”

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For indigenous protesters, defending the environment can be fatal

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Valve turners try to shut off Minnesota pipelines, say ‘politicians won’t act’

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Four climate activists attempted to shut down the Enbridge Line 3 and Line 4 pipelines, which carry oil from Canada’s tar sands region into the U.S., on Monday.

In a statement, the group called themselves “The Four Necessity Valve Turners,” a nod to the so-called “necessity defense,” which it will likely use to defend its actions in court in the coming months.

“The extraction of the tar sands oil flowing through these pipes represents an ongoing atrocity against the boreal forests of Canada,” said Daniel Yildirim, one of the activists. “I refuse to stand by in silence as this river of death flows through the Great Lakes region.”

Added Allyson Polman, another of those involved in the action: “This is an act of grief for the state of violence the world is in. This is an act of celebration for the beauty of the earth.”

The four activists disrupted the pipeline near Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota. According to the Four Necessity Valve Turners website, their intervention involved cutting the locks on an emergency cut-off valve in the pipeline, and then manually turning the valve closed.

The group had informed Enbridge before conducting the action — and the company subsequently shut the pipeline off remotely. The activists, who are members of the Catholic Worker movement, have been arrested and are currently being held at the Itasca County jail. The quartet posted a video of its action on Twitter, writing: “Since politicians won’t act, we did.”

A Minnesota judge recently dropped charges against another group of activists for a similar valve-turning action in 2016. The decision meant the defendants were not able to make the argument that climate change has grown into such a dire emergency that it requires acts of civil disobedience.

A replacement for the Line 3 pipeline, which is more than 50 years old, has become a sticking point in Minnesota politics with youth activists and tribes arguing against new fossil fuel infrastructure on both climate and pollution grounds.

In a statement provided to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Enbridge said: “The actions taken to trespass on our facility and tamper with energy infrastructure were reckless and dangerous.”

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Valve turners try to shut off Minnesota pipelines, say ‘politicians won’t act’

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What does the Violence Against Women Act have to do with climate change?

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As the world heats up, it’s also becoming more violent. There’s been a lot of research linking climate change to war, violent crime, and even road rage. But you may not have heard that climate disasters like hurricanes Harvey and Michael were accompanied by a surge in intimate partner violence, or IPV. (The term is favored over “domestic violence” for encompassing different relationships and genders.)

Hurricanes often lead to displacement and isolation, which makes people more vulnerable to IPV. And climate change in general disproportionately impacts those who are already more likely to experience IPV: low-income women, women of color, and women experiencing homelessness.

To compound the problem, resources to address IPV are limited after climate disasters, when more people tend to need them. In the year following Hurricane Harvey, the number of women who sought help at a Houston-based crisis center doubled, as Yessenia Funes writes in Earther. Shelters are sometimes forced to close their doors in the wake of disasters. After Hurricane Florence, a domestic violence shelter in Wilmington with 19 beds was left in shambles.

The closely connected issues of climate change and IPV — both of which the federal government has a long history of ignoring — will only grow more pressing as time goes on. “This growing impact of climate change will continue to put more women at risk for experiencing violence,” says Jennifer First, program manager at the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri. “We need effective mechanisms to be developed and evaluated to address this problem.”

Yet rather than developing more policies and services, Congress may be about to do the opposite. On Friday, the Violence Against Women Act, the most robust federal attempt to address intimate partner violence, is set to expire unless Congress renews it. Since its passage in 1994, the act has funded critical services for survivors, including legal assistance, rape crisis centers, domestic violence centers, and transitional housing. It has also helped survivors of IPV get green cards. These services are all crucial in the wake of climate disasters.

That said, the act has some notable flaws. While amendments have broadened the scope of who is protected under the act (including LGBTQ couples and undocumented immigrants), some advocates say it’s still not comprehensive enough in addressing the staggering rates of sexual violence against Native American women. A new reauthorization of the act, introduced by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat, would fill in some of these gaps, but would still fail to protect Native American tribes in Alaska and Maine.

Additionally, 85 percent of VAWA’s funding goes toward the criminal legal system. This reliance on criminalization can perpetuate abuse, as Leigh Goodmark, law professor at the University of Maryland, argues in the Conversation. Research shows that mandatory arrest laws, for instance, make abusers more likely to murder their partners.

IPV needs to be thought of as a broader structural issue rather than just a criminal justice issue, explains Samantha Majic, an associate professor of political science at John Jay College who researches and writes on sex work and gender. “Women are not subject to intimate partner violence just because men are bad, but also because they don’t have economic options that make it easier to leave the situation,” she says.

