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Teen moms from wealthier backgrounds may face greater ‘opportunity costs’ than low-income teen moms, study finds 

It’s well known that Mississippi teens give birth at one of the highest rates in the nation. But how does this affect the lives of adolescent mothers? 

A recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at how, statistically, teen motherhood may not be a universally negative life event. Rather, teenage mothers from more privileged backgrounds face a greater “opportunity cost,” which is the loss of potential economic gain, compared to their less-advantages peers.

That’s due to a simple fact about what it means to have and to lose access to higher education, a good-paying job and quality healthcare. Teen mothers from higher-socioeconomic backgrounds have more opportunities and therefore more to lose, the study says. It also goes to show that teen mothers from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds face greater barriers to getting an education than just childbirth, said Joseph Wolfe, a sociology professor who worked on the study that analyzed longitudinal data spanning thousands of women across the 20th century.

“One of the many things associated with not having lots of opportunities” is teen birth, Wolfe said. “It can’t affect the opportunity cost if there are no opportunities.”

Wolfe added that childbirth, on its own, likely didn’t prevent a low-income teen mother from graduating college if she was never going to be able to afford tuition. 

Therefore, policies that solely aim to reduce teen birth, such as sex education, may not be as effective in increasing educational attainment for these mothers as ones that reduce the cost of college, combat generational poverty or increase the availability of childcare or well-paying jobs in economically deprived areas of the state, Wolfe said. 

“We no longer have the kind of society where the village is going to come in and help you raise your kid,” Wolfe said. “We really do need to have social structures that are … available freely for anyone who wants to use it.” 

In fact, Wolfe added, an approach to solving teen birth that only focuses on sex education may be more likely to benefit women from wealthier backgrounds for whom teen childbirth is one of the only barriers they face on their path to college.

“Those are the individuals that would actually have the resources to implement what a sex education would ask them to implement,” Wolfe said.

This is especially true when a college degree remains the door to good-paying jobs, the study noted. 

At the same time, teens across Mississippi face a dearth of accurate information and available resources to help prevent teen pregnancy, said Hope Crenshaw, the executive director of Teen Health Mississippi.

“We don’t dictate or we don’t narrate how much information people get if they are living with cancer,” Crenshaw said. “We give them all the information. We tell them about dietary options, we tell them about medicine, we tell them about support groups. When it comes to this (teen pregnancy), why are we regulating information?” 

Crenshaw works with teens across the state, and she said they have a range of perspectives on what it would mean for them to have a child as a teenager and the “opportunity cost” it might pose for them. Some are excited about the idea; for others, it wasn’t a choice, or the person they thought would help raise their child decided not to commit. 

“They don’t necessarily see it as, ‘if I have a child, I can’t do these things,’” Crenshaw said. “They’re trying to balance them both and that can be difficult.” 

This is especially the case for teen parents who are not white and from a lower socioeconomic background, Crenshaw added. Due to implicit bias, they are less likely to be taken seriously by adults in the medical system. They are more likely to live in a healthcare desert or to struggle to find childcare. 

Even so, Wolfe noted that teenage mothers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may also be more likely to have a family network that can help them raise their child. 

“The implications of having a child are way different for different families,” he said. 

As society has become even more stratified, that has become even more true, according to the study, which looked at longitudinal data on women across generations from 1922 to 1984. 

“The world opened up for some women,” Wolfe said. “It should have opened up for everybody.”

In the post-World War II baby boom era, teen births were “common and unremarkable.” It was permissible for schools to expel pregnant students. A teen birth was almost twice as likely for women as earning a college degree. 

“In the 50s and 60s, who cares if you have a teen birth because your husband is going to be your bridge to (a higher) social class,” Wolfe said. 

After the social movements of the mid-20th century, that began to change, the study found. The U.S. became more economically stratified, a country of “diverging destinies.” The Food and Drug Administration approved the first oral contraceptive, and teen births dropped for those who could access it. 

By the 1990s, teen births were “an indicator of social class,” Wolfe said. 

A number of policies exacerbated this. In the information economy, a college degree became more salient, but the cost of tuition began to rise as states pulled back funding for higher education. And welfare reform resulted in some states withholding previously available child care benefits from teen mothers.  

Still, opportunities for adolescent mothers have grown across the board. The study found that millennial teen mothers were more likely to have a college degree than women from the silent generation, those who became teenagers in 1950, who did not have a teen birth.

