Tag Archives: planning

Supreme Court will hear first abortion case since 2007

The Supreme Court is giving an election-year hearing to a dispute over state regulation of abortion clinics in the court’s first abortion case in eight years.

The justices will hear arguments, probably in March, over a Texas law that would leave only about 10 abortion clinics open across the state. A decision should come by late June, four months before the presidential election.

The issue split the court 5-4 the last time the justices decided an abortion case in 2007, and Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to hold the controlling vote on a divided court.

The case tests whether tough new standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them are reasonable measures intended to protect women’s health or a pretext designed to make abortions hard, if not impossible, to obtain.

Texas clinics challenged the 2013 law as a violation of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

The high court previously blocked parts of the Texas law. The court took no action on a separate appeal from Mississippi, where a state law would close the only abortion clinic, in Jackson.

States have enacted a wave of measures in recent years that have placed restrictions on when in a pregnancy abortions may be performed, imposed limits on abortions using drugs instead of surgery and raised standards for clinics and the doctors who work in them.

The new case concerns the last category. In Texas, the fight is over two provisions of the law that then-Gov. Rick Perry signed in 2013. One requires abortion facilities to be constructed like surgical centers. The other allows doctors to perform abortions at clinics only if they have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Twenty-two states have surgical center requirements for abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports legal access to abortion. Eleven states impose admitting privileges requirements on doctors who perform abortions in clinics, the institute said.

The measures go beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety because the risks from abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy, when the overwhelming majority of abortions are performed, are minimal, the institute said.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said Texas is one of several states that have enacted “sham laws” to restrict access to abortion.” This law does not advance women’s health and in fact undermines it,” Northup said.

There is no dispute that the law has had a significant impact on Texas clinics. The state had 41 abortion clinics before the clinic law. More than half of those closed when the admitting privileges requirement was allowed to take effect. Nineteen clinics remain.

Northup said the effect of the law has been to increase wait times for women in the Dallas area from an average of five days to 20 days.

The focus of the dispute at the Supreme Court is whether the law imposes what the court has called an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. If allowed to take full effect, the law would leave no abortion clinics west of San Antonio and only one operating on a limited basis in the Rio Grande Valley.

The state has argued that women in west Texas already cross into New Mexico to obtain abortions at a clinic in suburban El Paso.

In its decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in 1992, the court ruled that states generally can regulate abortion unless doing so places an undue burden on women. Casey was a huge victory for abortion-rights advocates because it ended up reaffirming the constitutional right to an abortion that the court established in Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In 2007, a divided court upheld a federal law that bans an abortion procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion and opened the door to new limits on abortion.

Kennedy was one of three authors of the Casey opinion and he wrote the majority opinion in 2007.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown an edge for abortion rights. Fifty-one percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases and 45 percent think it should be illegal in most or all cases, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll in January and February.

The case is Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, 15-274.

Pets and wildlife among the casualties of wildfires

Smokey Bear saved us the details of what happens to animals in wildfires.

But now we know, from the massive fires burning in Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, Montana, Washington and California. This fire season is one of the worst on record, with more than 11,600 square miles scorched — the most acreage in a decade.

The fires have taken a toll — human lives lost, property destroyed, people displaced and animals killed, abandoned or missing.

In Idaho, fires have displaced companion animals and livestock and charred habitat for wildlife — elk, moose, deer and many others. In the southwestern part of that state, fire destroyed populations of greater sage-grouse and burned to death at least 27 wild mustangs.

In Washington state, in the area of Tonasket, an estimated 14,000 farm animals — cows, horses and pigs — have faced fire threats. A single family lost a herd of two dozen cattle.

In late August, The Humane Society of the United States donated $5,000 to Washington state’s Wenatchee Valley Humane Society to shelter displaced animals. Another $5,000 from the Humane Society went to the Oregon Hay Bank in Grant County, Oregon, where distressed horse owners face a shortage of hay for their animals because of the fires.

In Montana, national animal rescue teams are working with local shelters to find abandoned or lost dogs, cats and rabbits, provide shelter and reunite animals with their owners.

In California, fire destroyed one wildlife sanctuary that housed birds of prey, large cats, mule deer and a black bear.

As the fires raged in the western United States, the 10-year anniversary of a disaster in the South arrived. Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. The damage was estimated at $108 billion. Nearly 2,000 people died. Many others have yet to return home. And hundreds of thousands of dogs, cats and animals were displaced or killed.

Katrina changed how emergency responders and animal welfare groups handle rescues and also how pet owners, vets and emergency teams prepare for a disaster.

When Katrina hit, many people who needed rescue refused to go without their pets, but first-responders refused or were not equipped to take animals. Meanwhile, at many shelters, people with pets were turned away.