Despite its shortcomings, the act brings up an important conversation: how to equitably address the national epidemic of IPV in tangent with that other issue the government repeatedly fails to act on — climate change.

Jennifer First of the University of Missouri has developed a framework for social organizations and all layers of government to incorporate domestic violence in disaster recovery and preparedness efforts. One of the ideas behind the framework is cross-training. “Many emergency management first responders may not know what to do in a domestic violence situation,” she explains. And in turn, she says, “many domestic violence shelters may not think about environmental disasters.”

The framework is currently being implemented by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence. First hopes this model will eventually spread around the country.

As VAWA sits in congressional purgatory, it’s becoming apparent that addressing IPV means more than renewing the act. It also means dealing with climate change and preparing for disasters with the most vulnerable people in mind.

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What does the Violence Against Women Act have to do with climate change?

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Today’s Terror Attack Was Fake News

Mother Jones

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Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States:

I would like to begin by addressing the terrorist attack in Manila. We’re closely monitoring the situation and I will continue to give updates if anything happens during this period of time. But it is really very sad as to what’s going on throughout the world with terror. Our thoughts and our prayers are with all of those affected.

What? A terrorist attack in Manila?

Oh. So what was going on?

A masked gunman stormed a hotel-casino complex in the Philippine capital early Friday, shooting up a TV screen, torching gambling tables and stuffing a backpack with casino chips before fleeing, authorities said….A guard was shot during the melee but survived, and more than 70 others suffered mostly minor injuries in a stampede to get away from the gunman, who was wielding an assault rifle.

Within three hours of the violence at the complex near Manila’s airport, police said that they uncovered no ties to terrorism and suggested the motive could have been robbery.

Roger that. As usual, Trump was just making stuff up.

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Today’s Terror Attack Was Fake News

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She Was Desperate. She Tried to End Her Own Pregnancy. She Was Thrown in Jail

Mother Jones

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Gracia Lam

One night in May 2009, Jocelyn packed a backpack and left the ramshackle house in Naples, Utah, where she lived with her mom and two of her five siblings. She was six months pregnant—a condition that had caused the 17-year-old to drop out of high school and become alienated from her Mormon family. That night she’d broken up with her new boyfriend, who, though not the father, was her biggest source of support.

She planned to hitchhike 2,000 miles to Florida, where her dad lived, even though they hadn’t spoken in years. She only made it to a gas station a block away before she stopped, in tears. Aaron Harrison, a “Goth” 21-year-old, approached Jocelyn and asked if he could help. “I was a mess, I was crying, I didn’t know what to do,” she remembers. “I told him everything. I even told him about thinking of ending the pregnancy.” He asked if she wanted to go to his place nearby and talk.

Jocelyn (which is not her real name), a petite woman with wavy brown hair and a soft twang, told Harrison that her boyfriend had suggested an abortion could be caused by a punch in the stomach, and that they had even discussed resolving her pregnancy problem this way. So Harrison struck a deal with her. If he beat her up so she would miscarry, Jocelyn would give him the $150 she’d brought for her trip. If anyone asked, she’d say she had been sexually assaulted.

He was more than cooperative. Once inside his house, he punched her in the stomach, slapped her face, and bit her neck. Jocelyn says they also had sex, thinking it would help their cover story.

But things quickly got out of hand—”he hit me really hard”—and Jocelyn ran out of the house, shocked, bruised, and appalled by what they’d done. “I felt so sad for my baby,” she tells me. “I felt awful that I’d just agreed to any of it. But I also felt like a victim.” She called her mom and told her she’d been sexually assaulted. Jocelyn’s mom took her to the police station, where she was questioned by a detective. Jocelyn stuck with her story at first, but the cop kept questioning her, she says, well into the middle of the night. After she finally confessed, the police took her to the hospital. Her unborn baby was alive.

The next day, Jocelyn was arrested. “The county attorney said, ‘Take her straight to detention,'” she says. “‘This is insane, this is unacceptable, this is attempted murder.'” Jocelyn was moved to Split Mountain, a juvenile center, and charged with solicitation of murder, which would have been a felony if she were an adult. Harrison was also arrested and charged with attempted murder.

“That was the worst moment of my life,” Jocelyn, now 25, tells me from her home in Vernal, Utah, with two young children cooing behind her.

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump said women who end their pregnancies ought to face “some form of punishment.” He was met with an onslaught of criticism, even from anti-abortion groups, which characterized his position as “completely out of touch with the pro-life movement.” Before efforts to decriminalize abortion began in the late 1960s, women were rarely prosecuted for attempting to access the procedure. Anti-abortion advocates argued then, as most do now, that women, like their fetuses, were victims. After Trump’s comments, March for Life issued a press release with the headline “No Pro-Life American Advocates Punishment for Abortion.” Jeanne Mancini, the organization’s president, went further, saying, “Being pro-life means wanting what is best for the mother and the baby. We invite a woman who has gone down this route to consider paths to healing, not punishment.”