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Abortions illegal in Mississippi despite Supreme Court ruling ensuring medication access

Despite a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court ensuring the availability of the abortion medication mifepristone, most abortions will remain illegal in Mississippi.

The nation’s highest court in a unanimous decision struck down a lawsuit attempting to limit availability of mifepristone, which is widely used to induce abortions. But use of the drug remains illegal in Mississippi and 13 other states that have near total bans on abortion.

“Unfortunately abortion remains illegal in Mississippi whether by medication or other means,” said Rob McDuff, of the Mississippi Center for Justice and the attorney for the last abortion provider that remained in the state before the Supreme Court overturned the national right to an abortion in 2021.  “However, the Mississippi law banning abortion specifically states that a woman cannot be prosecuted for having an abortion.  Anyone who helps her might be prosecuted, but not the person who has the abortion.”

Technically, a woman could receive the abortion pill from an out-of-state provider through the mail and it could prove difficult for the state to pursue any prosecution. PBS News Hour reported studies found that at the end of 2023, about 8,000 women a month in states where abortions were banned were receiving the abortion pill via mail from states where abortions are legal and providers who perform them are protected by state law from prosecution.

State Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s office did not answer questions about the most recent Supreme Court ruling. Fitch filed the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which was the 1973 landmark case that guaranteed the national right to an abortion.

While Fitch’s office did not respond to questions about the most recent Supreme Court ruling, in the past Fitch has attempted to force the Biden administration to provide to her office or other law enforcement medical information on women who leave Mississippi for abortions.

McDuff said the Center for Justice is willing to represent for free anyone who is prosecuted under the state’s abortion laws.

While state law bans most abortions in Mississippi and there is no clinic providing abortions, a 1990s’ state Supreme Court ruling said abortions were legal under the Mississippi Constitution. That ruling, which would theoretically trump state law, has never been reversed by the current Supreme Court.

A lawsuit by anti-abortion groups is seeking to have the 1990s’ opinion reversed.

Mississippi Rep. Zakiya Summers, D-Jackson, said she does not know if it would be feasible to introduce legislation based on the most recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling ensuring the availability of the abortion pill.

“It would be DOA,” she said. “The (Republican) majority does not want to touch anything dealing with abortion. They have been given their marching orders.”

Summers said she will continue to focus on trying to pass legislation guaranteeing access to contraceptives, which she says is a different issue than what was decided in the most recent Supreme Court ruling on the abortion pill.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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Tech company trade group seeks to block state’s new internet safety act

A trade association with members like Google and X filed a federal lawsuit to block the state’s new bipartisan internet safety law.

The Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act, or House Bill 1126, requires social media services to verify the ages of their users and bans digitally-produced or modified images of child pornography. The bill is named after Walker Montgomery, a Starkville teen who took his own life after being the victim of a sextortion scheme.

Under the new law, minors cannot sign up for social media websites without their parent’s permission. Social media sites cannot advertise “harmful material” to minors or collect, sell or share their personal information. 

The law takes effect July 1. 

Last week, trade association NetChoice filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state to block it. In a press release, NetChoice called the new law a violation of Mississippians’ privacy and freedom of speech. They warned that the bill would open the door for censorship and put users’ personal information at risk.

“Parents and guardians are best situated to control their family’s online presence. HB 1126 usurps the parental role and seizes it for the State,” the lawsuit reads.

NetChoice is a trade association of tech companies that advocates for free speech and expression on the internet. It is a major lobbyist against government regulation of social media. Its members include major online companies such as Etsy, X and Google.

Walker Montgomery’s story inspired Jilil Ford, R-Madison, Fabian Nelson, D-Jackson, and Larry Byrd, R-Petal, to work on the bipartisan bill.

Nelson did not comment on the lawsuit, but defended the bill. “Our motivation behind this legislation was not to infringe upon anyone’s rights. Our motivation with this legislation was to protect our children,” he said.

Nelson emphasized the need for legislation that keeps up with technological advancements. He was also personally touched as a father of three by Montgomery’s story. 

“Sitting quietly while things like this happen makes us worse than the perpetrators,” he said.

Mississippi is one of several states to pass a law requiring social media users to verify their ages. NetChoice launched lawsuits across the country opposing them in the name of preserving freedom of speech.

