The Weekly Pulse: SCOTUS and Our Health; Pandemic Worsens as Winter Approaches

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: analyzing the Supreme Court’s impact on our health; a repro rundown while Roe is at risk, pandemic predicted to worsen with colder months ahead and why we need to care about LGBTQ health, now.

The Supreme Court’s Impact on Our Health

+ Coverage of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s rushed confirmation hearings to fill the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the Supreme Court were front and center last week. And for good reason—her appointment will ensure a right-wing conservative majority on SCOTUS, putting numerous civil rights on the line.

Amy Coney Barrett on Monday, the first day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. (Screenshot from C-SPAN)

During the hearings, Barrett remained tight-lipped as senators asked her questions about how she would rule on important issues like abortion and health care coverage, but her backlog of legal opinions and scholarly articles give us a preview of what’s to come:

+ To start, the Supreme Court will hear a case in November deciding whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be struck down. The Trump administration argues that the individual mandate—which requires everyone to have health insurance—is unconstitutional because the penalty is $0. Therefore, the entire law is unconstitutional, according to the Trump administration. (Never mind the fact that it was in fact Republicans who changed the penalty to $0 back in 2017.)

Barrett is not a fan of the ACA (as her writing has made clear). Her potential appointment to the Court would put more than 20 million people who buy insurance through the ACA marketplaces at risk. Additionally, people with pre-existing conditions—as many as 133 million Americans—could lose their health care coverage. And women have more to lose, since the ACA also bans sex discrimination in health insurance, including gender-based pricing for insurance. 

+ Then, there’s the question of abortion rights (which we’ll dive deeper into in the next section). Although Barrett personally opposes abortion, she claimed judges should not “follow their personal convictions in the decision of a case, rather than what the law requires.”

Yet, conservative politicians are celebrating her nomination because it puts abortion rights in jeopardy. And let’s not forget Trump’s promise to only nominate pro-life justices to the highest Court in the land. It’s clear, for a variety of reasons, that a soon-to-be Justice Barrett will put the health and wellness of people seeking an abortion on the line.

+ Besides the confirmation hearings, SCOTUS issued an order allowing the 2020 census to cease on October 15, instead of the prior deadline of October 31. By stopping the census count earlier, people in low-income communities and rural communities are likely to be undercounted, as are Black people, indigenous people and people of color. Additionally, it gives the Trump administration more time to oversee the process of allocating congressional seats to each state—which also determines a state’s voting power for the next decade. 

A sign sponsored by the 2020 census, seen in Columbus, Ohio, in April. (Wikimedia Commons)

Now, you may be wondering why we’re bringing this news up in The Weekly Pulse—but the decision is incredibly important, since the census determines how funding for hospitals and health care will be spent for the next 10 years.

For instance, the census informs funding for Medicare, Medicaid, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the National School Lunch Program. An undercount of marginalized populations will exacerbate existing inequalities, including racial disparities in healthcare

Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, underscored the importance of the census in a op-ed for Essence, writing,

“Black Americans and communities of color are historically the most undercounted in the census, negatively impacting the quality of life for millions of people…[a]n inaccurate count can exacerbate inequities and diminish resources for communities that need them the most.”

Repro Rundown: Roe at Risk

+ During Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s Senate hearings, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) questioned Barrett on view of Roe v. Wade, as well as the constitutional protection of choice and bodily autonomy—and she refused to give her position on the issue. 

When asked again about Roe by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Barrett said the case is not a “super-precedent” because it’s “not a case that everyone has accepted.” Barrett added, “But that does not mean it should be overruled.”

Still, it’s basically impossible to believe that Barrett’s confirmation won’t put abortion rights in jeopardy. She has given lectures at events hosted by anti-abortion student groups. And we’re not even going to pretend to be shocked about this one: Barrett signed a letter for a 2006 anti-abortion newspaper advertisement—featured in the South Bend Tribune—advertising and urging for the overturning Roe, describing the decision as “barbaric.”

Though Barrett declined to to give a legal assessment of the case during her questioning, Barrett has said she agrees with former Justice Antonin Scalia in saying Roe was wrongly decided. 

+ In response, over 60 local prosecutors and state attorneys general issued a joint statement this Wednesday saying they will not enforce laws that criminalize abortion if SCOUTS were to overturn Roe. The letter reads:

“As some elected prosecutors have noted, the broad restrictions in the laws passed by these states appear to be unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade. Many of us share those legal views, but our commitment to not prosecute women who obtain abortions and health care professionals who provide treatment is not predicated on these concerns alone–and, indeed, would hold even if the protections of Roe v. Wade were to be eroded or overturned.”

“Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion. And not all of us are in states where women’s rights are threatened by statutes criminalizing abortion. What brings us together is our view that as prosecutors we should not and will not criminalize healthcare decisions such as these—and we believe it is our obligation as elected prosecutors charged with protecting the health and safety of all members of our community to make our views clear.”

+ If the constitutional right to abortion were overturned, states would be left to decide if and under what circumstances abortions would be allowed. In preparation, abortion providers in Pennsylvania are working to ensure protections on a state level. Eight abortion providers across Pennsylvania are suing the state’s Department of Human Services for prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds for abortions.

+ Over 60 percent of Americans believe SCOTUS should uphold the integrity of Roe according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll released Monday. 

Sixty-two percent of respondents said they believe the Court should uphold Roe, compared to just 24 percent who said the ruling should be overturned.

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Pandemic Worsens as We Head Toward Colder Months

+ The coronavirus pandemic is worsening—as scientists warned—as we head into the colder fall and winter months. Most states are seeing a rising number of COVID-19 cases, including nine states that set seven-day records for the number of new infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned the rising case numbers are “not a good sign as you’re entering into the cooler weather” because more people will be spending time inside (where transmission of the virus is more likely to occur) during the winter months. 

With more people spending time inside, an increase in virus transmission is likely to occur during the winter months. Pictured: A jogger in May in New York City. (Andreas Komodromos / Flickr)

Furthermore, the CDC and Dr. Fauci are warning the public that traveling and family gatherings for the upcoming holidays pose a risk. In an interview, Dr. Fauci said,

“My Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year. I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country and in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport, get on a plane and travel with public transportation.”

+ Although the president has seemingly recovered from his most severe COVID-19 symptoms, Trump and his aides continue to flout guidance from the CDC to wear masks and practice social distancing. In fact, at least 34 people connected to the White House have tested positive for COVID. Trump has continued to downplay the virus, telling the public not to fear the virus, even though it has so far claimed 217,000 American lives. Even worse, experts estimate we could see as many as 410,000 additional fatalities by the end of the year. 

+ Far from being “the great equalizer,” the pandemic has further exposed how entrenched gender inequality is. Doctors often downplay or outright ignore women’s symptoms and self-reported level of pain—especially for Black women. Although we won’t fully know the impact of gender bias in COVID-19 care for months or years to come, previous evidence suggests sexism and racism will negatively impact health outcomes for women. 

Worldwide, girls and women are also having trouble accessing menstrual products because of the pandemic. The products are in short supply, and without the ability to access them due to school and public facility closures, girls and women are reusing cloth napkins or other alternatives, which puts them at greater risk of infection.

“It has reversed all the gains we have made with regards to menstrual hygiene,” Rachel Goba, who works for a charity in Zimbabwe, told Reuters

We Need to Care about LGBTQ Health Care

+ For years, Republicans have sought to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through means of legislation or judicial activism. While many past efforts have been combatted, California v. Texasa case that will come before SCOTUS next month—could be its undoing. With the ACA at stake, potential losses of coverage and benefits would be most detrimental for members of the LBGTQ community. 

The ACA includes three critical components that have resulted in significant health care gains for LGBTQ people:

  1. The expansion of Medicaid and introduction of tax credits for private plans through the marketplaces.
  2. Protections for people with preexisting conditions.
  3. Nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Outside the Supreme Court during arguments for Obergefell v. Hodges—the same-sex marriage case—on April 28, 2015. (Ted Eytan / Flickr)

+ Texas social workers are actively criticizing the Texas State Board of Social Work Examiners after they unanimously voted to remove protections for LGBTQ clients and clients with disabilities who seek social work services. 

Steven Parks, a social worker in private practice in Houston who works with child trauma victims, told The Texas Tribune the rule change was “both a professional and a personal gut punch.”

“There’s now a gray area between what’s legally allowed and ethically responsible,” he said. “The law should never allow a social worker to legally do unethical things.”

+ A new study from the Center for American Progress reports that young LGBTQ adults face staggering rates of discrimination. 

Discrimination forced 54 percent of queer people to hide personal relationships, the report says. Fifty-five percent of transgender people reported avoiding public places for the same reason. 

More than one-third of LGBTQ adults said they were discriminated against over the past year, and 69 percent of non-binary people reported facing discrimination in the past year as well. Among transgender respondents, the rate was 3-in-5.

Sixty-seven percent of young adults surveyed in the study reported being discriminated against in the past year. 

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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.