Friday, October 17, 2008

Should Illinois have a "Con Con?"

Sept. 24, 2008 - On Nov. 4, Illinois voters will decide if they want lawmakers to re-work the state constitution. Specifically, they will vote on whether the state should hold its Seventh Constitutional Convention. The 1968 convention resulted in the 1970 Illinois Constitution, which is still in place today.

Three participants of the last "con con," as the convention is popularly known, said they put the option on the ballot every 20 years to "force a discussion." Last week these attorneys and politicians debated the merits of a 2008 convention at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

"Then there was an almost universal belief that we needed to go back and review the entire constitution," said 1968 convention participant and law professor Dawn Clark Netsch.

The last convention was supported by both parties and business and labor groups, Netsch said at the event hosted by the Chicago Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society. Today, she said, only a few individual issue groups want single changes to the constitution.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Volunteers Rescue Many Migrating Birds

Millions of birds migrate through Chicago every spring and fall on routes as far north as Alaska and as far south as South America. But many birds never reach their destination because they collide with buildings, particularly along the lakefront.

A local group finds about 4,000 birds a year on sidewalks and streets in just one square city mile. More than half of these birds are dead but many are just stunned according to the group, whose 70 volunteers monitor the east end of Randolph Street from the river to Congress Parkway.

"Tens of thousands (of birds) are killed or injured as they pass through the city," said Annette Prince of Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, a non-profit that has tracked and rescued birds since 2003. There is a "huge variety," she said, about 120 species including neo-tropical birds, yellow rails, warblers and humming birds.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Understanding Chicago's Budget

By its sheer size, the city of Chicago’s annual budget is a large and complicated document. With nearly $6 billion in total resources, it is presented in a four-volume set of binders to city council. But even for aldermen, understanding the budget can be a challenge.

When Ald. Sharon Denise Dixon (24th) was elected last year, she wanted to know how to read the city budget. Even before she took office, she stayed up late nights trying to understand it, she said, and sought people out to learn how things worked, including Ald. Helen Shiller (46th).

“There is no manual for being an alderman,” Dixon said. “You think you know, but there are so many moving parts.”

Acknowledging the steep learning curve, Dixon said she also wants to learn more about TIF’s (Tax Increment Financing) to address the many challenges Lawndale residents face with below-average incomes, high numbers of uninsured and a lack of jobs.

Shiller has made it a priority to understand the city’s budget and has spent many hours of her 20 years in office doing so. For the third year in a row, Shiller shared her knowledge at a city budget forum hosted by the Chicago Foundation for Women.

“People often get cynical because they can’t understand budgets,” Shiller said at this week’s forum. “But it takes a lot of work to understand a complex budget like this one.”

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Friday, January 25, 2008

After 35 Years, Roe's at Risk

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v. Wade, which gave women the privacy and right to decide if they want an abortion, was delivered 35 years ago this week. But the 50 or so reproductive rights advocates who gathered downtown this week were not in the mood to celebrate.

Although the Supreme Court has not technically reversed the famous decision that sought to protect the "health of the woman," advocates said the Court completely changed its priorities and opened the door for anti-choice legislation on the state level in 2007 with Gonzales v. Carhart.

"For the first time, women's health was not a priority; there was no health exception," said Lorie Chaiten, attorney and director of the Reproductive Rights Project in Illinois. "(In Carhart) the Court changes how they look at women."

For full story, go here:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Roe v. Wade May Not Be Safe

This thorough review of the 2007 Supreme Court decision I wrote last May seemed appropriate to post today, the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Judgment day, long-awaited by many conservatives, arrived April 18 as the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act is valid. Using sometimes circuitous and suspect arguments and logic, the majority of the Court reversed the judgments of the Courts of Appeals for the Eighth and Ninth Circuits, stating that the ban was not void for vagueness and does not impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion based on its overbreadth or lack of a health exception for the mother.

“Today’s decision is alarming,” said Justice Ginsburg in her dissenting opinion, for which she was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer. “It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey (Roe v. Wade) between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.”

What is at stake, Ginsburg stated, is a woman’s “control over her [own] destiny,” as recognized by previous courts. A woman’s ability to realize her full potential is intimately connected to her ability to control her reproductive life. And a woman’s autonomy, she argued, is needed for her to enjoy equal citizenship. The current case, known as Gonzales v. Carhart, is the first case on abortion to be decided by the Supreme Court since the only other female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, retired.