Now, under the PETS Act enacted after Katrina, every Federal Emergency Management disaster plan must address the evacuation, rescue and sheltering of animals.

“So very many animals lost their lives in the flooding,” said animal welfare advocate Kristiana Paul of Tampa, Florida. Paul rescued three labs from New Orleans after the storm. “And some people lost their lives because they had nowhere to go with their pet. We still will lose animals in disasters, but the crisis of Katrina shouldn’t ever happen again.”

Out West, animal welfare advocates say the reform that followed Katrina saved innumerable lives. “It was after Katrina that people really thought about micro-chipping their pets and made plans for where they could shelter with their animals,” said animal welfare advocate Mike Beatie of Portland, Oregon. Beatie has been assisting with rescue and foster efforts in the state. “Things would be much worse here if we hadn’t dealt with what happened in Katrina.”

Not so golden: Wealth gap lasting into retirement

William Kistler views retirement like someone tied to the tracks and watching a train coming. It’s looming and threatening, but there’s little he can do.

Kistler, a 63-year-old resident of Golden, Colorado, has been unable to build up a nest egg for himself and his wife with his modest salary at a nonprofit. He has saved little in a 401(k) over the past decade, after spending most of his working life self-employed. That puts him far behind many wealthier Americans approaching retirement.

“There is not enough to retire with,” he said. “It’s completely frightening, to tell you the truth. And I, like a lot of people, try not to think about it too much, which is actually a problem.”

With traditional pensions becoming rarer in the private sector, and lower-paid workers less likely to have access to an employer-provided retirement plan, there is a growing gulf in the retirement savings of the wealthy and people with lower incomes. That, experts say, could exacerbate an already widening wealth gap across America, as more than 70 million baby boomers head into retirement — many of them with skimpy reserves.

Because retirement savings are ever more closely tied to income, the widening gulf between the rich and those with less promises to continue — and perhaps worsen — after workers reach retirement age. That is likely to put pressure on government services and lead even more Americans to work well into what is supposed to be their golden years.

Increasingly, financial security for retirees reflects how much they have accumulated during their working career — things like 401(k) accounts, other savings and home equity.

Highly educated, dual income couples tend to do better under this system. The future looks bleaker for people with less education, lower incomes or health issues, as well as for single parents, said Karen Smith, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.

“We do find rising inequality,” said Smith, who added that it’s a problem if those at the top are seeing disproportionate gains from economic growth.

Incomes for the highest-earning 1 percent of Americans soared 31 percent from 2009 through 2012, after adjusting for inflation, according to data compiled by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at University of California, Berkeley. For everyone else, it inched up an average of 0.4 percent.

Researchers at the liberal Economic Policy Institute say households in the top fifth of income saw median retirement savings increase from $45,539 in 1989 to $160,000 in 2010 in inflation-adjusted dollars. For households in the bottom fifth, median retirement savings were down from $8,433 in 1989 to $8,000 in 2010, adjusted for inflation. The calculations did not include households without retirement savings.

Employment Benefit Research Institute research director Jack VanDerhei found that in households where annual income is less than $25,000, nine in 10 saved less than $10,000, up slightly from 2009. For households with six-figure incomes, 42 percent saved at least $250,000, up from 34 percent five years earlier.

The days of retirees being able to count on set monthly payments from pensions continue to fade among non-government workers. Only 13 percent of private-sector workers now participate in “defined benefit” plans, compared with a third of such workers in 1985. They’ve been eclipsed by “defined contribution” plans, often 401(k)s, in which employers match a portion of employee contributions.

Americans know they need to save for retirement. The trick for many is actually doing it. It’s estimated that about half of private-sector workers don’t take part in a retirement plan at their current job.

“Over the years, all I’ve been able to do, especially as a single parent, is just pay your bills every month,” said Susan McNamara, a 62-year-old adjunct professor from the Boston area. “Anything that’s left over is used up when your car breaks down or when the furnace breaks down. … There’s never anything left over, ever.”

McNamara is divorced and her son is now grown. But she has had heart issues linked to cancer in 2004 and related financial worries. She sold her home to meet expenses. McNamara has a defined contribution plan from past stints as a full-time professor, but its balance is under $50,000.

Or consider Kistler, who makes $41,000 a year working as a benefits counselor for a nonprofit health care provider. He has no substantial savings beyond the 401(k) worth roughly $19,000, and he has debt. He plans to keep working.

Kistler is philosophical about being on the short end of a retirement gap, though he wonders what will happen when boomers in his financial situation begin retiring by the millions.

“This next 10 to 15 years is going to be quite interesting,” he said.

EBRI, a Washington-based nonpartisan research group, projects that more than 55 percent of baby boomers and the generation that follows them, Generation X, will have enough money to last through retirement.

