We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Texas passes historic law banning abortion after detection of fetal heartbeat
The Lone Star State passed a new law prohibiting abortions that occur after a fetal heartbeat can be detected in the womb. The law SB-8, more popularly known as the Heartbeat Bill, went into effect Wednesday of this week, effectively outlawing about 85 percent of abortions in Texas.
While other states have legislated similar heartbeat bills, those efforts were quickly blocked by the judicial system as violating abortion rights established in Roe v. Wade half a century ago. With the Texas legislation, however, the U.S. Supreme Court voted not to block it, thus allowing an American heartbeat bill to take effect despite the outcries of healthcare providers and abortion-rights groups. The new law is unique in that its mechanism of enforcement is financial, allowing citizens to sue abortionists and win up to $10,000 in damages if a pregnancy is terminated after a heartbeat is detectable.
Pro-life advocates are widely celebrating the historic win. In the words of the legislative director of Human Coalition, the largest pro-life nonprofit organization in the country, “a fetal heartbeat is a clear and scientifically acknowledged sign of human life. Human beings are worthy of protection at all phases of development and the importance of a growing human in the womb cannot be undermined in good conscience. We are confident in SB 8’s constitutionality. Legal challenges to SB 8 are groundless and will ultimately fail.”
The White House, however, disagrees. President Biden swiftly released an official statement in which he slammed the new law, calling it “unconstitutional” and “outrageous.” —Mariel Lindsay
Louisiana and other states are hit by Hurricane Ida
In the middle of hurricane season, Ida, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the United States, wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast and caused more than 40 deaths in the Northeast.
When Ida hit Louisiana on Sunday, more than 1 million people were left without power. The storm’s Category 4 winds destroyed homes and flooded neighborhoods. Devastating photos show the effects of one of the “strongest and fastest intensifying storms in more than 150 years of hurricane records.”
New York City was hit particularly hard after Ida mellowed to a tropical storm, which still packed enough punch to cause flooding in basements and on roads, blocking subway trains with rainfall and leaving dozens of casualties in its wake.
Queens resident Deborah Torres told the Associated Press that the water level in her apartment reached her knees. Three people died in the basement apartment of her building. “The water pressure was so fast and strong, so I think they couldn’t open the door either way because this is like a pool,” she said. “I don’t know how that happened. It was so fast.”
Cleanup is underway, and for many Gulf Coast residents, this storm may feel like déjà vu. NPR reports, “Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest storm on record in U.S. history.” —Madeline Fry Schultz
United States strikes ISIS operatives, stopping another Kabul attack
This weekend, the United States performed a drone strike against two ISIS-K members suspected of planning further attacks in Kabul, where American citizens and Afghan allies are trapped after the last U.S. troops evacuated this week.
ISIS is suspected to be responsible for an explosion at the Kabul airport that killed dozens of U.S. service members and Afghans, while desperate crowds sought to catch a flight out of Afghanistan as the Taliban took over the country. The drone strike this week was not followed by additional terrorist activity, suggesting it was successful; however, at least 10 civilians were also reportedly killed in the strike, including seven children. Malika Ahmadi, 2, was the youngest civilian who died.
Meanwhile, Reuters reported this week that President Joe Biden had a phone call with then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani before the Taliban victory urging him to work on the Afghan government’s “perception” problem. “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
The last U.S. troops left Afghanistan on Tuesday, ending a 20-year war that began after 9/11. More than 100 Americans and tens of thousands of U.S.-friendly Afghans remain. The U.S. has also left some billions of dollars of military equipment in the hands of the Taliban. —MFS
Unofficial military mission rescues hundreds of Afghans from the Taliban
In a real-life example of extraordinary heroism, a covert group of highly trained U.S. military veterans reportedly conducted undercover rescue missions to save the lives of hundreds of Afghan allies and their families.
According to ABC News, which scored interviews with some of the leaders of the mission branded “Task Force Pineapple,'' the epic rescue strategy was conceived after the Department of Defense ordered the U.S. military to evacuate by the August 31 deadline, inevitably leaving behind billions of dollars worth of weaponry for the Taliban, and potentially, other violent groups too. Horrified, some soldiers and Special Forces veterans began connecting in an encrypted chat room to take matters directly into their own hands to save innocent lives.
According to the task force’s leader, former Green Beret Captain Zac Lois, they modeled their escape strategy on Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad for American slave escapees. In the dead of night, soldiers snuck families, including women and children, past dangerous Taliban checkpoints. They also equipped escapees with counterfeit papers to conceal their identities. Once past checkpoints outside the airport, escapees were rushed onto secretly chartered planes and evacuated.
The results were incredible: In the ten days since Kabul fell to the terrorist group, the mission managed to rescue hundreds of Afghanis. Asked by ABC News why he risked his life in such a dangerous way, former Navy Seal Jason Redman told reporters that “our own government didn’t do this . . . We did what we should do, as Americans.” —ML
China forbids kids to play video games on weekdays
Chinese authorities announced they will no longer allow children to play online games during the school week; instead, they’ll be limited to three hours of play on the weekend. Under a strict new rule that takes effect this week, kids will only be allowed to play from 8 pm to 9 pm on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. The goal, CNN reports, is to prevent gaming addiction and keep students’ attention on their studies.
A representative for the National Press and Publication Administration claimed the move was a response to parent requests. “Many parents said that teenagers' addiction to online games seriously affected their studies, and physical and mental health, leading to a series of social problems, making many parents suffer,” the spokesperson said.
The Chinese government will be able to track use, because it requires all gamers to sign in and play using their real names. Previously, the government allowed minors to have 90 minutes of gaming on weekdays and three hours on the weekend.