American Civil Liberties Union Staff Attorney Vera Feilman was also critical of the law, saying, “Such age-verification laws rob users of anonymity, pose privacy and security risks, and could be used to block some people from being able to use social media at all.”

The ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting NetChioice’s lawsuit in Arkansas over a similar bill.

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Dau Mabil’s widow, her family say they seek justice for him

Karissa Bowley and her family say they support all efforts to find justice for the late Dau Mabil, despite implications by others to the contrary. 

“Dau was special before he ever married me,” his widow told reporters in a Friday press conference. “I’m just here, missing him.”

Mabil — a 33-year-old Belhaven Heights resident who had been one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan and came to Jackson in 2000 –dissappeared March 25. He was seen on video surveillance on Jefferson Street between Fortification and High streets, and at one point went to the Museum Trail to check on corn he planted. 

Last image of Dau Mabil on Jefferson Street in Jackson, Miss., before he disappeared on March 25, 2024.

Bowley searched for her husband with others. “The whole ordeal has been frustrating and tragic,” she said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Three weeks after his disappearance, a fisherman spotted a body floating in the Pearl River near Lawrence County, more than 50 miles away. By April 18, a preliminary autopsy had revealed the body belonged to Mabil. The Lawrence County sheriff said there was no evidence of foul play. Her family said Friday that authorities told them they are waiting on toxicology tests before finalizing the official autopsy.

Bowley said it wasn’t unusual for Dau to leave without his phone and his identification.

Texts contained in court records reveal a strained relationship between Bowley and Mabil. Bowley complained that Mabil was “drinking a lot,” and Mabil complained that Bowley “does not know how to control her emotions.”

Bowley’s brother, Spencer, responded Friday, “No marriage is perfect, and theirs wasn’t either.”

But he said the allegation that Bowley or the family had anything to do with Mabil’s disappearance is simply false.

He said some claimed on social media that Bowley contacted police just 30 minutes after Mabil disappeared or that she waited until the next day. He said both claims are entirely false.

Bowley said there is a void where her husband once was. “Grief is your body, mind and spirit saying no,” she said, “but the reality is still there.”

After the state finishes its investigation, official autopsy results will be released to Bowley and Mabil’s brother, Bul, according to a court order. 

Bul Mabil recently won the right to have an independent autopsy performed on Dau’s remains.

Bowley’s family said they support all efforts by Bul Mabil and others to find justice.

“I’m feeling very deeply the loss of Dau. I keep pushing for justice for Dau,” Bowley said. “He’s a person I care to honor the rest of my life.”

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Gwen Dilworth joins health team at Mississippi Today

Gwen Dilworth is a Community Health reporter at Mississippi Today. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Mississippi Today is pleased to announce that Gwen Dilworth has joined the community health team at Mississippi Today.

Dilworth is a native of Durham, North Carolina, and most recently completed a fellowship at The Times-Independent in Moab, Utah, where she covered local government and Southeast Utah’s mining industry. Before that, she worked at Innocence Project New Orleans where she advocated for people serving long sentences for nonviolent crimes.

“Gwen is not only a fantastic writer but an impressive investigator with a diverse skill set and a knack for ensuring accuracy,” said Kate Royals, community health editor at Mississippi Today. “Mississippi is lucky to have her here.”

Dilworth also served as a fact checker for Boyce Upholt’s book “The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the Mississippi” and freelanced for local news publication The Mid-City Messenger in New Orleans.

“It is a privilege to have the opportunity to cover a beat that is so important and connected to Mississippians’ daily lives,” said Dilworth. “I’m thrilled to be joining a team of passionate and talented journalists covering critical topics in the state with thoughtfulness and care. I’m looking forward to learning from and being a part of such a vibrant and welcoming community.” 

Dilworth will report on the intersection of health and criminal justice, among other areas of the health beat.

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Judicial candidates in contested elections raise nearly $130,000 in May 

The 10 candidates running in a contested election for a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court or the Mississippi Court of Appeals collectively raised just over $126,000 during May, according to campaign finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office. 

The candidate who raised the most money during May was 8th District Chancery Judge Jennifer Schloegel who is running for the open seat on the state Court of Appeals. 