But EBRI also found the least wealthy boomer and Gen X households are far more likely to run short of money in retirement. Under some models, 43 percent of those in the lowest quarter run short of money in the first year of retirement.

VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director, said members of that group are relying mostly on Social Security and lacked consistent access to retirement plans over their careers.

Many of those retirees will find that it won’t be enough, David John of AARP’s Public Policy Institute said, noting the average monthly Social Security retiree benefit last year was about $1,300.

“In the long run, if we have significant numbers of people retiring on Social Security and very little else, there’s going to be a tremendous pressure on state and local governments for additional services, ranging from health to housing to libraries,” John said. “There’s going to be significant pressure on the national government to provide additional support.”

John said a good first step would be to ensure more workers have the ability to save through employer-sponsored retirement plans.

For many, it will mean working to a later age and cutting back.

In Brooklyn, 60-year-old Madeline Smith is already thinking about a modest future. While she has no illusions about living the “little fairy tale” of a cushy retirement, she also is confident she can get by, maybe working part-time, living simply or even renting out her house.

“Sometimes you have to learn to be a little bit more conservative,” she said. “I think a lot of people are learning that now as they get older.”

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Saying ‘I do’ long after saying ‘I love you’

Most engagements in the United States last about 13 to18 months. My “engagement,” after 21 years, ends on Aug. 16 in a simple ceremony in a canyon near White Pines Forest State Park in Mount Morris, Illinois.

That’s not far, going west, from where Connie’s family resides and not far, going northeast, from where most of my family resides.

And Mount Morris is 87 miles from Rock Island, Illinois, where Connie and I met in December 1992 — she was working at a bookstore and I was reporting for a daily newspaper. Remember those days? We were wearing flannel and listening to grunge, cheering the “Year of the Woman” and awaiting Bill Clinton’s first inauguration.

Being political junkies, it would be fitting if Connie and I got married with another Clinton in office, but we don’t want to wait three more years.

We’ve waited.

And waited. 

And waited enough.

Now we’re “brides.” It seems strange to use that term, because we’ve been “spouses” for so many years. 

And much of the wedding planning seems so foreign. I figure lesbians in my generation tuned out and turned off on dreams of white weddings and princess brides by about 6 years old, maybe even 5, which is when I got my first ball glove.

We’ll be barefoot and wearing pants on our wedding day, but we are “brides.”

One of the conversations with our much-appreciated and helpful wedding consultant went like:

Consultant: What colors or specific types of flowers would you like for the ceremony?

Me: We like the minimalist approach.

Connie: White and black?

Consultant: Would you like a table for a unity ceremony?

Me: No.

Consultant: Would you like to rent a microphone or speakers for the ceremony?

Connie: No.

Consultant: A DJ or wedding music?

Us: No. No.

She asked about the brides making a grand entrance in a horse-drawn carriage. No.

She asked about flowers. We said just for our moms and my sister, the matron of honor, who would have been a maid of honor had we been able to legally wed two decades ago.

When we came to the question of scattering rose petals in the aisle, we said “yes” — in part to say “yes” to something, but also to give the kids something to do.

When Connie and I met, we had one niece to dote on, Anna, the first daughter of Connie’s older sister. Our families have grown, as our siblings have married and we now have 11 nieces and nephews, more than a reminder of the big transformations that have taken place over two decades — in our personal lives and in the public arena.

In one way, waiting to wed has been a positive, because we can share the day with the kids, who — with much credit to their parents and our parents — are growing up knowing us as Aunt Lisa and Aunt Connie and loving us, understanding who we are to one another and appreciating our relationship. No judgment. No laboriously processing the gay thing. 

Last fall, Connie and I went to Puerto Rico for my brother’s wedding. We don’t dance too often, but the DJ played Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and who can resist? My 4-year-old niece Pippa was on the dance floor, in a circle of kids. She looked up and saw Connie and I, clapped her hands to her cheeks and said, “Awwww.”

Not too long ago, after some back-seat contemplation on a drive, she inquired of 50-year-old Aunt Lisa, “After you’re married, who is going to have the baby?”

Pippa will help us with the sand ceremony, which we want, but I’m not sure we made arrangements. And there are roles for the others — 12-year-old Jackie will recite “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” Anna, now 22, and John, 14, will act as ushers, the youngest will scatter those rose petals and 10-year-old Madeline will play a wedding march.

We’re planning this celebration long-distance from Florida and, since Connie’s name doesn’t confirm our same-sex couple status, we’ve had to come out as a lesbian couple at each turn.

So far, we’ve encountered enthusiasm.

I talked with one wedding photographer in Rockford, Illinois, who said, “You can’t see it but I’m giving you the high-five.”