Trump quickly walked back his statement; doctors, he said, not women, should be punished. But his remarks exposed a tension at the heart of the pro-life legal movement: How can abortion become illegal without punishing the women who seek them? The question has come into greater relief over the last several decades, as state and federal laws have evolved to regard fetal deaths as potential homicides. With Republicans now in control of federal judicial nominations and most statehouses, growing gaps in the abortion rights landscape seem likely to drive more women to self-abort, just as several high-profile cases have shown prosecutors willing to bring charges against those who take desperate measures to end their pregnancies.

Mother Jones has identified at least two dozen cases since Roe v. Wade in which women faced investigation or prosecution for a self-induced abortion, according to a review of news reports, scholarly articles, and court documents. But Jill E. Adams, who leads the Self-Induced Abortion Legal Team at the University of California-Berkeley, says the real number is unknown. In the eight years following Jocelyn’s arrest, eight women, almost all in the Midwestern or Southern United States, have been investigated, charged, or prosecuted for trying to end pregnancies, or for being suspected of doing so. About half the women charged since Roe, including Jocelyn, were accused of homicide, manslaughter, or a related crime—charges enabled by “fetal homicide laws,” which are on the books in 38 states and make killing a fetus a crime.

Fetal homicide laws are the result of a two-pronged strategy that anti-abortion groups adopted after their 1973 Supreme Court defeat in Roe: They pushed state laws that made abortions harder to get and expanded the legal rights of fetuses so that the public, and eventually the courts, would begin to regard the unborn—no matter what stage of development—as children. Advocates started by working to define life as beginning at conception in nonabortion contexts—property or contract law, for instance.

But criminal prosecutions of anyone who killed a fetus soon followed. In one of the earliest such cases, attorneys for Americans United for Life, the nation’s most influential pro-life legal group, fought to get an Illinois man prosecuted for murder after he shot a pregnant woman, allegedly killing her unborn child. (He was found not guilty; a judge was not convinced his bullet had killed the fetus.)

In 1984, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the state’s vehicular homicide statute should apply to a driver who crashed into a pedestrian and killed her eight-and-a-half-month-old fetus. In 1986, a year after the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the state’s vehicular homicide law shouldn’t apply to fetuses, the Legislature stepped in to pass a fetal homicide law starting from the moment of conception.

These rulings and laws represented the first cracks in the so-called “born alive” rule, which required a child to be alive and out of the womb before it could be considered the victim of a homicide; the standard had been used by virtually every jurisdiction in the United States for more than a century. In 1987, Clarke Forsythe, a new Americans United for Life lawyer, released a paper (paywall) with model fetal homicide legislation aimed at further unraveling the born-alive standard. He led a team of young pro-life lawyers and advocates who argued that in an era with technology that is capable of determining the precise status of a fetus in utero and even, in rare occasions, the cause of death, the born-alive standard was arcane and immoral. “Modern medicine made that rule obsolete,” Forsythe told me.

By 1994, 17 states had fetal homicide laws on the books. Mary Ziegler, a legal historian and author of the book After Roe, says the particular genius of fetal homicide laws was “you could convince lawmakers to pass them even if they were uneasy with the pro-life movement. They were personhood laws, but they didn’t apply to abortion.”

Mountain ranges and hills surround Uintah County, where Jocelyn grew up. Giant dinosaur statues are scattered throughout the area, an homage to nearby paleontology digs. For decades, many of Uintah’s 38,000 mostly Mormon residents worked extracting oil and shale gas. Jocelyn and her five siblings grew up in Jensen, with a population of fewer than 500, in the northern part of the county. Her mother waitressed and her father worked as a carpenter until a back injury forced him to stop. When Jocelyn was 10, he left without a goodbye. Jocelyn’s mom struggled with addiction, and eventually she moved her family into a small condemned home, with no running water or electricity, on her parents’ property in nearby Naples.

By the time she was in 11th grade, Jocelyn, fed up with her mother’s problems and the family’s living situation, moved into a small apartment in Naples, a town lined with fly-fishing shops, industrial facilities, and motels. She was working toward a welding certificate in high school and had started dating a senior she met in class. Then she found out she was pregnant. She knew her ex was the father and her new boyfriend wouldn’t raise someone else’s kid.

