with Paulina Firozi


Abortion foes are one group standing enthusiastically with President Trump as he seeks reelection next year, delighted the president has prioritized their cause over his two years in office and freshly invigorated by his eagerness to describe abortion in strong terms and call for its end.

Trump has gone after abortion providers and access to the procedure through agency regulations, judicial appointments and budget requests. He most recently used strong language to describe Virginia and New York measures making it easier to obtain abortions late in pregnancy, calling on Congress to pass antiabortion legislation and even personally confronting Democrats over the issue.

Any day now, the Department of Health and Human Services is expected to finalize a rule representing its latest effort to crack down on abortion providers. Under the proposed regulation, abortion providers couldn’t receive federal family-planning dollars — a move that could cost Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of the 4 million patients getting care under the Title X program, as much as $60 million a year.

And late yesterday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved forward on legislation extending protections to infants born alive after an attempted abortion, scheduling a Feb. 25 vote on the measure sponsored by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.).

From Sasse: 

From National Right to Life:

Earlier in the day, the president and aides met with top antiabortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser and several other activists who call themselves "abortion survivors." On a call with reporters, Dannenfelser described Trump as “the most pro-life-acting president who has ever been.”

“I can say walking out of that Oval Office today, this is a deeply-held conviction,” Dannenfelser said. “Yes, it is a politically smart move he’s made in advancing human rights in this way. But it’s also the right thing to do.”

The wrangling over abortion rights — how late into pregnancy the procedure should be allowed and under what circumstances — is an issue that divides the two parties more than ever before and could play a sizable role in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections as Trump seeks to hold the White House, Republicans face some tough races in the Senate and Democrats defend their new House majority.

With assurances of support from Trump, Republicans have been pushing the “Born-Alive Infant Protection Act” as a way of drawing attention to late-term abortions, after confusing and controversial remarks by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). The bill, sponsored by Sasse says an infant “born alive at any stage of development” is a person under federal law and clarifies the care they must receive.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) blocked an earlier GOP attempt to pass the legislation by unanimous consent, arguing that U.S. laws already prohibit infanticide. This latest effort will require 60 votes to hold a vote on the measure itself, making it unlikely Republicans will succeed in advancing it. House Democratic leaders have refused to bring a similar bill to the floor.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on a vote in the House:

It’s certainly a strange world in which a president who once described himself as “very pro-choice” is now a source of deep frustration for abortion rights advocates.

They looked on in chagrin as his administration reinstated the “Mexico City” policy (banning foreign nongovernmental organizations who get U.S. family-planning assistance from performing or promoting abortions), made it easier for employers to refuse to cover birth control for workers and nominated two Supreme Court justices who recently sided with allowing a restrictive Louisiana abortion law to go into effect.

They also protested yesterday as the Senate confirmed William Barr as attorney general. Barr has said little recently about abortion rights, but advocates have pointed to comments he made in the early 1990s that the Roe v. Wade case that established the right to an abortion will “ultimately be overturned.”

“[Barr’s] appointment only helps to further the Trump administration’s relentless campaign against women’s essential reproductive rights,” said Adrienne Kimmell, vice president of communications for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Barr’s confirmation is Trump’s latest move to use his administration as a weapon against women and our most fundamental right to control our own bodies and decide our own destinies.”


AHH: The disparities in cancer deaths between black and white Americans have narrowed markedly in the last several years and have disappeared completely for a few age groups, our Post colleague Laurie McGinley reports, citing a new study by the American Cancer Society.  

While African Americans still have the highest death rate and lowest survival rate among any racial or ethnic group for most cancers, the overall cancer mortality rate for blacks has decreased faster than for whites because of major declines in common cancers, including lung, prostate and colorectal cancer.

“The message is progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go,” Len Lichtenfeld, interim chief medical officer for the cancer society told Laurie.

The racial disparity in mortality rate has disappeared for men under 50 and women 70 and older, she reports.

Lichtenfeld told Laurie the Affordable Care Act may have “made a difference” by expanding health coverage but said it was too soon to know the effect the ACA had on the most recent changes.

OOF: The American Society of Breast Surgeons is now recommending that all breast cancer patients get genetic testing to check for inherited mutations, Laurie reports.

The recommendations the group sent to its 3,400 members have fueled a debate on how genetic testing should be used in disease prevention and treatment.

“Too many patients develop cancers that might have been prevented or found earlier if genetic testing had been performed,” Walton Taylor, a Texas breast surgeon who is president of the group, told our colleague.

“More than 266,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year,” Laurie reports. “Under the surgeons’ recommendation, almost all those patients would be tested, as would family members whose relatives discover they have mutations, said Taylor. It’s not clear how many people are being tested now, but experts said it is far fewer than what the recommendation contemplates.”

But Taylor also said the group wasn’t trying to create controversy with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which makes recommendations that are closely followed by doctors and insurers, Laurie reports. Although the NCCN does endorse testing for inherited mutations for patients at a certain age with family histories of disease, it does not "endorse universal testing for breast cancer patients.”