Another photographer, after some confusion about “two brides,” said, “Cool, that’s so trendy.”

We nixed a lot of typical wedding traditions, but not the cake — which is white cake, vanilla buttercream frosting, black piping and multi-layered. It’s perhaps the most elegant-looking item we’ve ever purchased as a couple.

We did say no, however, to a topper out of concern that we could mistakenly end up with a bride and groom instead of a bride and bride.

We haven’t met our officiant, who was hired through the White Pines service.

For years, I’ve been reporting on the discrimination couples faced as they made plans for a wedding day, and before that the “commitment ceremony,” and before that the “unity service.” So I had some anxiety when reaching out to the minister and asking her if she was fine marrying a lesbian couple.

She responded with a blessing and an agreement that marriage equality has been a long-time coming.

And so, we are working on the details of our ceremony, replacing the references to the “groom” and reworking the passages that sound as if Connie and I became engaged maybe 13 just months ago, like the average couple we are not.

Chef’s corner: Create an appetizing New Year’s Eve party

You and your partner have decided to entertain on New Year’s Eve this year, inviting old friends and new to welcome 2013 in style.

Not a bad plan, but what will you serve to make your event memorable? After all, New Year’s Eve is just not a chips-and-salsa event, and it’s too late to hire a caterer or personal chef.

But if you have some rudimentary kitchen skills, a little imagination and any kind of food sense, you can prepare some award-winning appetizers that will keep your friends talking well into the New Year, promises Sami Fgaier, owner of the Madison-based Le Personal Chef.

“When preparing appetizers for a party, you need to have a variety of options,” Fgaier says. “I always recommend offering some seafood, vegetarian, poultry, red meat and sweet options. This will give you a chance to please everyone’s palate.”

Always use fresh ingredients for the best taste and appearance. Above all, make sure you are aware of any potential food allergies your guests might have. Nothing throws a wet blanket over a party more than a visit from the EMTs.

“One touch that makes appetizers exceptional is good presentation,” Fgaier says. “I like white platters because they make your food the focus rather than the platter’s pattern or color.”

A good garnish, such as chives or rosemary sprigs, adds dimension to the presentation, he explains. Meat dishes shine with a garnish of micro greens. Adding a dash of balsamic glaze, available at most supermarkets, makes the appetizers look like a professional hand was at work.

Two things you want to avoid have to do with the timing of the appetizers’ preparation. In most cases, you want to prepare the appetizers as close to serving time as possible in order to avoid having the dressings run and the bread get soggy.

On the other hand, if your recipes involve indoor searing or grilling, do it early in the day to eliminate any lingering smokiness at party time. You don’t want your home smoke alarm to drown out the festive sound of your guests’ noisemakers.

Fgaier offers the following recipes to help make your New Year’s Eve memorable.


Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus with Neufchâtel cheese

Makes 12


24 sprigs of asparagus

6 slices of Italian aged Prosciutto

2 tbsp. Neufchâtel cheese

Cracked black pepper

Drop asparagus in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Remove the stalks and immediately transfer them to an ice water bath. This is called shocking, which will stop the cooking process and keep the bright green color.

Spread ½ teaspoon of Neufchâtel cheese on a half-slice of Prosciutto, then add a little cracked pepper.

Wrap the ham around the asparagus.

Spray a baking sheet with oil and add the wrapped asparagus.

Bake for about 15 minutes at 350°F.

Let cool for about 10 minutes and serve.

Crimini mushroom caps stuffed with lump crabmeat

Makes 12


12 medium-size Crimini or white mushrooms

1 cup lump crab meat

1 cup backfin crab meat

2 tbsps. grainy old-fashioned mustard

1 tbsp. fresh chopped chives

1 tbsp. mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the stems of the mushrooms and clean them. Soak mushroom caps in hot water for about 2 minutes until soft.

Mix all ingredients and stuff mushrooms. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350°F.

Garnish with chives and serve.

Mac & Cheese bites

Makes 12


2 cups of pasta (elbow shape works best)

1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 cup of milk

1 cup of grated Gruyere cheese

1 cup of grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

½ cup of breadcrumbs

Boil 2 quarts of water and add a pinch of salt; add pasta, cook for about 8 minutes and drain.

Chill pasta under cold running water and mix with 2 tablespoons of olive oil so the pasta doesn’t stick.

Melt butter in a medium pan, add flour and whisk constantly to create a light brown roux. Add milk and cheese and cook for about 10 minutes. Add pasta and breadcrumbs and mix well.

Spray a mini-muffin tin with cooking spray, spoon small amount into muffin cups and sprinkle tops with breadcrumbs. Bake at 350°F for 5 to 10 minutes or until the tops begin to brown and crisp.

Allow dish to cool slightly before removing from pan.