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The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

Amid tensions over Roe, some antiabortion centers are being attacked

The Health 202

A newsletter briefing on the health-care policy debate in Washington.

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Hello, good morning, and TGIF everyone.

Today’s edition: The World Health Organization’s report on the origin of the coronavirus says the lab leak theory needs “further investigations.” A looming Supreme Court ruling on Roe isn’t motivating the majority of Americans to vote, but may motivate some Democrats. But first … 

The government is warning of increased violence and threats as the country awaits abortion ruling

Tensions are high as the country awaits a decision from the Supreme Court that could fundamentally alter the right to an abortion. 

In a memo this week, the Department of Homeland Security warned of a heightened threat environment, pointing to several high-profile events — such as the pending decision on abortion rights and the midterms — as potential triggers for violence. The department was clear that both those for and against abortion have “encouraged violence” on public forums.

For most of history, it’s the abortion providers who have come under threat from extremists on the right. But since the leaked Supreme Court draft, there’s been a spate of suspected arson and vandalism against antiabortion groups and resource centers.

Now, both sides of the abortion debate say they’re preparing for the potential for centers, clinics and headquarters to be attacked. They’re beefing up security measures, consulting with security professionals and monitoring online activity. For instance:

  • Police are investigating suspected arson at an antiabortion center in a Buffalo suburb early Tuesday morning. The center had previously planned to get its windows reinforced that morning, said Jim Harden, CompassCare’s CEO.
  • The National Abortion Federation (NAF) — an association of abortion providers — has been helping make recommendations to clinics on various security measures, according to Melissa Fowler, the group’s chief program officer.
  • Students for Life of America recently had a security assessment done at its national headquarters, per Kristan Hawkins, the president of the antiabortion group.
What's new

Antiabortion groups expressed concern about the quantity of the incidents and called on Democrats to strongly condemn them. 

“It feels like this is a relatively new phenomenon,” said Mary Ziegler, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School specializing in the history of abortion law.

In addition to the incident in the Buffalo suburb, here’s a snapshot of what’s occurred since Politico published a leaked draft showing a majority of the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade’s decades-old protections.

Republicans have pounced on the issue, with 16 GOP senators urging the Department of Justice in a letter this week to investigate and work to prevent violence against antiabortion groups. The DOJ declined to comment.

If Roe is overturned … Carol Tobias, the National Right to Life president, urged “no violence, no graffiti. Let's battle it out in public communications, speeches, debates, social media, TV, whatever it is.”

More from Harden:

Planned Parenthood responds to the Wisconsin Family Action incident: 

The other side

Abortion providers are no stranger to violence. In the 1980s, there was a rash of bombings, arson and other incidents against clinics. Violent threats have continued, and since 1993, at least 10 people who worked in clinics have been murdered in incidents motivated by antiabortion hostility, according to the DOJ.

The NAF puts out a report each year detailing violence against abortion clinics. There was a rise in most categories from 2019 to 2020, according to the latest report available.

  • For instance: Death threats and threats of harm more than doubled to 200. There was a 125 percent increase in reports of assault and battery outside clinics. Internet harassment and hate mail also rose.

Since the leaked draft, abortion providers have been on “high alert,” Fowler, of NAF, said. There’s been at least one high-profile case of suspected arson in the news in recent weeks at a clinic under construction in Wyoming.

Providers say such incidents have been an all-too-common occurrence for abortion providers for decades. “Planned Parenthood health centers and other abortion providers continue to face threats on a daily basis that create safety and security risks in the communities we serve,” Lauren Kokum, director of affiliate communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

On the Hill

Biden HHS general counsel nominee confirmed

The Senate voted 49 to 43 along party lines yesterday to confirm attorney Samuel R. Bagenstos to serve as general counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Bagenstos, who had been serving as general counsel to the Office of Management and Budget, will offer legal advice and represent the nation’s top health agency. He is known for his work in civil and disability rights law.