“I kind of spiraled,” Jocelyn remembers. “I started to show, and then I was embarrassed to go to school, so I dropped out.” She moved back in with her mother and brothers. Lights and space heaters were powered by extension cords running from her grandparents’ house. If Jocelyn had to go to the bathroom after the doors were locked for the night, she’d have to pee outside.

She struggled with what she should do, weighing the pressure she felt from her new boyfriend to have an abortion. “I didn’t think abortion was wrong or right or indifferent. I was just a 16-year-old with a boyfriend who was the closest person to me at that time.” Utah’s nearest abortion clinic was about 170 miles away in Salt Lake City, and Jocelyn convinced her mom to drive her the three-plus hours across mountains and snow and pay several hundred dollars to end her pregnancy. According to court records, clinicians told her an abortion would be impossible because she was too far along. At the time, state law banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy; Jocelyn does not recall being so far along. (Later that year, the Legislature moved the limit to viability, usually considered 24 weeks.)

On the ride home, Jocelyn remembered the ultrasound and hearing the tiny heartbeat; she worried that abortion wasn’t for her. Adoption was one option, but she couldn’t imagine giving the baby to an anonymous couple. After being turned away from the clinic, Jocelyn swallowed a handful of pills in a failed suicide attempt. “I tried to just get rid of us both. And when I did survive, there was even more disappointment,” she says. “There were no other options. There was nothing else.”

Following success in the states—26 had passed fetal homicide laws by the end of the ’90s—then-Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and other congressional Republicans introduced a bill in September 1999 that would make it illegal to injure or kill a fetus in the commission of a federal crime. Their proposal, called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, mirrored state laws, with one key difference: Most state laws only protected fetuses starting from some point after the first trimester, but the federal bill sought to cover fetuses from conception. Democrats argued that the measure encroached on abortion rights, and President Bill Clinton threatened to veto it. As a countermeasure, Democrats, led by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), introduced a “single victim” bill that increased federal punishment for harm done to a pregnant woman, without mentioning her fetus. Neither House bill made it over to the Senate, and the same battle played out for the next three and a half years.

Then, on Christmas Eve in 2002, Laci Peterson—supposedly on a fishing trip with her husband, Scott—went missing. She was eight and a half months pregnant with a son she’d named Conner. Scott’s odd behavior quickly made him the focus of the investigation. When a mistress came forward, three months of tabloid coverage ensued before Laci Peterson’s body washed up on the shore of the San Francisco Bay. Scott Peterson was eventually convicted of murder. At his sentencing, Laci’s mother read a statement to the court, written in Conner’s voice. “Daddy,” Sharon Rocha read, “why are you killing Mommy and me?” Scott was sentenced to death.

Congressional Republicans had found their rallying cry. In 2003, while the Peterson case was ongoing, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) introduced the Unborn Victims of Violence Act yet again, now dubbing it Laci and Conner’s Law. Rocha wrote to the bill’s sponsors to thank them, adding that she hoped for a future where “no surviving mother, grandmother, or other family member is ever again told, ‘We’re sorry, but in the eyes of the law, there is no dead baby.'” On March 25, 2004, the Senate passed the bill in a 61-38 vote.

At the signing ceremony a week later, President George W. Bush praised Laci and Conner’s Law: “Any time an expectant mother is a victim of violence, two lives are in the balance, each deserving protection, and each deserving justice.”

With the federal law in place, fetal homicide legislation gained new momentum. In several states, legislators enlisted a survivor whose pregnancy had ended after an attack, or a deceased woman’s family, to become the public face of their campaign—Alexa’s Law in Kansas, for instance, or Ethan’s Law in North Carolina. Americans United for Life and other pro-life organizations pointed out that domestic violence can spike during pregnancy and argued that fetal homicide laws could deter abusive fathers. With the federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act as a model, the newest state fetal homicide laws protected fetuses from the moment of conception; several states with laws that previously only applied after viability amended them to start earlier in pregnancy.

Unsurprisingly, abortion rights advocates argued the measures were part of a broader push to roll back Roe, this time by pitting women against the fetuses they’re carrying. “There is no way the state can protect embryos and fetuses separate from the woman without subtracting the pregnant woman,” says Lynn Paltrow, the founder of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, warning that if people come to see fetuses as human beings who can be murdered by an angry boyfriend, they will extend that idea to abortions sought or performed by the woman herself.

But pro-life groups dismissed such criticisms, noting that most fetal homicide laws have exceptions for abortion or other actions (intentional or otherwise) a woman might take to end a pregnancy. “Pro-life legislators and pro-life leaders do not support the prosecution of women and will not push for such a policy,” Forsythe, now the acting president of Americans United for Life, wrote in 2010.

