The Weekly Pulse: Most Extreme U.S. Abortion Law Takes Effect in Texas; Highest COVID Spike Since Winter Peak

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: On Wednesday, September 1, the most extreme U.S. abortion law took effect in Texas; Texans can still access medication abortion through the mail—for now; COVID hospitalizations skyrocket among the unvaccinated; and conservatives are using a debunked animal de-worming drug to “cure” COVID-19.

Repro Run Down: The Witch Hunt Begins

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A June 2013 protest at the Texas State Capitol. (David Weaver / Flickr)

+ Texas has effectively banned all abortions. The six-week abortion ban implemented on Wednesday is unlike other six-week bans that came before it: The Texas ban includes a provision that empowers private citizens to act as civil agents, turning on their friends, family and even strangers. Under the new law, a private citizen can sue any person that assists in the process of obtaining an abortion. It’s a witch hunt—and not in the Donald Trump smoke and mirrors sideshow type-of-way.

In Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s dissent, she slams the court’s inaction to block the law:

“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand … Because the Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and on women seeking abortions in Texas, I dissent.”

+ Fear not Texans: S.B. 8 is not the end of your abortion rights; you can still access medication abortion through the mail. On Friday, Plan C and Progress Texas drove around Texas in Truck with the message “Missed period? There’s a pill for that. PlanCPills.org. #TXDeservesBetter” plastered on the side of a billboard. (Head here for more information on how to find abortion pills online—yes, even in Texas!)

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Plan C’s illuminated mobile billboard truck driving a Texas highway to inform the public about how to get abortion pills. (Tracy Tragos)

“We want to make sure that people know that you don’t have to drive 12 hours for an abortion,” said Plan C’s Elisa Wells. “You don’t have to take time off from work and get childcare and pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in order to get an abortion. You can get an abortion by mail. It’s the 21st century. Between safe and effective pills by which people can easily self-manage an abortion and the modern miracle of the internet and the global economy, we have access.”

+ On Monday, the Texas House passed legislation that would prohibit the use of medication abortion after seven weeks of pregnancy. Currently, Texans can use medication abortion pills through the 10th week of pregnancy.

+ A federal court has allowed the National Women’s Law Center and other plaintiffs to go forward with a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rollback of health care protections. The Trump administration changed the language of section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, removing health care protections from the LGBTQ+ community. The government had filed a motion to dismiss the case, but the court allowed many of the claims to proceed. The National Women’s Law Center and other plaintiffs released the following statement:

“The ongoing global pandemic underscores the importance of ensuring that everyone has access to quality, affordable healthcare free from discrimination or harassment. The Affordable Care Act clearly and deliberately outlined nondiscrimination protections for patients—including members of the LGBTQ+ community, people who are seeking or have obtained reproductive care, Indigenous people seeking pregnancy-related care, and people living with chronic conditions such as HIV—yet the Trump-Pence rule blatantly disregards these protections.”

Note: The Biden administration has already reinstated the health care protections in question, previously erased by the Trump administration.

+ New research finds Black women are more susceptible to heat wave exposure, and pregnant Black women are more likely to have a pre-term birth after experiencing a heat wave. “One of the theories behind that is the idea of weathering or the weathering hypothesis, which basically describes how constant stress—the constant stress of racism can potentially lead to premature biological aging and poor health outcomes,” said Rachel Hardeman, a professor of public health and one of the principal investigators of the study.

COVID-19: Highest COVID Spike Since Winter Peak

+The daily average for COVID-19 hospitalizations has climbed back to 100,000 cases per day—higher than any surge seen since last winter. Experts attribute the spike in cases to low vaccination rates and political opposition to public health measures like mask mandates.

Hospitals across the country are overwhelmed. One in five ICUs have exceeded or reached 95 percent beds full, forcing some hospitals to create makeshift ICU units in hallways.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Dr. Shannon Byrd, a pulmonologist in Knoxville, who noted a majority of patients were unvaccinated. “It’s bringing whole families down and tearing families apart. They’re dying in droves and leaving surviving loved ones with a lot of funerals to go to.”

Just last week, top U.S. health officials were predicting the U.S. might be able to manage the pandemic by the spring. Now the European Union is set to reintroduce travel restrictions.

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A group of students wait to have their temperatures checked before entering an elementary school in Washington D.C. (Allison Shelley / EDUimages)

+ The federal government is currently investigating five states to determine whether mask mandate bans violate student rights. The Department of Civil Rights is investigating five states—Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah—that have banned mask requirements in schools. Florida and Texas have also made headlines for banning mask mandates but these mandates are not currently being enforced, so they are spared from the investigation for now.

“The Department has heard from parents from across the country—particularly parents of students with disabilities and with underlying medical conditions—about how state bans on universal indoor masking are putting their children at risk and preventing them from accessing in-person learning equally,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve.”

+ Ivermectin, a drug used to deworm animals, is being used as a false cure for COVID-19. The drug was first introduced in the late 1970s and has been touted ever since as a “wonder drug” for its ability to fight parasitic infections, but the drug had not had the same success with viruses. Ivermectin was linked to COVID-19 in one unpublished study, but the study was later determined to be “flawed” and was later taken down by Research Square.

“It’s hard to understand why people would turn down an FDA-approved COVID preventative in favor of a treatment that’s not only unapproved but has a large body of evidence showing it doesn’t work,” said Dr. Nathan Boonstra, a pediatrician at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, and co-host of the podcast “Voices for Vaccines.” But antivax groups will eat up any opportunity to make it seem like a vaccine isn’t needed. This has been true about anti-vaccine groups long before the pandemic.”

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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.