HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: CDC Warns of Death Risk on Roe Rollback

Overturning constitutional protection for legal abortion could lead to more deaths and will exacerbate inequities in access to health care, the top U.S. public health official said.

Such an action would lead to unequal access nationwide to reproductive health services, endangering people’s wellbeing and lives, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference.

Health officials are responding to abortion concerns following a report from Politico Tuesday suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court could be about to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that protects the constitutional right to abortion. People who don’t have the resources to cross state lines for an abortion may be most at risk and “take matters into their own hands,” Walensky said at the conference. “I do think that lives could be at stake in that situation.”

When asked if more people might die if the high court overturns the ruling, she said, “I think that’s possible.”

Walensky warned that there could be broad implications of this decision, particularly for medical education. It’s important for health-care providers to be trained to safely conduct term pregnancy termination, but not all states would do so if Roe v. Wade were overturned, Walensky said. Read more from Fiona Rutherford.

Senate Takes Next Step on Abortion Access Bill: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) last night completed the process of placing on the Senate’s calendar S. 4132, a bill aimed at preserving the ability of a person and their health care provider to end a pregnancy. That move allows Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to force a vote to end an expected filibuster on the measure as soon as Monday. Still, senators failed to advance a similar House-passed bill (H.R. 3755) in February, when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined Republicans to filibuster the measure.

Roe Draft Opinion Opens Door for GOP to Ban Abortions in D.C.: The Supreme Court draft opinion rolling back Roe v. Wade would open the door for Republican attempts to ban abortion in the District of Columbia, a debate that could play out via the appropriations process, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said in a Wednesday phone interview. Lawmakers have previously barred the District of Columbia from using its local government funds to pay for abortions via a policy rider inserted into the annual Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill. Norton said she’s concerned the anticipated Supreme Court ruling could ramp up the debate over abortion in D.C. through that bill. Read more from Jack Fitzpatrick.

HHS Set to ‘Double Down’ on Abortion Access: The Health and Human Services Department intends to do whatever it can within its authority if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Secretary Xavier Becerra told lawmakers. But he didn’t offer specifics. HHS is “not in the business of stripping Americans’ of access and protections to care, so HHS, we will double down on our authority to protect every Americans’ right to access reproductive health care—including abortion,” he said at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing. Read more from Shira Stein.

WHO’s Tedros Backs Abortion Access: The head of the World Health Organization called for access to safe abortions for all women who want them after the U.S. court’s draft opinion report. “Restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of procedures — it drives women and girls towards unsafe ones. Access to safe abortion saves lives,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general said. Read more from Andy Hoffman.

Perdue Vows Even Harsher Abortion Laws: Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who’s challenging incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp with the endorsement of Donald Trump in Georgia’s bitter Republican primary race for governor, told a rally Tuesday he would strive to make Georgia’s abortion limits even stronger if the draft opinion stands, upstaging the signature anti-abortion law Kemp championed and signed in 2019. Read more from Margaret Newkirk.

Employer-Covered Abortion Travel Draws ‘Unprecedented Interest’: Large companies that fund their employees’ health care are contacting their lawyers about how to continue abortion coverage if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. “As attorneys, we’re getting unprecedented interest from clients who are looking for ways to continue abortion coverage,” Sarah Raaii, a senior associate in the Chicago office of McDermott Will & Emery LLP, said in an interview. If the high court overturns the landmark 1973 decision, large employers that operate self-funded health plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) could add provisions for beneficiaries in states that restrict the procedure to travel to other states to get abortion services. Most self-funded plans don’t currently have such provisions, ERISA attorneys say. Read more from Sara Hansard.

  • Companies stand to face increasing pressure from shareholders to protect abortion access for workers. Walmart, Lowe’s, and TJX represent what’s potentially just the tip of a burgeoning trend in shareholder activism in this area: All three companies will face votes on proxy proposals in the coming weeks that aim to shaping internal policies related to abortion access. Read more from Erin Mulvaney.

Democrats Raise $12 Million After SCOTUS Leak: Democrats raised $12 million in the day after news broke about a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, according to ActBlue, which processes e-donations for Democratic-aligned candidates and groups. The amount raised from the time of the Supreme Court news on Monday night through midnight Tuesday was about three times the daily average of roughly $4.2 million in donations ActBlue processed in April, said Mike Naple, a spokesman for ActBlue. Read more from Courtney Rozen and Kenneth P. Doyle.