In June 2009, a month after her arrest, Jocelyn skipped trial and was advised by her public defender not to challenge the charge of solicitation of murder. She was sentenced to detention until age 21 and transferred to a juvenile secure facility south of Salt Lake City.

After nearly three months behind bars, she went into labor in August and was transported to a hospital in handcuffs and leg shackles. After giving birth, she was allowed to hold and breastfeed her new daughter while locked to the bed. Leaving her baby at the hospital “was the hardest part,” Jocelyn remembers. “Once they start moving and you watch them come out of you, you love them—they are you. And you can’t even fathom life without them. And then they’re gone. And you’re alone again. And people looked at me and told me I deserved it.” Her daughter, born with a clean bill of health, was adopted by Jocelyn’s aunt, who lives two hours from Naples.

Meanwhile, Jocelyn and her mom found a new lawyer, Richard King, who petitioned the juvenile court to reverse her plea deal, arguing that she had broken no law and that her previous lawyer, who had also represented her ex-boyfriend after he was charged with producing pornographic pictures of her, had a conflict of interest. In October 2009, a juvenile court judge, Larry A. Steele, agreed to reverse the deal.

The judge may have rescinded Jocelyn’s plea deal, but she still had to face the state’s charges in a new trial. King’s defense focused on the text of Utah’s 2009 fetal homicide law, which defined homicide as a person causing the death of another person, “including an unborn child”—except when that death is the result of an abortion. He argued that Jocelyn’s actions had been part of an abortion attempt and demanded the charges be dismissed. Steele agreed: “No one should interpret this ruling to mean this court thinks the minor’s conduct was justifiable. What the minor did was terribly wrong. However, only the legislature can determine whether such conduct as set forth here should be criminal.” The state appealed the decision, but Jocelyn was free.

Days after her release, Carl Wimmer, an ex-cop who was then a prominent Mormon state representative, told reporters that he was going to close the “loophole” that Jocelyn’s lawyer successfully used in her defense: “Abortion and right to life is the top issue for me, and it is something I feel very passionate about.” A month later he introduced a new fetal homicide bill that redefined abortion as a medical procedure performed in the care of a physician. “Jocelyn revealed an extreme weakness in the law, that a pregnant woman could do anything she wanted to do—it did not matter how grotesque or brutal—all the way up until the date of birth to kill her unborn child,” Wimmer told The Nation. He boasted that his bill would make Utah the only state to “hold a woman accountable for killing her unborn child” in cases other than a medical abortion. In March 2010, less than a year after Jocelyn’s arrest, Wimmer’s bill became law.

While Aaron Harrison pleaded guilty in 2009 to attempted murder, Jocelyn’s case climbed to the state’s highest court. In December 2011, the Utah Supreme Court sided with the state, reversing the juvenile court’s decision to dismiss the charges. She was once again at square one, this time under the shadow of the new and more punitive law. Though the law wouldn’t apply to her, a draining and very public trial still loomed. She wanted out. Jocelyn pleaded guilty to solicitation of a crime, a second-degree felony. The charge was reduced to a misdemeanor after she completed 60 hours of community service.

Thus far, Utah is the only state that has strengthened a fetal homicide law in direct response to a self-induced abortion. But several recent cases have shown there are prosecutors ready to use the laws to punish women who perform their own abortions. The methods can be desperately brutal. Women have been targeted for shooting themselves, stabbing their bellies, and drinking toxic levels of herbal tea. In 2015, a Tennessee woman named Anna Yocca was charged with attempted first-degree murder after allegedly using a coat hanger to try to end her pregnancy. She took a plea deal this January after spending a year and a half in jail. In 2009, Indiana amended its 1998 fetal homicide law after a robber shot a pregnant bank teller in the abdomen. In 2013, prosecutors used the law against Purvi Patel, who went to the emergency room after taking pills she bought online to end her pregnancy and experiencing heavy bleeding. A pro-life doctor turned her in to the police. After three years behind bars, Patel was convicted of feticide and neglect of a dependent. She was sentenced to 20 years before the state’s appeals court overturned the feticide conviction last September, accusing prosecutors of “unsettling” overreach.

“I don’t think any of us have any sense of how common home abortion is right now,” says Adams. But surveys sampling the approximately 900,000 women who get clinical abortions each year help give a rough sketch. A national study found that about 2.6 percent of patients reported taking drugs, herbs, or vitamins before seeking an abortion. A 2014 study in abortion-hostile Texas found that 7 percent of patients surveyed in 2012 said they’d done something in the hopes of having a miscarriage before coming in. In 2011, after nearly 100 new state-level abortion restrictions had been enacted, a New York Times analysis found that Google searches for “how to have a miscarriage” or “how to do a coat hanger abortion” had jumped 40 percent compared with the year before. The state with the highest rate of searches, Mississippi, has just two abortion providers. The Times noted that a few hundred searches occurred nationwide for information on inducing abortion by being punched in the stomach.