Schloegel’s campaign raised over $42,000 last month, totaling over $140,000 she has raised so far this year. Of that money, she has spent around $25,000 this year, leaving her with around $123,751 in cash on hand. 

The Gulf Coast-based District 5 race that Schloegel and her two opponents—Pascagoula-based attorney Amy St. Pe and Caost-based prosecutor Ian Baker—are competing in is shaping up to be the most expensive of the three contested judicial elections this cycle. 

St. Pe’s campaign committee amassed just over $24,000 in donations last month, totaling around $131,000 she’s raised so far this year. Of that money, she’s spent a total of $29,510 this year, leaving her with over $101,000 in cash on hand. 

Baker’s campaign raised  $3,200 last month, bringing his total this year to around $68,051. He’s spent around $950 this year, leaving him with over $67,000 in cash on hand. 

The second-most expensive race is the contested central district Supreme Court race, in which incumbent Justice Jim Kitchens faces four different challengers. Kitchens, currently the second-most senior justice on the court, raised around $18,000 last month, bringing his total raised this year to $60,00. Of that money, he spent $33,000, leaving him with around $27,000 in cash on hand. 

Republican state Sen. Jenifer Branning of Philadelphia is cementing herself as the top challenger in the race by raking in $77,000, for a total of $145,000 raised this year. She’s spent $27,000 so far and loaned her campaign $250,0000, leaving her with over $368,000 in cash on hand. 

The other three candidates in the central district race —  Jackson-based attorney Abby Grace Robinson, former Court of Appeals Judge Ceola James and Hinds County attorney Byron Carter — raised nominal amounts compared to the other two. 

Robinson has not raised or spent any money this year, James has only raised around $1,700 this year and Carter has raised around $5,600 so far. 

In the contested Supreme Court seat in the southern district, incumbent Justice Dawn Beam and challenger David Sullivan remain almost neck-and-neck in fundraising. 

Beam raised $18,800 last month, totaling $36,350 this year. She’s spent over $16,000 so far, leaving her with around $20,000 in cash on hand. 

Sullivan, a south Mississippi-based attorney, raised nearly $20,000 in May, for a total of around $35,000. He’s spent just over $1,000 this year, leaving him with over $34,000 in cash. 

Candidates must disclose their campaign expenditures again by 5 p.m. on July 10. While the amount of money a candidate has on hand is not necessarily a sign of their political strength, it can be a strong indicator of how they’ll fare on Election Day. 

Judicial offices are nonpartisan, so candidates do not participate in party primaries. All candidates will appear on the Nov. 5, 2024, general election ballot. If a candidate does not receive a majority of the votes cast, the two candidates who received the most votes will advance to a runoff election on Nov. 26.

Judges on Mississippi’s two highest courts do not run at large. Instead, voters from their respective districts elect them.

The nine members of the Supreme Court are elected from three districts: northern, central and southern. The 10 members of the Court of Appeals are each elected from five districts across the state.

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Swim lessons promote fun and safety at 100 Black Men of Jackson

Swim instructor Betty Smithson teaches a student how to float and kick during lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Summer and swimming go hand in hand. With summer being only a few days away, one of the best ways to beat the heat is having fun in the water. But before jumping in any water to cool off, knowing how to swim is the key to great fun.

Swim classes are underway at 100 Black Men of Jackson, located at 5360 Highland Drive, just south of Callaway High School.

“We had 303 participants last summer,” said instructor Betty Smithson. “The swim program will have four, 2-week sessions.”

With smiles and encouragement, swim instructor Betty Smithson teaches a student how kick during lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

They started June 3 and will continue through July 25. “There are six, 45-minute classes per day and classes meet Monday to Thursday,” added Smithson before entering the pool.

Kids file out to the pool and are eager to hit the water. Instructors Smithson, Meredith Cole and Matthew Mixon, Sunkist Swim Team head coach and owner of Live Slow Swim Fast LLC, greet each child by name and with a smile. 

Swim instructor Matthew Mixon teaches a student how to hold her breath, descend to the bottom of the pool and ascend safely, during lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Lessons begin. Instructors are teaching water safety, breath control, flotation and swim strokes to children with a wide range of abilities with patience and care.

Swim instructor Betty Smithson and a student are all smiles after he successfully kicks to her, during lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 in the United States and the second leading cause of death by accidental injury for children 5 to 14.