  • Abortion-rights supporters are more galvanized than opponents by the prospects of Roe being overturned, a poll found, hinting at how a leaked draft opinion may shape the midterm elections. The Morning Consult/Politico poll found 42% of voters who lean Democratic said that it’s more important to vote for someone who agrees with their stance on abortion, even if they disagree on other issues, while only 31% of Republican voters said abortion was more important in the midterms for Congress and other offices. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Related:

Decades of Economic Gains for Women at Risk: Overturning Roe v. Wade risks widening economic inequality in the U.S., threatening decades of gains for women in places where abortion could be all but banned. Access to abortion is credited with expanding womens’ roles in economies and labor markets across the world. Decades of research show access to abortion is key to keeping many American women from falling into poverty. Low-income Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by restrictions. Read more from Katia Dmitrieva and Olivia Rockeman.

Also Happening on the Hill

Hearings on the Hill:

  • The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on Thursday on drug pricing transparency. The committee plans to scrutinize pharmacy benefit managers and how “the lack of transparency about how they operate” have contributed to higher drug prices for consumers. Read a statement here.
  • Stay up to date on all of this week’s fiscal 2023 budget hearings with BGOV’s Calendar and Events.

Lawmakers Seek to Boost FDA Power Over Fast-Tracked Drugs: The FDA could remove from the market any drugs that obtained accelerated approval if they fail to show a clinical benefit under a proposed package reauthorizing must-pass user fee legislation. The bipartisan proposal, unveiled Wednesday by leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would push sponsors of drugs approved through the accelerated pathway to complete required postmarket studies. Both the Food and Drug Administration and lawmakers have pushed for legislative changes to minimize the amount of time between when an accelerated approved drug enters the market and its clinical benefit is confirmed. Celine Castronuovo and Jeannie Baumann have more.

Congress Asked on Social Media Data: Researchers are imploring Congress to force social media companies to share data showing the platforms’ effect on users, especially children. Lawmakers in both parties have expressed concern over whether social media harms mental health among youth. They’re weighing whether and how to require greater transparency from companies without jeopardizing user privacy. “Researchers are working with one hand tied behind their back,” Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University, said Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law hearing. Read more from Maria Curi.

Baldwin Eyes Fast Track for Health Workplace Violence Bill: Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) urged senators on Wednesday to fast-track a bill preventing violence in health-care workplaces. The House passed the bill (H.R. 1195) in April 2021. The measure would require the Labor Department to issue a standard for health-care employers to create workplace violence-prevention plans. “The violence against our health-care workers was already a pervasive issue even before the pandemic,” Baldwin said. Read more from Allie Reed.

House Plots Vote on Firefighter Health Bill: The House Rules Committee announced it would likely meet the week of May 9 to set the terms for floor debate on H.R. 2499, which could include a structured amendment process. Eligibility for federal benefits would be expanded for firefighters who develop certain health conditions under the bill. Read the BGOV Bill Summary.

What Else to Know Today

McKinsey’s ‘Ghoulish’ Opioid Sales Advice Holds Legal Ground: Documents showing McKinsey & Company encouraged Purdue Pharma to pay out thousands in rebates per opioid overdose raise ethical red flags for the global consulting firm, but advice without implementation falls short of breaking the law, attorneys say. Ian Lopez has the details.

New Cancer Drug Access at Risk in Oregon Medicaid Proposal: An Oregon proposal to exclude expensive drugs that received FDA fast-track approval from Medicaid coverage is alarming advocates for patients with cancer and other life-threatening diseases. If approved, the proposal could limit access in Medicaid to promising treatments for patients with deadly conditions, and could encourage other states to similarly attempt to restrict access to get relief from rising drug costs, advocates say. Read more from Christopher Brown.

FDA Contradicts Pfizer Advice on Paxlovid: There is “no evidence” that a second course of Pfizer’s Paxlovid will help Covid-19 patients whose symptoms return after an initial course of the antiviral, a top Food and Drug Administration official said a day after Pfizer executives advocated the idea. Doctors have been trying to better understand instances of patients having viral rebounds after completing a five-day course of the drug. In an interview Tuesday, Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla claimed doctors could prescribe a second course. Robert Langreth has more.

CBD May Be Getting Into Milk, FDA Says: Federal regulators are concerned about the safety of cannabis compounds taken by animals leaching into human foods like milk and eggs. The Food and Drug Administration Wednesday issued a slew of warnings to companies that sell CBD—a non-psychoactive compound in cannabis—as well as Delta-8 THC, a knockoff of the substance that does get you high, THC. One of the letters went to the North Carolina-based “Kingdom Harvest,” which markets hemp extract and CBD for livestock. Read more from Tiffany Kary.

More Headlines:

With assistance from Zach C. Cohen

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

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

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