Emergency department entrance.

New Legal Mapping Method Highlights Recent Laws Limiting Public Health Emergency Orders

By Katie Moran-McCabe

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators in almost every state have introduced bills that would limit state executive authority to respond to the current pandemic or future public health emergencies. Between January 1, 2021, and November 5, 2021, one or more of these bills were enacted into law and became effective in 19 states.

This finding is a product of a new legal mapping method called Sentinel Surveillance of Emerging Laws and Policies (SSELP), developed by researchers from our Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University (CPHLR), with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This mapping method is intended to quickly capture and track emerging laws and legal innovations impacting public health, and to instigate faster evaluation of their effects on health and health equity.

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Abortion rights protest following the Supreme Court decision for Whole Women's Health in 2016

A ‘Middle Ground’ in the Legal Abortion Debate Disproportionately Harms Marginalized Communities

By Adrienne R. Ghorashi, Esq.

All eyes are on SCOTUS after the Court heard oral arguments on Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and issued narrow rulings in cases related to Texas SB8 early this month. The line of questioning, as well as the Court’s continued decision to allow most abortions in Texas to come to a screeching halt, are a distressing signal that abortion rights are in immediate danger. Under Roe and Casey, bans on abortion prior to fetal viability (around 24 weeks) are a violation of a pregnant person’s constitutional right. While some have characterized Chief Justice Robert’s comments as searching for a supposed compromise to overturning Roe, this proposition ignores the stark reality of the legal landscape of abortion in the United States.

Pre-viability abortion bans, such as the one in Dobbs, already exist in 25 states, ranging from bans at any point in pregnancy, to 6-week “fetal heartbeat” bans, to the more common 20-week ban. Pre-viability abortion bans can also include “reason-based” bans that seek to prohibit abortion based on a person’s reason for seeking one. Many of these states have more than one type of abortion ban in their laws. Although most of the more extreme pre-viability bans are not currently in effect due to court rulings (with Texas SB8 being a frightening harbinger of a post-Roe nation), this legal standard is precisely what’s at stake in Dobbs.

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Police car.

New Data Highlights Complexity of Good Samaritan Overdose Law Landscape

By David Momjian

Since 1999, over 800,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the United States, with more than half of those deaths (500,000) resulting from opioid overdose.

Additionally, all 50 states have experienced a spike in overdose deaths in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the 12-month period ending in May 2020, 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States; the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.

To combat the rising death toll from drug overdoses, 47 state legislatures and the District of Columbia have passed Good Samaritan laws (GSLs) to protect bystanders from criminal prosecution if they call for medical assistance during a drug overdose. Bystanders to a drug overdose are often worried that by calling for help, they could be arrested for drug possession or evicted by the police, who often arrive first at the scene of a 911 call, even if it is a medical emergency.

A new dataset built by the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and funded by Vital Strategies, covers the evolution of GSLs in the United States from January 1, 2007, to June 1, 2021.

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Houses.

New Data on Eviction Laws Opens Doors for Evaluation

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an eviction crisis in the United States. Estimates suggest landlords across the country file 3.7 million eviction cases each year — leaving considerable impacts on health and well-being in their wake. 

The eviction process is regulated by a patchwork of state/territory and local laws and court rules that govern the judicial process, but little is known about the ways in which these laws affect the likelihood of evictions.  

new database, launched by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) in partnership with the Center for Public Health Law Research, captures the entire eviction legal process, from pre-filing to post-judgment, in different communities around the country.  

The data provide early insights, including: 

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Rows of gold post office boxes with one open mail box.

FDA Expands Medication Abortion Access During Pandemic, but State Barriers Remain

By Adrienne R. Ghorashi, Esq.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suspended an in-person dispensing requirement for mifepristone for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing patients to access medication abortion by mail.

Previously, the FDA REMS requirement mandated that mifepristone must be dispensed in person, forcing patients to travel to a clinic in order to pick up the medication. In light of the pandemic, the requirement would lead to unnecessary risks of COVID exposure for patients and providers, in addition to imposing logistical and financial burdens.