Chinese state media has compared video games to “opium” that potentially drugs users and damages their mental and physical health. It’s true that gaming can be addictive, but in reality, this move is likely related to the Communist Party’s increasing crackdown on businesses. Recently, the government has attacked the country’s tech and private education sectors as well, seeking to demonstrate the limits of corporate power. —Margaret Brady
Pink calls out YouTube star’s parents for allegedly exploiting their teenage daughter
Rockstar Pink spoke up against YouTuber Piper Rockelle’s parents for posting suggestive pictures of their then-13-year-old daughter in a bikini on her Instagram account, which is managed by the family.
“How many kids like Piper Rockelle are being exploited by their parents?” Pink tweeted. “And at what point do the rest of us say … ‘this isn’t okay for a 13 yr old to be posing in a bikini whilst her MOTHER takes the photo?!?!”
Rockelle is a singer and dancer who has more than 8 million YouTube subscribers. She is in the eighth grade and turned 14 at the beginning of August.
The YouTube star responded to Pink’s comments in an interview with TODAY Parents. “There’s nothing wrong with being in a bikini,” Rockelle said. “Why do we shame people for that? Pictures of teenagers in bikinis having fun are not sexual. They’re only sexual if you view us that way.”
Piper’s mom, Tiffany Rockelle, claims she is just supporting her daughter’s dreams. “Since Piper was a child, she has had a strong love of performing and she has always had a dream,” Tiffany said. “So long as Piper wants to do this and it’s her passion, I’m here for her to follow that dream and protect her.” —Melanie Wilcox
Beyoncé receives scrutiny for wearing Tiffany necklace (while prior women who wore it didn’t)
Beyoncé has been criticized for wearing a 128.54-carat yellow diamond in a Tiffany & Co. advertising campaign. Her husband, Jay-Z, also appeared in the campaign promoting the couple’s first jewelry collaboration, called “About Love.”
Beyoncé is only the fourth person in the world to wear the gem, which was famously donned by Audrey Hepburn to promote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She’s also the first Black woman to wear it. The diamond was discovered in 1877 in the notoriously abusive Kimberley mines in South Africa, and the stone’s colonial history has caused critics to accuse the mega superstar of normalizing blood diamonds.
Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, stepped in on behalf of her daughter. “How many of you socially conscious activist [sic] own diamonds?” Knowles-Lawson posted on social media. “I thought so! Well, guess what did you go to try to check to see where the diamond came from? Probably not.”
Notably, none of Beyoncé’s predecessors who wore the diamond—Hepburn, Lady Gaga, and socialite Mary Whitehouse, who debuted it at a 1950s Tiffany Ball—have faced such a firestorm of criticism. The singer’s work has frequently featured themes of Black liberation and solidarity.
“Beyoncé and Jay-Z are the epitome of the modern love story,” Alexandre Arnault, Tiffany’s executive vice president of product and communications, said in a press release. “As a brand that has always stood for love, strength, and self-expression, we could not think of a more iconic couple that better represents Tiffany’s values. We are honored to have the Carters as a part of the Tiffany family.” —MW
Rose McGowan calls out Oprah Winfrey for her friendship with Harvey Weinstein
Actress Rose McGowan lambasted Oprah Winfrey on Twitter Sunday for the media mogul’s friendship with Harvey Weinstein and for allegedly “destroying Russell Simmon’s victims.”
“I am glad more are seeing the ugly truth of @Oprah,” McGowan tweeted. “I wish she were real, but she isn’t. From being pals with Weinstein to abandoning & destroying Russell Simmon’s victims, she is about supporting a sick power structure for personal gain, she is as fake as they come.” McGowan also included a photo of Winfrey giving Harvey Weinstein a kiss on the cheek at what appears to be an awards dinner.
Winfrey previously faced withering criticism after withdrawing as an executive producer of a documentary about Simmons, the New York Times reported. The film, called On the Record, spotlights the stories of women who claim they were abused and raped by Simmons. Winfrey, who cited creative differences with the directors for her departure two weeks before the movie’s premiere, has admitted that Simmons repeatedly contacted her to try to get her to abandon the project.
"It was shocking, because I always listened to Oprah as a high figure of representing black women. . . I didn't understand, but I wasn't angry or upset. It was more, 'Wow, why would she do that?,’” USA TODAY quoted Sheri Sher, one of the survivors who tells her story in the documentary. —Melanie Wilcox
Good News of the Week
No more leaded gas in cars: Algeria, the last country still selling it, just ran out
For decades, leaded gasoline has been linked to lower IQs, criminal violence, and other potential consequences of lead poisoning, especially in children. This week, the United Nations Environmental Programme announced that this July, Algeria finally used up the world’s last supply of the gas for cars.
In the 1920s, scientists discovered adding lead to gasoline made engines run better. The “breakthrough” quickly took the emerging automotive world by storm, even though alternatives were available. By the 1970s, evidence of harm was clear, as millions of cars were belching contaminated gas into the air. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency began a campaign to phase out leaded gas, and today, cars are made to run on unleaded fuel only. Ethanol, a more expensive natural agricultural byproduct, is used in place of lead.
But in the developing world, progress was slower. NPR reports that some leaders had been bribed to buy huge stockpiles, which their countries were unable to afford to give up. In other wartorn places, cleaning up the gas supply was not a priority.
With Algeria ending sales, leaded gas will now only be used in airplanes and off-road vehicles. The U.N. estimates the planet will save more than $2 trillion a year, and more than a million early deaths will be prevented as a result. —MB
Watch of the Week
Hurricane Ida’s fury has swept across the United States, leaving a trail of damage and loss in its wake. Here’s footage taken from coastal communities as the category 4 storm made landfall in the South, courtesy of the Guardian.