The Weekly Pulse: Roe v. Wade at Risk; U.S. Hits Vaccine Milestone, While Low-Income Countries Struggle to Meet Demands

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.


The Weekly Pulse: Roe v. Wade at Risk; U.S. Hits Vaccine Milestone, While Low-Income Countries Struggle to Meet Demands
(Clockwise from top left: Twitter; Robin Marty; Steve Rhodes)

In this edition: Texas passes a new anti-abortion law with a chilling twist; abortion rights advocates prepare for the worst as the Supreme Court takes on Mississippi abortion case; the U.S. reaches new milestone as low-income countries struggle to meet vaccine demands; and Chiquita Brooks-LaSure becomes the first Black woman to lead the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services.

Repro Rundown: Abortion Under Attack (Again)

+ Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signs an unprecedented abortion ban into law. The ban outlaws abortion at the onset of a fetal heartbeat—as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many know they are pregnant. The bill makes exceptions to save the life of a pregnant person but does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

The so-called “heartbeat ban” also empowers private citizens to sue individuals or organizations who, “knowingly engage in conduct that aids or abets the performance or inducement of an abortion, including paying for or reimbursing the costs of an abortion through insurance or otherwise.” The law does not require a connection between the plaintiff and the defendant and those found guilty will face a $10,000 fine.

Supporters of the ban are hopeful this new provision will make it difficult for abortion rights advocates to pursue legal action in the courts. Josh Blackman, a constitutional law professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, said:

“Planned Parenthood can’t go to court and sue Attorney General [Ken] Paxton like they usually would because he has no role in enforcing the statute. They have to basically sit and wait to be sued. .. Every citizen is now a private attorney general.”

+ Abortion rights advocates prepare for the worst as a conservative-leaning Supreme Court agrees to hear Mississippi abortion case. A federal judge struck down the Mississippi law in November of 2018 and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in 2019. The Mississippi law outlaws abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and does not make exceptions for rape or incest.

After years of avoiding high-profile abortion cases, some believe the conservative court finally is setting the stage to dismantle Roe v. Wade. “Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat of reproductive rights,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade.” In 1973, Roe v. Wade established a woman’s right to an abortion before fetal viability. The onslaught of anti-abortion legislation from Republican states is a coordinated attempt to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade.

If Roe is overturned, abortion rights will become a state issue. As it stands, 14 states have legislation in place to protect abortion rights. President Biden has committed to codifying abortion rights into federal law, but without abolishing the filibuster, a 50-50 split Senate makes passing any kind of national abortion legislation an uphill battle.

+ With many fearing the collapse of Roe v. Wade, Google searches for “self-induced” abortions skyrocket. Searches for “misoprostol”—an abortion medication—grew by 5,000 percent since news broke that the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization. Google analytics suggest most of these searches happened in Southern states with limited abortion access.

+ Louisiana state legislature passes three bills aimed at restricting abortion access. Two bills—one introduced by Rep. Raymond Crews and one by Rep. Julie Emerson—would require health care providers to report private information about abortion patients to the Louisiana Department of Health. A third bill, introduced by Rep. Beryl Amedee, requires doctors to inform women about a potential abortion reversal procedure between their first and second appointment for a chemical abortion. According to the Louisiana Health Department, there is insufficient evidence that suggests a safe and effective abortion reversal procedure exists.

+ Abortion rights groups ask federal judge to block new abortion reversal law in Indiana that requires doctors to inform abortion patients about a potential reversal procedure. The lawsuit argues “the requirement would confuse patients and increase the stigma associated with obtaining an abortion, while also forcing doctors to give what they regard as dubious medical information.”

+ Post-vaccine, FDA recommends vaccinated women wait four to six weeks before scheduling a routine mammogram screening. Like most vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines can cause temporary swelling in the lymph nodes. This swelling can cause a mammogram to appear abnormal—but there is no evidence that suggests the swelling is an indication of cancer.

COVID-19: The Race to Normalcy

+ At least 25 states and Washington D.C. have vaccinated half of their adult population, but some health experts fear herd immunity will never be reached. COVID-19 contraction rates are still high but much lower than what we’ve seen in previous weeks. According to John Hopkins, COVID-19 cases are down by 57 percent and the daily average of COVID-19 deaths is down 23 percent from last month. Despite positive trends, evidence suggests vaccination rates are slowing and some states are considering financial incentives as one way to entice unvaccinated individuals to get the vaccine.

West Virginia, for example, has created a $100 savings bond program for vaccinated individuals ages 16–35. Maryland has also developed an incentive program, offering $100 to state employees who “elect” to get the vaccine. Residents of Detroit may be eligible for a $50 prepaid card through their Good Neighbor program. And in Ohio, vaccinated residents have the opportunity to win a cash prize of $1 million through a state lottery. Those under the age of 18 also have the chance of winning four years of free college tuition at any Ohio public university. Some incentives do not include cash prizes, but provide other goodies like New Jersey’s “shot and beer” program which offers one free beer at select breweries. As vaccination rates slow, more incentive programs are likely to develop across states.

+ Rhode Island joins the growing list of states that have vaccinated at least 70 percent of their adult population. The other seven states are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. As it stands, 61 percent of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine, but Biden hopes to have 70 percent of the U.S. adult population vaccinated by July 4.

+ Evidence suggests the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines protect against both the B.I.617.2 variant from the U.K. and the new variant emerging from India.

+ Punjab, an Indian state bordering Pakistan and the heart of India’s Sikh community, faces vaccine shortages as both Moderna and Pfizer refuse to sell outside of the Indian Central Government. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said in a statement, “We have spoken to Pfizer and Moderna for vaccines, and both the companies have refused to sell vaccines directly to us. They have said that they will deal with the government of India alone.” Punjab has also joined COVAX—an international vaccine fund supported by The World Health Organization—but since COVAX does not work with individual states or territories, it is likely that Punjab will not receive any support outside of the Indian Central Government.

Speaking of COVAX, health experts around the world are concerned that the vaccine fund does not have the necessary resources to meet the demand of low-income countries. COVAX planned on buying 2 billion vaccines for distribution in low-income countries, but only 68 million or 3.4 percent of those vaccines have been delivered. Addressing COVAX’s delayed rollout, Amanda Glassman, director of global health policy at the Center for Global Development, said, “The main issue is that the money was insufficient, and the money was late. … If they’d had all the money in March 2020, we’d be in a different space in terms of the delivery. There was more wiggle room in March through July of last year to reserve doses if they’d had the money in place.” To cover even 20 percent of its intended goal, COVAX will need to raise an additional $2.6 billion.

+ On Monday, May 24, The World Health Organization (WHO) commenced its annual World Health Assembly and COVID-19 was (unsurprisingly) at the top of the agenda. The director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adanom, admonished world leaders for their lack of unity in handling the pandemic. And Taiwan calls out WHO for ignoring Taiwanese health rights after Taiwan alerted world leaders about the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China. Currently, Taiwan is excluded from most international governing bodies including the World Health Organization.

+ Intelligence report suggests three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized after becoming sick in 2019. China previously claimed that there were “zero infections” amongst their researchers, and upon renewed scrutiny China is standing by their initial claims. Zhao Lijan, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, addressed the new report in a statement: “Through field visits and in-depth visits in China, the experts unanimously agreed that the allegation of lab leaking is extremely unlikely.” But, top U.S. health officials remain unconvinced and some, including HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Dr. Anthony Fauci, are calling for an intelligence probe into the incident.

In Other Health News…

+ Black Lives Matter activist, Sasha Johnson, in critical condition after being shot in London. Johnson was the subject of numerous death threats following her activism last year.

+ HHS to revisit Trump Era interpretation of 1557 rule. The rule protects against health care discrimination on basis of, “race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in certain health programs and activities.” HHS will broaden Trump era interpretation of “sex” to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity.

+ Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and her whiteboard take-on big pharma (again) in a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on price gouging. Rep. Porter very poignantly dispelled the “big pharma fairytale” while dressing down Richard A. Gonzalez, CEO of the pharmaceutical company AbbVie.

+ Chiquita Brooks-LaSure becomes the first Black woman to lead the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services after Senate confirmation. Brooks-LaSure formerly worked for the Obama administration as a senior official at the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and has years of experience in healthcare policy. As the head of the CMS, Brooks-LaSure will play a key role in overseeing the Medicaid expansions outlined by the American Rescue Plan.

+ CNN reports that women with polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS are more likely to experience severe illness or death after contracting COVID-19—yet PCOS is not listed as a high-risk medical condition.

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About

Kristen Batstone is a senior at American University studying women, gender, sex and sexuality studies with a specialization in social sciences. She is currently the health policy intern for the National Women's Health Network in Washington, D.C.