A student takes the plunge and kicks the short distance to the outstretched arms of instructor Betty Smithson, during lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

“Our goal here is teaching kids to be safe in and around the water,” said Aquatics Director Barnett Taylor. “These lessons will enable these kids to have fun in the water and also to be safe. That’s the key.”

A student learns the backstroke under the tutelage of instructor Matthew Mixon, during swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
Swim instructor Matthew Mixon teaches a student how to how to float, during lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
A swim student learns the backstroke under the watchful eye of instructor Matthew Mixon, during swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
Swim classes are underway at 100 Black Men of Jackson, located at 5360 Highland Drive, just south of Callaway High School. The swim program is comprised of six, 45-minute classes per day and classes meet Monday – Thursday. Classes began June 3rd and lasts to July 25. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
A student learns the backstroke during swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
Instructor Meredith Cole teaches a student how to float, during swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
A student learns how to put on goggles during swim classes held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
The joy of success, during swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
Instructor Meredith Cole teaches beginners swim strokes, during swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today
A cannonball off the diving board punctuates the end of swim lessons held at 100 Black Men of Jackson, Wednesday, June 12, 2024. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

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Latest hospital safety grades show big drop for one Jackson hospital

Credit: Graphic by Bethany Atkinson

A large Jackson hospital earned a D in hospital safety from a group that measures how well  hospitals protect its patients from harm.

Mississippi Baptist Medical Center fell from an A in 2021 and 2022 to a D in the spring of this year, according to the Leapfrog Group’s most recent Hospital Safety Grade ratings. 

Baptist scored worse than average in preventing problems like MRSA infections and post-surgery problems like breathing issues, blood leakage and bed sores.

“Providing quality care is our top priority, as is evidenced by our many safety awards and recognitions,” Baptist Public Relations Coordinator Caroline Gillard said in a statement to Mississippi Today. She cited Baptist’s U.S. News and World Report  ranked as the #1 hospital in Mississippi for five years in a row.

U.S. News and World Report bases its rankings and ratings on how well a hospital performs specific procedures and treats certain conditions. 

“We encourage patients to consider all quality standards and measures available to them from publically reported sources along with the services and expertise of each hospital in making decisions about their care,” Gillard said in the statement. “We are proud of the care we provide and our team of caregivers who save countless lives daily.”

The Leapfrog Group is a nonprofit that evaluates the safety and quality of general hospitals nationwide. They are most known for their Hospital Safety Grade system, which rates hospitals from A to F. The results come out twice a year.

The Hospital Safety Grade is based on how well the hospital protects patients from errors, accidents, infections, injuries and more. It uses up to thirty performance measures from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Leapfrog Hospital Survey and additional data. 

The spring 2024 hospital ratings came out in May. Mississippi ranked 34th in hospital safety overall.

Of the eight hospitals in the Merit Health system graded, only two made B’s. Five earned C’s and one, Merit Health Rankin in Brandon, earned a D.

Across all reports, the hospitals “declined to respond” to several categories: pediatric care, complex adult and pediatric surgery, and more. This means they chose not to disclose that information to the public. In a statement to Mississippi Today, Merit Health Biloxi’s Marketing Manager Amy Bowman did not answer why it did not submit the data for certain areas. 

“We are pleased to see our Leapfrog grade improve (from a D in spring 2023) with this most recent update and it reflects the focused work of our providers,” said Bowman. “Our leadership team and clinicians implement evidence-based best practices to continually strengthen the care we provide.”

Several hospitals improved their grades, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center maintained its B grade from the fall.

Dr. Lisa Didion, physician champion in UMMC’s Office of Patient Experience, presented a report about patient quality in this year’s May Health Affairs Committee of the Institutions of Higher Learning. 

“Clinical quality is absolutely the most important thing we do at the medical center,” she said.

Singing River Gulfport’s grade jumped from a C last fall to a B this spring. It has average or better-than-average scores in several areas, including a culture of safety among the staff and preventing safety problems like collapsed lungs and blood clots.

Singing River’s Pascagoula and Ocean Springs hospitals both received Cs.

Last  fall’s report had eight As, 10 Bs, 19 Cs, three D’s, and one that was not graded. This spring there are seven As, eight Bs, 19 C’s and five Ds. 

One hospital, Delta Health Northwest Regional in Clarksdale, did not receive a grade.

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