The Weekly Pulse: Bye-Bye to Hyde; Hundreds March in Support of Abortion Rights; Tracking COVID Origins Without Igniting AAPI Hate

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: President Biden excludes the Hyde Amendment from his $6 trillion budget proposal; the World Health Organization (WHO) approves China’s new vaccine for global use; Biden re-opens intelligence probe into the origins of COVID-19; and abortion rights advocates channel their anger into protests and lawsuits.

Biden Unveils $6 Trillion Budget—Excluding the Hyde Amendment

+ Biden’s $6 trillion budget brings back “big government” in the face of big problems. Experts suggest the Biden budget could cut child poverty in half. The proposed budget begins with $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, which would allocate $621 billion towards building new roads, bridges and railways. The plan would also provide $213 billion for affordable housing and $400 billion for “home and community-based health and elder care.” It’s followed by the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which establishes free higher education, expands child care, health care, and tax benefits for low-income families.

“It’s time to build our economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” Biden said in the speech announcing his infrastructure bills (The American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan) and re-establishing his dedication to working- and middle-class individuals. “Wall Street didn’t build this country; you, the middle class, built this country. And unions built the middle class.”

+ Biden’s plan attempts to address racial equity in America. Some feel the proposal fell short as it failed to address student loans. These expenses tend to fall disproportionately on Black and brown communities, who generally experience higher rates of student loan debt. But others believed it was a good start. “It’s going in the right direction, but it’s not a perfect document,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of NAACP.

The Weekly Pulse: Bye-Bye to Hyde; Hundreds March in Support of Abortion Rights; Tracking COVID Origins Without Igniting AAPI Hate
Occupy San Francisco in October 2011. (jjinsf94115 / Flickr)

Biden’s proposal also provides $3 billion to tackle maternal mortality, $900 million in funds for Tribal Affordable Housing, $110 million to foster transportation equity in underserved communities and $39 billion for tuition subsidies to low and middle-income students attending historically black colleges and universities. The proposal will also include funding to address environmental racism and clean up underserved communities.

+ The budget adds $14 billion towards new policies and programs that address the ongoing climate crisis. A large chunk of funding will be funneled into programs that assist the U.S. in its transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. $11.2 billion will go towards the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget—a 22 percent increase from the previous year.

+ Reproductive health advocates celebrate as the Biden administration excludes the Hyde Amendment from the 2021 budget. The Hyde Amendment restricted federal programs (Medicaid) from providing funding towards abortions. The rule had been in place for nearly four decades and is often used as a bargaining chip in health care talks.

Addressing the racist legacy of the Hyde Amendment, Alex McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood, said in an official statement: “The fact is, in this country systemic, racial discrimination is deeply tied to how much money you’re able to make, and as a result many of the people who rely on Medicaid are people of color. … With Hyde still in place, access to safe and legal abortion will continue to be inaccessible for many people of color, young people, and people with low incomes.”

The president’s decision to exclude the amendment comes as Republican-led state legislatures attempt to dismantle Roe v. Wade.

COVID-19: Three Steps Forward, One Step Back

+ Biden reopens intelligence probe into the origins of the COVID-19 after receiving pushback from top health experts. The intelligence community is divided on whether the virus came from a lab leak in Wuhan or was contracted from an infected animal. The “lab leak theory” gained traction under the Trump administration, but many discounted the theory as part of Trump’s racially fueled attack on Asian people. Earlier in the pandemic, Trump referred to the virus as the “China virus” and his rhetoric led to a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes in America. Now, under the Biden administration, top U.S. health experts believe there might be some credibility to the lab leak theory. It is important to investigate the theory to better understand how the virus came about, but it is equally important for the new president to be mindful of his words and conscious of the ongoing anti-Asian hate crimes in the U.S.

“So many are concerned that after a year of AAPIs being blamed for coronavirus, this could further hatred and discrimination,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.). “We need to get to the truth, and we need to be careful in our messaging so as to not further stoke the flames of xenophobia.”

+ WHO approves China’s Sinovac shot as low-income countries prepare for renewed vaccine supply. The WHO’s decision to approve China’s new COVID-19 vaccine could not come at a better time as smaller countries are facing a vaccine shortage. However, the Sinovac vaccine has been at the center of some controversy as the shot has the lowest efficacy rates of all the approved vaccines. One study from Brazil found that the vaccine was only 50.7 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID.

+ After years of crippling medical fees, many unvaccinated Americans are unconvinced that the COVID-19 vaccines are free. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly a third of unvaccinated adults were concerned that their insurance would not cover the vaccine. An individual does not need insurance to get the COVID-19 vaccine, because it is free. But the data suggests that the U.S. government has failed to adequately communicate this with the public.

+ Stat News reports that rural hospitals in Black communities are closing amidst the pandemic due to a lack of funding and resources. Black people are more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and are more likely to die from COVID-related health conditions. These permanent closures will have long-term consequences on Black communities and will only further health disparities between Black and white people in the US.

+ The Australian state Victoria will enter another week of lockdown due to the emergence of the B.1.617.1 strain or the Kappa strain in Melbourne. “I know this is not the news that everybody wants to hear but given the cases we have… the government had no choice. If we don’t do this (lockdown), this thing will get away. This variant of concern will become uncontrollable, and people will die,” said Acting Premier James Merlino.

+ The World Health Organization (WHO) announces simplified names of COVID-19 variants. WHO asserts that these new names are not meant to replace the scientific names, but health professionals recognize that it can be difficult to remember a seemingly random collection of letters and numbers. The variants will now be popularly classified by letters in the Greek alphabet. For example, the UK’s B.1.1.7 variant will now be referred to as the alpha variant.

Repro Run Down: Abortion Rights Supporters Aren’t Backing Down

+ If Governor Greg Abbott (R-Texas) were to look out his window on Memorial Day, he would have been greeted by the sight of hundreds of pro-choice protestors shouting, “F*** You, Greg Abbott.” On May 19, Abbott signed the “heartbeat ban” into law. The law prohibits abortions after six weeks gestation and will go into effect on September 1, pending legal action. Erika Forbes, one of the protest’s organizers said, “We’re not a threat to [Texas legislators]. We’re a threat to those that are trying to keep our rights from us. Not because we want to hurt them, but because we want to stop them from trying to decide for us what we get to do with our bodies.

+ Pennsylvania House representatives introduce three anti-abortion bills, but Governor Tom Wolf (D-Pa.) is expected to veto any anti-abortion legislation. One piece of legislation called the “fetal remains bill” made waves on Twitter, because the bill requires pregnant individuals to provide funeral services for a miscarriage or an abortion. State Rep. Dan Frankel (D) criticized the bill in a statement:

“We received heartfelt emails from women telling us about their early miscarriages, how difficult they were, and how much worse it would have been were they forced to get a death certificate for a pregnancy that they understood so differently. It’s simply wrong to tell women what a loss of pregnancy is supposed to mean to them.”

+ On Wednesday, abortion rights advocates filed a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’s near total abortion ban. The new law would take place on July 28 and bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother. “Arkansas’ anti-abortion politicians know that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, but they passed this abortion ban anyway, which triggers a direct challenge to Roe,” said Meagan Burrows, staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

+ A federal court of appeals on Wednesday heard arguments in Tennessee anti-abortion case. The bill in question would require pregnant individuals to make two trips to the abortion clinic—one for counseling and the other for the abortion 48 hours later. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Bernard Freidman found the two-day waiting period could create logistical problems for abortion clinics and might force a woman to delay her abortion for weeks. Amber Katz, a Tennessee attorney, also made the argument that a large portion of women seeking abortions are low-income and two trips might become burdensome.

+ Texas joins the growing list of states that have expanded Medicaid postpartum coverage. The bill extends Medicaid coverage from 60 days to 6 months. But health experts suggest that is not enough time to address all the health-related complications that may arise in postpartum women. In April, Illinois became the first state to extend postpartum coverage from 60 days to 12 months.

+ Illinois passed a bill mandating comprehensive sex education in K-12 and passed a bill that would allow pharmacists to prescribe and dispense hormonal birth control.

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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.