Coronavirus

White House gears up to vaccinate America’s youngest

The Biden administration expressed optimism that interest in the vaccine for the youngest children will grow over time, but noted the White House doesn’t have internal projections on what that number should look like.

“A reminder that these things take time, that vaccine confidence builds over time,” White House coronavirus czar Ashish Jha told reporters yesterday. 

Next week, federal regulators will consider whether to authorize the first coronavirus shots for children under 5. Shots could become available as soon as the week of June 20.

Vaccine orders have been off to a slow start. The administration originally made 5 million doses available for ordering. As of Wednesday, 58 percent of available vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech had been ordered and 34 percent of the Moderna shot. Another tranche of 5 million doses are also now available.

Dawn O'Connell, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response:

WHO: Covid-19 origin lab leak theory needs ‘further investigations’

A team of international scientists convened by the World Health Organization to better understand the origins of the pandemic said a theory that the virus escaped from a laboratory needs “further investigations,” The Post’s Adam Taylor reports.

In a report released yesterday, the team said it had not yet received new data that would allow it to better evaluate the theory. The “strongest evidence” based on available data, however, still points to zoonotic transmission as the pathway into the human population, the chair of the WHO team said. 

The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, which authored the report, first came together last year following widespread criticism of a joint WHO-China investigation into the coronavirus’s origins. The group, which consists of experts from the United States, China and 25 other nations, will also work to set up a framework for understanding the origins of future outbreaks. 

Reproductive wars

Supreme Court abortion case isn't motivating most Americans to vote

Roughly 57 percent of voters say a Supreme Court decision overturning federal abortion rights wouldn’t make them more motivated to vote in November’s midterm elections, according to a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation

But among voters who would be more motivated to head to the polls, most would support a candidate in favor of abortion rights. A much smaller number of people who would be more motivated would vote for a candidate who wants to limit abortion access.

By-the-numbers: 

  • Roughly half of voters say they prefer a candidate who wants to protect abortion.
  • About a quarter of voters say they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to limit abortion access.
  • One in five voters say a candidate’s position doesn’t matter.

Respondents who said they were motivated to vote based on the decision said protecting privacy and bodily autonomy is among their top priorities, as is passing state or federal legislation to protect abortion rights.

More from KFF:

Abortions among Black women are more than three times higher than among White women

About 18 percent of U.S. pregnancies end with an induced abortion, per the CDC. In 2019, more than one-third of abortion patients were Black women, whose rate of abortions was more than three times that of White women, The Post's Akilah Johnson reports.

Given those statistics, Black women would be disproportionally affected should the Supreme Court strike down the nation’s abortion guarantees. Experts say the decision could exacerbate an ongoing maternal health crisis disproportionately impacting Black women across the country. But addressing the problem starts long before pregnancy, Akilah writes.

Key context: Black women on average live shorter lives than many other Americans. Black women are three times as likely to die as a result of pregnancy as White women. Yet, research shows nearly 2 out of 3 of those maternal deaths are preventable. 

  • The short life spans of Black women reflect hurdles piled on top of one another in society where poverty and pollution are concentrated in redlined neighborhoods without access to affordable housing or the internet.

Industry Rx

First in The Health 202: AMA proposes plan to address physician burnout, worker shortages

The American Medical Association tonight will lay out its road map to rebuilding the nation’s health-care system after it was stretched to the brink amid the pandemic, according to a copy of AMA President Gerald E. Harmon’s speech provided to The Health 202.  

The AMA’s Recovery Plan for America’s Physicians addresses a range of areas, such as:

  • Stabilizing the Medicare physician payment system so that health-care workers have predictable and reliable financial returns.
  • Improving the prior authorization process so that patients can quickly receive the medication, tests and procedures they need.
  • Addressing physician burnout by supporting mental health legislation to create confidential physician wellness programs.
  • Tackling worker shortages by removing caps on Medicare-funded positions and secure additional funding from Congress to create new medical schools and residency programs at non-predominately White institutions.

Quote of the week

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y'all tomorrow.

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