Having an abortion at home, without the supervision of a physician, is not necessarily unsafe. Misoprostol, a prescription drug in America that is given over the counter in other countries, effectively ends upward of 88 percent of pregnancies within the first 12 weeks. When taken with mifepristone, a prescription-only drug usually dispensed under supervision of a doctor, the effectiveness jumps to over 95 percent. But if the Trump years bring further restrictions to choice, the number of women looking to end a pregnancy outside of clinical care seems certain to increase. Even safe drugs—whether purchased from online dark markets or provided by abortion activists—can be misused or abused or fail, sending women to the emergency room to face not only life-threatening complications, but prosecutors backed by fetal homicide laws. “In the new political reality of 2017,” Adams says, “we could foresee an emboldened anti-choice movement that places women who end their own pregnancies in the bull’s-eye.”

Jocelyn never left the Uintah Basin. When I visit, she takes me on a drive up to Split Mountain, the namesake of the detention center she once called home. A massive cliff face that hulks over the Green River, it’s been a place of solace and reflection for Jocelyn over the last eight years. After being released, she searched for structure and found the Jehovah’s Witness faith and a husband who shares it. Her religious convictions have changed her views on abortion: No longer ambivalent, Jocelyn now believes it is wrong. She’s not in touch with the daughter she birthed while incarcerated. In her community, she can’t talk about her own abortion attempt for fear of judgment. For her husband, an auto mechanic in Naples, the decisions Jocelyn made as a teenager are referred to just as “her past.”

With the youngest of their two daughters, not yet a year old, in tow, we walk to the base of Split Mountain, where our figures are dwarfed. Though her views on abortion have changed, Jocelyn remarks that women who end their own pregnancies aren’t “heartless.” She wishes she’d made a different choice that night. But she understands why she didn’t. “It was the fact that I was left up to my own options, which were…nothing,” she says. But she doesn’t judge other young women. “I know being put in that situation, how desperate women can be.”

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She Was Desperate. She Tried to End Her Own Pregnancy. She Was Thrown in Jail

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I’m a Trans Woman of Color, and I’ve Never Been More Scared to Live in North Carolina

Mother Jones

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Lara Americo has lived in North Carolina most of her life. The 32-year-old activist, artist, and musician was in Charlotte last year when state lawmakers passed one of the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT laws, House Bill 2, which banned her from the women’s bathroom because she’s transgender. She was still there late last month, when they replaced that law with another one to appease critics who called it discriminatory. The new law was framed by the governor as a repeal, or a compromise, since it does not explicitly require trans women like Americo to use the men’s room. But LGBT activists have called it HB2.0 because it prevents cities like Charlotte from passing nondiscrimination ordinances that would guarantee her access to the women’s room. This week, Americo reached out to say that while the NCAA and others seem to believe the situation has improved for transgender people, she’s never been more scared to live in the Tar Heel State.

I used to tell everyone I wasn’t going to make it past 30 because I was convinced that I wasn’t. I was suicidal and pretty much a hermit—everything was wrong but I didn’t know why. Then I realized it was because I wasn’t living as a woman, so at 29 I decided to transition. I started to go out and meet people, and I learned that North Carolina isn’t really friendly toward transgender people. People just get quiet around you, they whisper. And my family was in shock. They tried to be supportive, but I don’t think they could cope with missing the son they had loved and raised—we haven’t really talked much since.

I was still sort of in the closet until last year, when Charlotte’s City Council started talking about a nondiscrimination ordinance that would allow trans people to use their preferred bathrooms. I testified in support of it—that was when I began to be public about being trans. When it passed, it felt like we were finally going in the right direction. But then North Carolina lawmakers started considering HB2 which blocked Charlotte’s ordinance. I testified at the Senate, begging them not to, but they did. I kept using the women’s bathroom anyway—it was a protest against the law every time. Also, if I were to go into the men’s bathroom, there was the potential of outing myself as a transgender woman. While I don’t really keep it a secret anymore, I don’t make it so obvious in public because it can be dangerous for me, especially in the climate we’re in now.

After HB2 passed, it got scarier. Anytime I have to drive in North Carolina, there are 50-mile stretches without a city, just back roads and small towns, and I can’t stop the car because if I do, I’ll have to worry about someone noticing me. Transgender people, especially people of color, face high rates of violence, so I’ve had to be mindful of my presentation, making sure my clothes are right and my mannerisms are perfect and my voice doesn’t drop too low. And I have to worry about the police pulling me over, discriminating against me. Because while there was always a risk, now they’re emboldened.

