Jennifer Ludden

Jennifer Ludden is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. She covers a range of stories on family life and social issues.

In recent years, Ludden has reported on the changing economics of marriage, the changing role of dads, the impact of rising student debt loads, and the ethical challenges of modern reproductive technology.

Ludden helped cover national security after the 9/11 attacks, then reported on the Bush administration's crackdown on illegal immigrants as well as Congressional efforts to pass a sweeping legalization. She traveled to the Philippines for a story on how an overburdened immigration bureaucracy keeps families separated for years, and to El Salvador to profile migrants who had been deported or turned back at the border.

Prior to moving into her current assignment in 2002, Ludden spent six years as a foreign reporter for NPR covering the Middle East, Europe, and West and Central Africa. She followed the collapse of the decade-long Oslo peace process, shared in two awards (Overseas Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists) for NPR's coverage of the Kosovo war in 1999, and won the Robert F. Kennedy award for her coverage of the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When not navigating war zones, Ludden reported on cultural trends, including the dying tradition of storytellers in Syria, the emergence of Persian pop music in Iran, and the rise of a new form of urban polygamy in Africa.

Before joining NPR in 1995, Ludden reported in Canada, and at public radio stations in Boston and Maine.

Ludden graduated from Syracuse University in 1988 with a bachelor's degree in English and Television, Radio and Film Production.

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More reaction now on today's historic Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. The announcement set off a party atmosphere among the hundreds of people gathered outside of the court.

When I set out to interview Helena Hicks, I thought we'd talk history. The soft-spoken, 80-year-old who stands just 4 feet 10 inches tall with a sleek, silver bob, is known for her role in helping to desegregate Read's Drug Store chain. But it turns out she's as active as ever, a force to reckon with at any sense of injustice.

"My father taught me that 'you are somebody,' " she says. "If it's wrong, you do something about it."

On a recent day at Baltimore's Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center, adolescent boys play basketball, while a group of girls play Monopoly at a nearby table. There's also air hockey, foosball and a computer room in back.

Director Brandi Murphy says there are also swim classes, science lessons, arts and crafts. But the center gives the kids — students age 5 to 12 who come after school and in the summer — far more than fun things to do.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a controversial state law requiring nearly all Texas facilities that perform abortions to operate like hospital-style surgical centers.

If the ruling stands, abortion providers say another dozen could close in the next few weeks. They say that would leave nearly a million women at least 150 miles from the nearest abortion provider.

Since the law first passed in 2013, about half the state's 40 clinics have shut down.

Mistrust between police and residents in West Baltimore is longstanding, and the fallout from the death of Freddie Gray has only heightened it.

Both sides now say they're taking steps to restore that trust, including one-on-one meetings and a neighborhood cookout. But community leaders say the ongoing spike in violence threatens to undermine such efforts.

The community group No Boundaries holds lots of listening sessions in West Baltimore. Organizer Rebecca Nagle says at one, well before Gray's death, people were asked: Who has the most power in your community?

In recent years, states have passed well over 250 laws restricting abortion. One trend in those restrictions: longer waiting periods before women can have the procedure.

Twenty-six states already have waiting periods. Most make women wait 24 hours between the time they get counseling on abortion and have the procedure. But this year, several states are extending that to 48 — even 72 — hours.

In a West Baltimore classroom, three dozen adults — all African-American, mostly men — are in their first week of "pre-employment training."

"Show me Monday, what does Monday look like," asks the instructor. They all raise one hand high above their head.

"That's where the energy should be every day," she says. "Stay alert!" The class responds in unison: "Stay alive."

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Lina describes herself as strong and independent. Born in Yemen and brought to the U.S. as a toddler, the 22-year-old now works retail at a mall to pay her way through college.

"I was raised very, very Americanized. I did sports, I did community service, I worked," Lina says. (NPR is not using her full name because she fears retribution from her family.)

When people hear her story, she says they tell her, "I never thought that this would ever happen to you."

#NPRreads is a new feature we're testing out on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom will share pieces that have kept them reading. They'll share tidbits on Twitter using the #NPRreads hashtag, and on occasion we'll share a longer take here on the blog.

This week, we bring you a bounty of six super insightful reads.

From Jennifer Ludden, a national correspondent for NPR News:

This is the second in a two-part story about Wal-Mart. Read and listen to Part 1 here.

One of the biggest objections critics often raise about Wal-Mart is how it treats its workers.

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Of the million or so women who have abortions every year in the U.S., nearly a quarter end their pregnancy using medications. But just as states have been passing a record number of restrictions on surgical abortion, more are trying to limit this option as well.

