HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Abortion Rights Hitting 2022 Midterm Stage

The threat to abortion rights will be a major theme for Democrats in midterm election campaigns, as Congress weighs in with legislation and candidates seize on the issue to rally key constituencies, particularly women.

Democrats say abortion could be a decisive issue in Senate races in New Hampshire, Nevada, and beyond that will decide which party controls the chamber.

Opposition to abortion has helped Republicans turn out social conservative voters for 50 years, but Democrats hope the shoe will be on the other foot in next year’s elections. They see a growing backlash after the elevation of three Donald Trump-appointed justices to the Supreme Court and the court’s recent refusal to block a Texas law that prohibits abortion after six weeks, effectively banning the procedure.

The controversy is already being highlighted by a progressive group’s seven-figure ad buy in the Granite State, where Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) is hammering her possible opponent, Gov. Chris Sununu (R), for taking action to curb abortion rights.

“New Hampshire has seen unprecedented threats to reproductive health care over the past few months, with the governor signing a budget that includes an abortion ban and mandatory ultrasounds and the Executive Council defunding Planned Parenthood,” Hassan said in an email in which she pledged to fight for abortion rights.

Even though Sununu says that he, like Hassan, supports abortion rights, Democrats hope for a race that focuses on the governor’s recent actions restricting them. Their message: Senators are needed to confirm judges that will protect women’s rights. Read more from Kenneth P. Doyle.

Happening on the Hill

Democratic Rift Persists on Biden Agenda: Democrats remained deeply divided late Monday as they struggled to close an intra-party split that threatens this week to blow up President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Biden have been calling lawmakers to resolve differences between moderates and progressives that are stalling votes on a $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a much larger tax and social spending measure. The larger bill, with a price tag of as much as $3.5 trillion is proving particularly vexing for Democrats amid demands from moderates to narrow the size and scope of the measure. Party leaders were examining ways to shrink the price tag. Read more from Erik Wasson, Billy House and Laura Litvan.

Nominations: Biden announced his intent to nominate John N. Nkengasong as coordinator of the U.S. government activities to combat HIV/AIDS internationally at the Department of State, according to a press release. The position was last held by Deborah Birx, Alex Ruoff reports.

Virus Protection Hearing: The House Education and Labor Civil Rights and Human Services and Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions Subcommittees plans a joint hearing to review successful models for protecting communities from Covid-19.

Oversight Panel Announces Witnesses for Abortion Panel: The House Oversight and Reform Committee announced its list of witnesses who are slated to testify Thursday at a two-part panel on abortion access. The panel of lawmakers includes Co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) as well as Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), and Kat Cammack (R-Fla.).

The second panel is set to include social activist Gloria Steinem and representatives from groups including the Reproductive Justice Movement, Texas Equal Access Fund, Physicians for Reproductive Health, the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Instagram Kids Pause Draws Bipartisan Calls for Action: Facebook’s pause on work to roll out an Instagram Kids site after the social networking company came under criticism for its negative effect on the mental health of children is insufficient, lawmakers said yesterday. “Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Reps. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), and others said in a joint statement. Read more from Molly Schuetz and Naomi Nix.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Biden Gets Booster, Calls for More Mandates: Biden received a booster shot yesterday of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in front of cameras at the White House and said he’ll press for more vaccination mandates to improve the U.S. inoculation rate. Biden, 78, meets guidelines issued last week by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that those over age 65 get a third vaccination.

Americans who have refused to be vaccinated, he said, are causing “an awful lot of damage for the rest of the country. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. That’s why I’m moving forward with vaccination mandates wherever I can.” Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

  • Across the Atlantic, the European Union’s drug regulator has started evaluating an application for the use of a booster dose of Moderna’s Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine to be given at least 6 months after the second dose in people aged 12 years and older, according to a statement. Although the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control do not consider the need to be urgent in the general population, EMA is evaluating the present application to ensure evidence is available to support further doses as necessary. Read more from Angela Cullen.

Rutgers Can Enforce Vaccine Mandate For Now: Rutgers University convinced a federal judge in New Jersey yesterday to reject a bid by Children’s Health Defense to temporarily strike down the school’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate while a challenge to the policy is being litigated. Children’s Health Defense and Adriana Pinto sued in August to stop the school from demanding students be vaccinated before they return to campus. Read more from David McAfee.

CDC Pandemic Czar Resigning, Politico Reports: Henry Walke, who has been leading the CDC’s Covid-19 response for more than a year, will be replaced by the agency’s deputy chief of enteric-disease, Barbara Mahon, according to a Politico report citing three people familiar with the issue. He will remain at the CDC as director of preparedness and emerging infections. “Shifts in response personnel and leadership are normal,” CDC spokesperson Ben Haynes told Politico.

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What Else to Know

N.Y. Health Official Tapped for HHS Civil Rights Office: Lisa Pino has been chosen to run the Health and Human Services Department’s Office for Civil Rights as it plans a renewed focus on discrimination claims, the agency announced yesterday. Pino, who worked in the Obama administration and at the New York State Department of Health, will be responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws as they apply to health care, religious conscience laws, and patient privacy laws. Shira Stein has more.

Lead Contamination Found in Blood of Half of Young Kids in U.S.: About half of young children who were tested for lead had detectable levels of the toxic metal in their blood, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics today. While most of the kids had relatively smaller amounts, about 2% had a level that is considered high. The research tracked more than 1.1 million children under the age of 6 years who underwent lead testing from October 2018 through February 2020. Read more from Emma Court.

  • Meanwhile, the EPA is making its lead training efforts free to contractors working in low-income and other underserved neighborhoods and distributing educational materials to help community leaders educate residents to protect children from exposure. The agency’s Enhancing Lead-Safe Work Practices through Education and Outreach initiative is meant to reduce childrens’ exposures to lead, including in lead-based paint in older homes, child-care, and other facilities serving children. Read more from Dean Scott.
  • Related: Pandemic Exposed Need for EPA Oversight of Tribal Water Systems.

States Can Seek Relief Over ‘Pharma Bro’ Shkreli’s Drug Markup: A group of states won a ruling to pursue monetary relief on behalf of consumers who faced Vyera Pharmaceuticals’ 4,000% mark-up of its anti-parasitic drug Daraprim during “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli’s leadership. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District New York’s Sept. 24 order advances seven states’ claims for injunctive relief and recovery that reflects Vyera’s profits from Daraprim sales. The order denied Vyera’s motion for summary judgment. Read more from Siri Bulusu.

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With assistance from Alex Ruoff

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at blee@bgov.com

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