OUCH: There’s some good news and bad news in the preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this season’s flu vaccines. The vaccine reduced the need to go to the doctor by nearly half, and this year’s vaccine works better overall and is more effective in children. But as many as 15,900 people may have died this season of the flu, despite a relatively mild season, our Post colleague Lena H. Sun reports

Another notable downside: The vaccine hasn’t shown any measurable protection for older adults, Lena writes. There was only an 8 percent reduction in the need to go to the doctor for the flu.

“This is the first time agency officials are providing overall illness and death estimates while flu season is still underway. In the past, these estimates were calculated when the season was over,” Lena reports. “So far this winter, preliminary figures estimate that influenza infection has sickened between 13 million and 15 million people, sent between 6 million and 7 million people to the doctor, hospitalized 155,00 to 186,000, and killed 9,600 to 15,900.”


— President Trump is in “good health,” and has not seen major changes to his health status, his doctor said in a memo released by the White House. Still, Trump gained four pounds over the last year, and the president’s new weight puts his body mass index over 30, which means he’s officially considered obese, our Post colleagues Toluse Olorunnipa and Carolyn Y. Johnson report.

The memo is the result of the president’s four-hour long physical exam that involved 11 specialists last week.

“After taking into account all the laboratory results, examinations and specialist recommendations, it is my determination that the President remains in very good health overall,” Trump’s doctor, Sean P. Conley, wrote.

Trump, who is 72 and 6-foot-3 , weighs 243 pounds, up from 239 pounds last year, and was told to watch his diet and exercise and to lose weight. His heart rate was at 70 beats per minute and his blood pressure at 118/80 mmHg.

“Conley’s language about Trump — ‘very good health overall’— was less effusive than the language used last year by Trump’s former doctor, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson,” who referred to him as in “excellent” health, noting he was “very healthy” and had “good genes,” Toluse and Carolyn write.

— On the anniversary of the shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed 17 lives, the White House released a statement from the president offering his condolences and referring to “tremendous strides” the administration has made toward protecting students from school violence.

But no mention was made of addressing gun violence, our Post colleague Colby Itkowitz reports, “except for his administration’s ban on bump stocks.” Instead, at the end of the statement, the president said he and first lady Melania Trump “join all Americans in praying for the continued healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where lives have been lost to gun violence.”

That singular message referring to gun violence was altered hours later when the president tweeted out an image of his statement in which “gun violence” was changed to “school violence,” in a move Colby writes is a “bizarre and telling tweak.”

“But despite the president’s resistance to strengthening the nation’s gun-control laws and the continued intransigence on the issue among Republicans, there’s a sense that the tide is shifting,” she writes. The House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Wednesday to strengthen the country’s gun-control laws, a measure with five Republican co-sponsors that was notably the eighth bill introduced this year.


— A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday to allow Democratic lawmakers to intervene and defend the Affordable Care Act in an ongoing lawsuit challenging the law . But the court rejected a request from Democratic states to expedite an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that the ACA is unconstitutional, the Hill’s Lydia Wheeler and Jessie Hellmann report.

In January, the House asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to join an appeal by a group of Democratic attorneys general against the December ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor that the ACA is invalid. In its motion, the House argued, "federal law provides that the Attorney General has a right to intervene in litigation to defend the constitutionality of an Act of Congress, and it empowers the House and/or the Senate to intervene to defend a statute on the rare occasions in which the Attorney General fails to do so."

“Though [Judge Leslie Southwick] called the House’s argument questionable, he said a ruling on whether the House has a right under federal law to intervene in the case is unnecessary,” Lydia and Jessie write.

“In the absence of any other federal governmental party in the case presenting a complete defense to the Congressional enactment at issue, this court may benefit from the participation by the House,” Southwick said. “In the context of this case, the motion to intervene was not untimely. Further, intervention will not unduly delay or prejudice the rights of the original parties.”

— Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent a letter to a pair of top tech companies calling on them to do more to address the anti-vaccination messages spreading through their platforms.

“As a Member of Congress who is deeply concerned about declining vaccination rates, I am requesting additional information on the steps that you currently take to provide medically accurate information on vaccinations to your users, and to encourage you to consider additional steps you can take to address this growing problem,” Schiff wrote to Facebook and Google chief executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai.

The letter also praised YouTube for announcing it will “no longer recommend videos that violate its community guidelines, such as conspiracy theories or medically inaccurate videos, and encourage further action to be taken related to vaccine misinformation.”

Our Post colleague Taylor Telford wrote this week about how Facebook is looking to tackle the challenge of vaccination misinformation on its platform. “The company is considering options to make accurate information about vaccinations more accessible to users, but these efforts are in the early stages,” Taylor wrote. “In the meantime, Facebook sees factually accurate counter-speech by users as a possible safeguard.”

— And here are a few more good reads: 



  • The American Enterprise Institute holds a discussion on "If one part of the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional, what is the proper remedy or resolution?"

Ignore the spin. Here’s what’s actually in the funding bill:

What exactly is in the 1,159-page compromise legislation allocating $324 billion in government spending - and what's not? (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Melania Trump visited patients at the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. on Valentine's Day: 

First lady Melania Trump visited patients staying at the Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., on Feb. 14. (The Washington Post)