In the first footnote following her 10-page dissent, which was nearly as long as the majority opinion, Ginsburg noted the term “partial-birth abortion” is not recognized or used by the medical community. Doctors refer to it as dilation and extraction (D&X) or intact dilation and evacuation (intact D&E). Because the procedure banned in the 2003 legislation does not have a medical definition, the majority opinion interpreted the term “partial-birth abortion” in sometimes vivid detail.

The majority took great lengths to describe a procedure used in only 10 to 15 percent of the 1.3 million abortions performed in the United States each year after the first trimester, as most are performed in the first three months. The majority opinion stated that first trimester procedures and other types of late-term procedures would still be legal and are not included in the Act. It also explained that a “partial-birth” abortion is a variation of a standard D&E.

But the Act goes beyond delineating which procedures are allowed and which are not by criminalizing the procedures they defined in it. Any doctor who performed an abortion that might meet the Court-proscribed definition could be fined or imprisoned, or both. To alleviate concerns or remedy offenses, the majority stated that a defendant – or doctor – accused of such an offense could seek a hearing before the State Medical Board to determine whether the conduct was necessary to save the life of the mother.

To make sure that doctors know what they are allowed to do and not do for their patients, the majority defined the criminal actions as follows:

“The term ‘partial-birth abortion,’ (1) means an abortion in which the person performing the abortion --- “deliberately and intentionally, (A) vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside of the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and “performs the overt act, other, (B) than completion of the delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus.”

Claiming to reaffirm “Roe’s essential holding,” the majority opinion recognized a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. But their opinion withheld the State’s right to restrict abortions after fetal viability because “the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.”

One key point made by the majority was that “the Act expresses respect for the dignity of human life.” Also, the “government has an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.” And, the “government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman.” In addition, the fact that the Act may have the “incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it.”

The majority expanded on its ‘respect for human life’ position by condemning the extinction of life whether by abortion, infanticide or euthanasia and expressing great concern for the mother’s emotional well-being which finds “an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child.” The majority said its decision would aid women rather than imposing significant health risks to them because safe methods of abortion would still be available.

“We reject the contention that the congressional purpose of the Act was to ‘place a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion,’” the majority opinion stated.

In her dissenting opinion, Ginsburg said the medical information used by the majority was inaccurate. She said there is evidence that an intact D&E is safer for the woman than other methods in many cases. “Pregnant women’s health would be jeopardized under the Act,” she wrote, based on the testimony of physicians and nine professional medical associations.

Ginsburg also attacked the logic of the majority opinion regarding its attempt to differentiate between methods used for abortion on the basis that one is less humane or gruesome than another. She criticized the majority’s comments about a woman’s “fragile emotional state” stating it “reflects ancient notions about women’s place in the family and under the Constitution.”

“In sum, the notion that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act furthers any legitimate governmental interest is, quite simply, irrational,” Ginsburg wrote. “In candor, the Act, and the Court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court – and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Every day products, every day toxins, report says

Potentially toxic chemicals are entering our bodies from every day items such as tin cans, water bottles, shower curtains, electronics, sofa cushions and other textiles. These are the surprising results of a biomonitoring project released last week that found all three types of industrial chemicals being studied in participants from seven states, including Illinois.

Environmental organizations and health professionals tested participants’ hair, blood and urine samples for evidence of the chemicals. They released the report, Is It In Us?: Chemical Contamination in our Bodies, which included test results and recommendations for fixing what they called a "broken chemical safety system.”

Full story:

(c) Keri Lynch 2008

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Durbin addresses deadly staph infections

News of the so-called "super-bug" continues to swirl around Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, causing concern in schools, communities and hospitals. In several cases, small cuts and scrapes have turned into life-threatening illnesses.

For others, routine visits to a hospital left patients seriously ill with antibiotic-resistant staph infections. The particularly dangerous Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, referred to as MRSA ("mur-suh"), has already caused the death of several area children and an estimated 19,000 people nationwide.

To deal with the growing problem, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) authored legislation that would help hospitals and communities prevent, detect and treat staph infections, including the deadly MRSA.

The Community and Healthcare-Associated Infections Reduction (CHAIR) Act, introduced Oct. 30, addresses public awareness, research, reporting and prevention efforts.

Full story: