The Weekly Pulse: House Bill Passes Without Abortion Restrictions; Breakthrough Cases *Not* the Cause of Recent COVID Surge; Delta Variant as Contagious as Chicken Pox

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: Hundreds of Republican lawmakers have signed onto Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health amicus briefs; House spending bill excludes federal abortion restrictions for the first time in years; CDC report suggests the Delta variant is as contagious as chicken pox; and a Kaiser Family Foundation report finds breakthrough cases among the vaccinated are not the cause of America’s COVID surge.

Repro Run Down

+ In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, over 75 amicus briefs have been filed which call for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Many abortion opponents see Dobbs v. Jackson as a real chance at overturning Roe. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of Americans (77 percent) support the legal right to and do not want to see Roe overturned, and efforts to ban abortion are unpopular in every single state in the country.

A rally against abortion bans in Seattle in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

+ The same day that Republican governors and legislators asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that excluded several abortion restrictions for the first time in years.

  • Notably, the bill excludes the Hyde Amendment—a 1976 policy that prohibits federally funded programs like Medicaid from financing abortion. “I think [House Democrats] really understood how how racist this policy is, and how detrimental it is to folks of color who are working to make ends meet, because that’s who the harms of coverage bans like this fall hardest on,” said Destiny Lopez, co-president of All* Above All, which advocates for the repeal of Hyde.
  • The House also excluded the Helms Amendment, which prohibits foreign aid funds from being allocated to abortion services, as well as prohibits organizations from receiving assistance if they spoke out in support of abortion.

That said, repeals can easily be reversed by a change in power. To prevent the Hyde and Helms Amendment from being reinstated by Republicans in the future, the House must pass Abortion is Health Care Everywhere Act and Equal Access to Abortion Coverage Act (EACH Act).

+ Key Democrats—including President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, New York City Democratic mayoral nominee Eric Adams, and New York’s entire Democratic congressional delegationare urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) to resign after New York Attorney General Letitia James released a report documenting 11 women who he sexually harassed.

The New York state legislature is threatening to impeach the governor if he does not voluntarily step down. But Cuomo has made no indication that he will resign. On Tuesday, Cuomo claimed the investigation was “biased”—though the 165-page report comprises 179 witnesses and tens of thousands of written documents and corroborates claims made by former employees that the governor’s office was a hostile environment for women.

+ A new Colorado law, signed by Governor Jared Polis (D) on July 6, will provide undocumented people with free birth control. Oregon and Washington passed similar laws in 2017 and 2019 respectively. In Colorado, 27 percent of Latinx people are uninsured—making them the state’s largest uninsured population—and without insurance, birth control pills can cost up to $600 per year.

Colorado is just one example of how pro-abortion states are looking to expand reproductive health access in preparation for Dobbs v. Jackson. On the state’s decision, Elizabeth Nash, lead state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute said, “Setting up this program, it’s very explicit in the sense that it says, ‘You matter, and we are going to do our best to make sure you can access the care you need, when you need it, in a culturally respectful way.’”

+ Romani women sterilized without their consent in the Czech Republic could receive up to 300,000 Czech crowns (10,000 euros) in financial compensation. “This means the wrongdoing committed against all who have been sterilized without their informed consent is acknowledged and can be redressed,” said Gwendolyn Albert, human rights activist and Romani-minority ally.

From 1966 to 2012, social workers in the Czech Republic used incentives and coercive methods to force women to undergo forced sterilization. It is unclear how many women were affected by this policy, but it is believed there could be several hundred victims. The incentive program ended in 1989 with the fall of the Communist regime, but in the following years, some pregnant women discovered that they were unwittingly sterilized after being subjected to a C-section, while others were misled to believe that they were undergoing a “life-saving” procedure.

It is unclear when the Czech government will administer compensation claims, but human rights activists and victims both believe this an important step forward. “We fought long and hard to win this battle; some of the women are now old, while others have passed away. I am glad they will get to see the light of justice,” said Elena Gorolová, 51, a social worker from Ostrava who was sterilized at the age of 21.

COVID-19: The Truth About Breakthrough Cases

+ An internal CDC report likens the Delta variant’s contagion properties to chicken pox—one of the most transmissible diseases in the world.

+ Breakthrough cases are not the cause of America’s COVID-19 surge, and evidence suggests most COVID cases are still among the unvaccinated. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that unvaccinated people make up from about 94 to 99 percent of COVID cases in states reporting data. The CDC estimates that vaccinated Americans are 25 times less likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19.

So, you might be asking: Why all the fuss over breakthrough cases? And why is the CDC reinstating mask mandates? Well, no vaccine is 100 percent effective in combating infection. Additionally, the CDC has learned that fully vaccinated individuals infected with COVID-19 carry the same viral load as unvaccinated people, concluding in a report that “Delta variant vaccine breakthrough cases may be as transmissible as unvaccinated cases.” The authors of the report recommend the following precautions:

  • universal masking,
  • increased communication about breakthrough infections, and
  • potentially, vaccine requirements.

Fortunately, evidence suggests that most breakthrough cases are asymptomatic or perhaps, a person may experience mild cold or flu-like symptoms. In Virginia, for example, the total reported breakthrough cases among vaccinated people was 0.034 percent and the breakthrough death rate was 0.0009 percent.

(Mother Jones)
(Mother Jones)

+ New research from the Israel Health Ministry indicates 80 percent of vaccinated individuals with COVID breakthrough infections have not infected others. Another 10 percent spread the virus to just one other person, 3 percent passed the virus to two people, and the final 7 percent is undetermined—emphasizing the importance of vaccines in stopping the spread.

+ Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services believes the fall will be a very “challenging time” if vaccination rates do not change. Many vaccinated Americans are frustrated with the current state of pandemic, especially knowing that unvaccinated individuals, who refuse to believe rigorous scientific data, are largely to blame for the renewed restrictions. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it. We have all the tools we need. We can prevent this disease, we can test for it, and we can treat it.” So long as people refuse to get vaccinated, the pandemic will persist.

+ COVAX, the international vaccine fund, has been struggling to fulfill its promise for months and low-income countries are paying the price. In June, as COVID cases soared in Africa, 100,000 long-awaited Pfizer-BioNTech doses arrived in Chad—but 94,000 of those doses remain unused. Ghebreyesus has said that many health care systems around the world are overwhelmed.

COVAX was meant to operate as an equalizer during the pandemic, delivering two billion vaccine doses to low-income countries, but the coalition of international health bodies fell short of its goal. So far, COVAX has only delivered 163 million vaccine doses and this number does guarantee those shots have actually gone into people’s arms. COVAX is expecting to acquire 1.7 billion vaccine doses by the end of December, but prices will undoubtedly go up because the organization will have to buy 250 to 400 additional freezers since vaccines must be kept at ultra-low temperatures. The Biden administration pledged to donate 500 million Pfizer vaccines to COVAX, but the donation comes with a catch—to help fund the $3.5 billion donation, the administration will divert funds from vaccine drives in low-income countries.

+ According to U.S. health officials, Americans are experiencing a spike in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, a highly contagious flu-like virus that is often seen in the fall. Symptoms of RSV include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and fever. The surge of cases in the summer is unusual and for this reason, the U.S. health care system is ill-equipped to handle both RSV and Delta cases.

“After many months of zero or few pediatric COVID cases, we are seeing infants, children and teens with COVID pouring back into the hospital, more and more each day,” wrote Dr. Heather Haq, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, in a Twitter thread.

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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.