A majority of people who don’t really follow the issues that closely, they think there’s been a repeal. But I don’t think it was a repeal—I think transgender people are in even more danger now. When you don’t allow cities to give people protections, you put people in danger. Our state government made it clear that they put profit and sports ahead of our safety, and that mentality trickles down. We still don’t have the protections we need—all we have is a spotlight on us, so that people who don’t like us can target us. I feel less safe now than I did a few weeks ago, and so do a lot of people. I work with the Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline, and after the new replacement law passed, there was a spike in callers.

I don’t like to show that these laws have affected me, but they do: I don’t want to stop at a gas station when I’m running out of gas. I don’t want to join the YMCA or the swim team because I worry about someone seeing my body. My partner worries—when I leave the house, I can usually count on her texting me within an hour, and if I don’t respond she gets really upset. I’ve had instances where I’m in a bar and I try to use the bathroom, and someone will look at me funny, and I’ll have to leave the bar to avoid a confrontation. Recently they proposed a bill that would increase trespassing punishments for people in the bathroom, and that bill could be used to target transgender people. I try to be optimistic, but our state has a Republican super-majority with extreme beliefs, so I do worry it’s going to pass and that transgender people will be criminalized.

Every few weeks I hear about a person who is making plans to leave the state, and I’ve considered it myself, but I have to wrestle with the thought of being forced out of my home, because I love North Carolina and I don’t want to leave. It’s a beautiful state. And I would hate it if I gave in to fear tactics and discrimination. There are many people here who don’t care that I’m transgender and they don’t care who uses the bathroom with them. It’s those people who make me want to stay here and be a part of this and fight for the transgender kids who live here and are going to public schools and worry about all these things, and make sure they don’t have to deal with this when they’re 30.

Originally posted here:

I’m a Trans Woman of Color, and I’ve Never Been More Scared to Live in North Carolina

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Invoking Immigrant-Induced Mayhem, Sessions Announces Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

Mother Jones

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has set his sights on a new target: sanctuary cities and counties. In a guest appearance at Monday’s White House press briefing, Sessions announced that the Justice Department will begin cracking down on state and local governments that do not help the administration identify and deport undocumented immigrants. Painting a picture of violence perpetrated by “aliens,” Sessions announced that the department will punish sanctuary jurisdictions by withholding federal grants.

“Today, I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws,” he said. “The Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with US Code 1373 as a condition for receiving those awards.” Sessions’ announcement comes as several mayors have expressed an unwillingness to use local police forces to help detain and deport undocumented immigrants. According to Sessions, the Justice Department issues more than $4 billion in grants each year that would be subject to the new restrictions.

Sessions announcement is in keeping with an executive order President Donald Trump signed in January mandating the withholding of federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. Sessions added that the department would seek to “claw back” grants to localities that later appear to willfully violate the law. The statute Sessions referred to, 8 US Code 1373, prohibits government officials from restricting communications between a government agency and immigration enforcement about the immigration status of any individual. But the language in the statute is vague, and it’s unclear if the federal government can force local law enforcement to engage in immigration enforcement, a situation that will likely lead to court challenges to Trump’s executive order and Sessions’ new policy.

In his remarks, Sessions depicted undocumented immigrants as a violent scourge—raping, murdering, and sexually abusing children. “Countless Americans would be alive today and countless loved ones would not be grieving today if these policies of sanctuary cities were ended,” he said. That characterization is in line with the president’s critical language about immigrants, and last week, at Trump’s direction, Immigration and Customs Enforcement published its first weekly list of the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in sanctuary cities. But the depiction is misleading, since immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes.

Sessions’ remarks also ignore the academic literature showing that sanctuary cities improve public safety by increasing trust and communication between immigrant communities and law enforcement. As three researches noted in a Los Angeles Times op-ed recently, “Sanctuary jurisdictions—39 cities and 364 counties across the country have policies that limit local law enforcement’s involvement in enforcing federal immigration laws—increase public safety.” They noted a study published last year by the University of Chicago Press in which a majority of 750 police chiefs and sheriffs across the country expressed opposition to using local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. Other studies have also found lower crime rates in sanctuary jurisdictions.

One thing that is likely to hurt public safety, however, is withholding federal grants that help fund law enforcement.