This FDA decision is the latest development in a battle that made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. In its first abortion decision since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the bench, the Supreme Court reinstated the in-person dispensing requirement after it had previously been blocked by a federal district court in Maryland due to the risks of COVID-19.

Advocates for abortion access are celebrating the FDA decision as a win for science and evidence-based policy rooted in a growing body of research on the benefits of medication abortion and telemedicine for abortion.

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Russia, Saint-Petersburg, village of Telman - August 2015: a plant for the production of meat products. a worker walks down the hall of meat production in Russia, the village of Telman.

Performance Analysis of OSHA During COVID-19

By Zoey Binder

The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was highly criticized this year for an alleged lack of enforcement and failure to protect workers from unsafe working conditions related to COVID-19.

Of particular concern has been its failure to exert authority over the meatpacking industry, whose workers have been disproportionately harmed by the pandemic.

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America divided concept, american flag on cracked background.

COVID-19 Unmasks Issues Around Public Health Preemption

By Jessica Amoroso and Sarah Winston

States across the U.S. are using preemption to stifle local authority aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19, resulting in confusion and a fragmented response.

Historically, local governments have played an important role in providing direct and indirect services to their communities, as they have a heightened awareness of their needs compared to state governments. This has proven especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, as city and municipal initiatives often have been the initial access point for virus-related services.

But state preemption is increasingly being used as a legal tool to prevent cities and municipalities from legislating on issues of importance to public health.

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gavel.

How to Reduce Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

By Caroline Hinnenkamp

Racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system are well documented –– people of color are disproportionately arrested, convicted, and incarcerated.

Diversion efforts –– so named for their approach, which is to divert individuals away from the court process and instead offer opportunities for rehabilitation –– risk perpetuating these same racially disparate trends. Particularly if diversion programs have eligibility constraints based on prior records, people of color are more likely to be denied entry, because they are arrested and convicted at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

Historically, prosecutors tended to justify these constraints as mechanisms used to gauge an applicant’s capacity for rehabilitation, with recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to reoffend) reduction as the central goal of diversion. Diversion was an alternative offered to the lucky few deemed “eligible” or “deserving,” with the implication being that reoffenders have a criminal disposition that is not amenable to rehabilitation.

But programs that use these screening methods tend to overlook the underlying facts and circumstances that might have brought about the applicant’s priors, such as implicit bias in law enforcement or the over-policing of specific communities. Without additional safeguards, the seemingly neutral constraint of “priors” fails to account for relevant pre-existing conditions, and risks barring entry to applicants who might otherwise benefit from diversion.

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Climate protest sign that reads "no nature no future."

Climate Change and Pregnancy: Policies for Impact

By Cydney Murray

The ongoing, worsening environmental crisis is exacerbating negative pregnancy outcomes associated with climate change.

Exposure to air pollutants, such as smog (ozone) and PM2.5 (another type of air pollution), is linked to impaired fetal growth, increased likelihood of cancer, autism spectrum disorder, stillbirth, and low birth weight. These health consequences have the potential to impact children’s overall quality of life by affecting their brain development, and their susceptibility to disease.

Climate change is worsening this established association, particularly for those living in urban environments with high air pollutant exposure. This disproportionately affects women of color, since they are more likely to live in more highly polluted areas, and already suffer a higher risk of negative pregnancy outcomes.

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Houses.

Author Q&A: State Preemption of Inclusionary Zoning Policies and Health Outcomes

Courtnee E. Melton-Fant, PhD

Historically, federal and state governments have been primarily responsible for increasing and maintaining the supply of affordable housing. But as budgets decrease, the burden has fallen more and more to local governments. Inclusionary zoning policies, which seek to reverse the negative, exclusionary effects of conventional zoning, are one tool local governments can use to increase affordable housing stock.

Courtnee Melton-Fant, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Memphis School of Public Health, recently published research in Housing Policy Debate that explores the growing trend of preemption as it relates to these inclusionary zoning policies.

Dr. Melton-Fant’s research used policy surveillance data produced by the Center for Public Health Law Research with the National League of Cities to examine the relationship between state preemption of inclusionary zoning policies and health outcomes among different demographic groups — particularly among people of color.

We asked Dr. Melton-Fant a few questions about her work.

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