The Weekly Pulse, July 19-24: Repealing the Hyde Amendment, School Openings Up in the Air

For The Weekly Pulse (a revisit of an old Ms. column!), we’ve scoured the most trusted journalistic sources—and, of course, our Twitter feeds—to bring you this week’s most important news stories related to health and wellness.

In this edition of The Weekly Pulse, we start by running-down the most recent findings, wins and attacks to reproductive health—including a possible end to the Hyde Amendment—then bring you the good news and (unfortunately) the bad, concerning the pandemic.

Repro Rundown: “Hyde’s Days Are Numbered”

+ On Thursday, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Barbara Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jan Schakowsky filed an amendment to repeal the Hyde Amendment once and for all. This filing comes in frustration following the House of Representative’s choice to once again advance a Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bill—in order to avoid an election-year clash with representatives on the other side of the aisle—that keeps the harmful Hyde Amendment in tact.

According to a Medium post by Rep. Pressley:

For more than four decades, the Hyde Amendment has banned access to abortion for low-income people who receive health insurance coverage through Medicaid. These abortion bans have disproportionately impacted Black, Latinx, Indigenous and other communities of color, perpetuating cycles of poverty and economic inequality.

“Make no mistake, access to healthcare and specifically abortion care is a racial justice issue. Our nation has created systems and structures of oppression that have exacted precise hurt and harm on women of color since the nation’s inception. Those structures have dictated who has access to critical healthcare, economic opportunity, and yes, who has bodily autonomy.

“As our nation continues to grapple with connected crises—an unprecedented public health crisis exacerbated by systemic racism and the plague of police brutality disproportionately robbing us of Black and brown lives, the House Democratic majority has a critical responsibility to leverage our power and to speak out against and actively dismantle all racist and discriminatory policies—particularly those that rob people of color, low-income people, immigrants, transgender and gender non-conforming people of comprehensive health care and the right to make decisions over their own bodies.”

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+ A new study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology highlights how COVID-19 and state bans on in-clinic abortion access at the pandemic’s onset led to an increase in demand for self-managed abortions outside the medical system.

Dr. Abigail R. A. Aiken, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, released the below statement on the study’s findings:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for people to access health care services in-person without putting their health at risk, and abortion is no exception. Given that abortion is a time-sensitive procedure, it’s not surprising that our results show people seeking abortions are increasingly motivated to search online for options to self-manage their abortion outside a clinic setting.

“… At the beginning of the crisis, the initial efforts of some states to further limit in-clinic abortion care also drove online interest in self-managed abortion, regardless of COVID-19 infection rates in these states at the time. The recent federal ruling allowing providers to send prescribed abortion pills to patients by mail during the pandemic is an important step toward making abortion easier to access safely.

“But truly remote and equitable access also depends on the removal of state-specific laws that prohibit telemedicine abortion.”

The study shows demand for at-home, medication abortion exploding during COVID-19, as thousands of Americans sought out pills to end pregnancies on their own and without a trip to the abortion clinic. 

Aid Access—an organization that ships medication abortion across the United States—saw a 27 percent spike in the pill requests between March 20 and April 11. 

“A doubling of requests is, I think, a significant finding, in a state that already has so many barriers to getting access to an in-clinic abortion,” said Aiken. “Seeing it double in such a short time period was quite significant.”

+ Anti-abortion group “Right to Life of Michigan” has abandoned its election petition campaign aimed at outlawing an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation—after the petition fell short of the 340,047 valid signatures needed to get on the ballot and after many of the petition signatures were deemed duplicates or falsified. 

Dilation and extraction (D&E) accounts for the majority of second-trimester abortions. In Michigan, 2,000 women received this type of abortion in 2019—about 7 percent of all abortions performed that year.

“Banning D&E is one of several trends to emerge from among the recent onslaught of state abortion restrictions, and the idea is rooted in a long history of efforts to limit access to abortion after the first trimester by enacting restrictions on specific abortion methods,” according to the Guttmacher Institute.

+ On Tuesday, Nebraska lawmakers also debated the use of dilation and extraction when discussing LB 814, a bill that seeks to ban the commonly used medical practice. State Senator Suzanne Geist, who sponsored the bill, used a pull motion to bring the debate to the since the bill did not have enough votes to make it out of committee. 

Much of the pushback from those against usage of dilation and extraction comes from use of the term “partial birth”—which is not a medical term, but rather a politically charged word that only leads to confusion for patients. 

Coronavirus Updates: The Good News 

+ We’re starting to better understand how to protect ourselves from transmission of the virus: A new study outlined the most effective types of face masks. Turns out, the most effective homemade masks are well-fitted and constructed with multiple layers of fabric.

The Weekly Pulse, July 19-24: Repealing the Hyde Amendment, School Openings Up in the Air
The most effective homemade masks are well-fitted and constructed with multiple layers of fabric. (Rain Rabbit / Flickr)

+ Likewise, it seems as though medical providers are getting better at treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The use of the steroid dexamethasone may be one reason patients are dying less often. 

+ Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was optimistic in a recent interview, saying a coronavirus vaccine could bring “real normality” back in 2021. There is promising news that at least one type of vaccine has so far been safe and produced an immune response. Currently, there are 27 vaccines undergoing human trials. 

… and the Bad

+ On Thursday, the U.S. hit 4 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, with over 143,000 Americans dead. Just 16 days before, the U.S. hit 3 million cases. The number of people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 is about the same as it was at the previous peak hospitalization rate in April.

The Weekly Pulse, July 19-24: Repealing the Hyde Amendment, School Openings Up in the Air
A school in San Jose, Calif., on May 15. (Travis Wise / Flickr)

+ Parents, teachers and school administrators across the country are scrambling to decide what children’s education will look like in the fall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines this week emphasizing the importance of reopening schools—citing low death rates among school-aged children and the educational gaps created by homeschooling.

Notably, much of the guidance was written by White House officials, and not experts at the CDC. Previously, Trump has pushed for complete reopenings this fall—but on Thursday conceded schools in areas considered virus hotspots may need to delay reopening. 

+ The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement calling for school districts to follow the guidance of local public health experts and emphasized “a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for return to school decisions.” Some of the country’s largest school districts have already made the call to delay or cancel in-person learning this fall. 

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About and

Corinne Ahrens is a recent graduate of The American University where she studied Political Science with a specialization in Gender, Race, & Politics as well as Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Corinne has been writing for Ms. since October 2019 and is a former Ms. editorial intern. She currently works at Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy in their Philadelphia office.
Giselle Hengst recently graduated from Vanderbilt University with degrees in Women's & Gender Studies and Medicine, Health, & Society. She is currently an editorial and social media intern at Ms. magazine.