Invoking Immigrant-Induced Mayhem, Sessions Announces Crackdown on Sanctuary Cities

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We Put People In Prison For Way Too Long

Mother Jones

If you want to talk about mass incarceration, here’s the most important fact to know: 90 percent of all American inmates are kept in state and local prisons. Unless you have some specific reason, you should pretty much ignore all statistics about the federal prison system.

This is not Keith Humphreys’ main point in his Wonkblog post today about mass incarceration, but it might as well be. If you look at state lockups, here’s the basic data for why most folks are incarcerated:

Drug offenses make up only about 15 percent of the total inmate population. And since it’s common to plea down to a minor drug offense from a more serious offense, even this probably overstates the number of people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses. So if we want to reduce the prison population, decriminalizing drugs won’t make much of a dent. Instead, we need to focus on our response to violent crime:

In the eyes of many politicians, activists and most of the voting public, tough punishment of nonviolent drug offenders is the main driver of mass incarceration in general and disproportionate imprisonment of people of color in particular. But in his new book “Locked In,” criminologist John Pfaff challenges that assumption, attributing mass incarceration primarily to violent crime and the public policy response to it.

….Given the outsize role of violent crime in mass imprisonment, what should be done about it? Pfaff favors “cutting long sentences for people convicted of violence, even for those with extensive criminal histories, since almost everyone starts aging out of crime by their 30s.” He also advocates for relying less on prison altogether and expanding community-based anti-violence programs that have strong evidence of preventing violence in the first place.

Our main reaction to the violent crime wave of the 70s and 80s was not just to lock up more people, but to lock them up longer. A lot longer. However, there’s little evidence that longer sentences do much to deter crime, and as Pfaff says, once prisoners get into their 30s there’s not much evidence that keeping them locked up prevents very much crime. My horseback guess (I haven’t read Pfaff’s book) is that we could cut the average sentence for violent crimes in half and it would have only a minor effect on crime rates. Partly this is because we overshot the sweet spot for reducing crime by a lot in the 70s and 80s, and partly it’s because criminals these days aren’t as violent as they were in the past.1

Unfortunately, this is one of the hardest lifts in all of politics. Even now, no one wants to be “soft on crime,” and it’s inevitable that if we did reduce sentences, some of the prisoners would go out and commit more crimes. All you need is a few examples of that to run some devastating TV ads, and there’s no question that these examples would be out there. Pfaff has the right idea, but it’s unlikely to get an audience anytime soon.

1Yes, because of reduced lead poisoning. Really.


We Put People In Prison For Way Too Long

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Wave power has finally come to the United States.

This weekend, Máxima Acuña, winner of the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, was assaulted on her property in Peru. Since 2011, Acuña has resisted the development of the Conga gold mine by U.S.-based Newmont Mining by refusing to vacate her home — and, for that, has faced both legal prosecution and physical intimidation.

As a result of the attack, allegedly perpetrated by agents of Minera Yanacocha (Newmont’s Peruvian subsidiary), Acuña is now in the hospital and her family’s crops are destroyed, according to Amnesty International.

Nor, tragically, is this attack an isolated instance of violence against indigenous women protecting their land. Earlier this year, Berta Cáceres — winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts in blocking hydroelectric developments on Lenca land in Honduras — was murdered at home, allegedly by employees of DESA, the developer behind the proposed dams.

When we spoke to Acuña in April, she told us, with eerie foresight: “Because these businesses are very powerful, I don’t know what awaits me when I get back [home]. But this isn’t a cause of fear for me – it’s not a motive for us to stop fighting, to stop defending.”

Link – 

Wave power has finally come to the United States.

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The federal government is investigating ExxonMobil’s accounting related to climate change.

This weekend, Máxima Acuña, winner of the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize, was assaulted on her property in Peru. Since 2011, Acuña has resisted the development of the Conga gold mine by U.S.-based Newmont Mining by refusing to vacate her home — and, for that, has faced both legal prosecution and physical intimidation.

As a result of the attack, allegedly perpetrated by agents of Minera Yanacocha (Newmont’s Peruvian subsidiary), Acuña is now in the hospital and her family’s crops are destroyed, according to Amnesty International.

Nor, tragically, is this attack an isolated instance of violence against indigenous women protecting their land. Earlier this year, Berta Cáceres — winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts in blocking hydroelectric developments on Lenca land in Honduras — was murdered at home, allegedly by employees of DESA, the developer behind the proposed dams.

When we spoke to Acuña in April, she told us, with eerie foresight: “Because these businesses are very powerful, I don’t know what awaits me when I get back [home]. But this isn’t a cause of fear for me – it’s not a motive for us to stop fighting, to stop defending.”

Link – 

The federal government is investigating ExxonMobil’s accounting related to climate change.

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