One of the country's strictest laws is in Ohio. To understand it, a little history helps.

Google "abortion Columbus" and halfway down the first page is a headline: "Your Right to Choose, Abortion in Columbus." It's for Pregnancy Decision Health Center, or PDHC, a chain of six sites in Ohio's capital whose aim is actually to guide women out of having the procedure.

Like many of the thousands of crisis pregnancy centers across the U.S., the PDHC near Ohio State University is right next door to a Planned Parenthood. There's a cozy room for private chats and a larger open space decorated in soothing colors.

Ohio may not have gotten the national attention of say, Texas, but a steady stream of abortion restrictions over the past four years has helped close nearly half the state's clinics that perform the procedure.

"We are more fully booked, and I think we have a harder time squeezing patients in if they're earlier in the pregnancy," says Chrisse France, executive director of Preterm. It's one of just two clinics still operating in Cleveland, and its caseload is up 10 percent.

Parents have made news recently after being detained for purposefully leaving children on their own, prompting renewed debate about so-called "free-range parenting."

That includes Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, a Silver Spring, Md., couple who are being investigated after they let their children, ages 10 and 6, walk home from a park last month by themselves.

House Republicans decided Wednesday night to shelve a bill that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks post-conception. But 10 states already ban abortions at 20 weeks and two others are defending such laws in court.

Activists are pushing for bans in at least three more states; a panel in the South Carolina Legislature passed one Thursday.

But under the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, a woman has the right to an abortion for several weeks after that, until the point when the fetus is considered viable.

A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of a hotly contested abortion law in Texas. The measure mandates stricter building codes for clinics that perform the procedure, and Fifth Circuit judges in New Orleans will decide whether that poses an undue burden.

The Texas law — HB2 — requires clinics that perform abortions to operate like ambulatory surgical centers. Think wider hallways and hospital-style equipment — upgrades that could cost millions.

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The new year is expected to bring yet another round of state laws to restrict abortion — and 2015 could also be the year a challenge to at least one of these laws could reach the Supreme Court.

The ongoing spike in abortion laws started after 2010, when Republicans won big in the midterms. Since then, state lawmakers have passed more than 200 abortion regulations — more than in the entire decade before. And with more statehouse gains in the fall elections, abortion opponents expect another good year.

Advocates for abortion rights are increasingly calling on women who've had the procedure to tell their stories publicly in an effort to combat the "shame and stigma" around it.

The University of Virginia is renegotiating its contract with fraternities, which were suspended after a Rolling Stone article described a frat house gang rape. Even though that article has been called into question, U.Va.

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When a Rolling Stone article on campus rape began to fall apart, activists immediately knew the real losers - everyone who's ever been a victim of sexual assault on campus.

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Amid all the shakeout from this week's midterm elections, many are trying to assess the impact on abortion.

Two abortion-related ballot measures were soundly defeated. A third passed easily. And those favoring restrictions on abortion will have a much bigger voice in the new Congress.

In North Dakota and Colorado, voters rejected 2-to-1 so-called personhood measures, which would give legal rights to fetuses.

Decades ago, an "oops" pregnancy might have meant a rush to the altar. But when Michelle Sheridan got pregnant three years ago, the topic of marriage never came up with her boyfriend, Phillip Underwood, whom she lives with in Frederick, Md.

If anything, it was the opposite.

"It changes the dynamic of the household," she says. "I had a friend who put off her marriage. Got pregnant, and she's like, 'Let's just wait, 'cause we don't know if we're going to be able to make it through this.' "

As the National Football League scrambles to defend its actions in amid a series of domestic abuse allegations against players, some of its harshest critics have been women. Female fans are a key part of the league's business strategy — the NFL says that women make up 45 percent of its fan base — but they haven't reacted to the scandal with one voice.

It's early Friday night, and Frostburg State University police officer Derrick Pirolozzi is just starting the late shift. At a white clapboard house, he jumps out of his SUV to chat with four students on the front steps.

"S'up guys!" he calls out, assuring them he just wants to chat. All are underage but one, and that one tells Pirolozzi he has a string of alcohol violations from past years. Pirolozzi banters a bit. He tells them to "call anytime," and reminds them not to walk around the street with open containers.

A tragedy at an Arizona shooting range this week has set off a debate about children using high-powered weapons, as well as America's gun culture. Shooting range owners are defending their industry as safe, criticizing this particular operator for allowing a small girl to use an Uzi.

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