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KHN’s ‘What the Health?’: Graham’s Bill Recenters Abortion Debate

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put abortion back on Republicans’ agenda this week with a legislative proposal calling for a national ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. For many in his party, it was an unwelcome intrusion that could add to public unease with the party’s efforts to limit access to abortion as they look toward the midterm elections.

The World Health Organization suggested this week that the end of the covid-19 pandemic is within sight, but that doesn’t mean there’s an end to second-guessing about how public health officials reacted or their plans going forward.

This week’s panelists are Mary Agnes Carey of KHN, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Graham appeared to be trying to build consensus among conservatives with his bill. Republicans have been startled how the Supreme Court’s decision this summer ending a constitutional right to abortion has energized voters opposed to the move. In some red states, confusion has arisen over how strict a ban lawmakers can support. Graham’s bill would allow states to enact abortion laws that are more restrictive but would cap efforts by more progressive states to keep abortion legal later in pregnancy. He had the backing of several influential anti-abortion groups.
  • That didn’t seem to matter to many Capitol Hill Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was dismissive of the proposal, saying the issue needs to be dealt with on a state level, and refused to commit to bringing up the bill if Republicans capture the Senate in the fall elections. Conservatives have long argued that abortion access should be a state decision.
  • Graham’s announcement was inconvenient for Capitol Hill Republicans. Much of the political debate on abortion access had been focused on state races, but his bill allows Democrats to make it an issue in congressional races, too.
  • Groups that oppose abortion say that Graham’s effort is a good first step toward setting policy for the country, especially since states may continue to be more restrictive.
  • In the past, the 15-week gestational ban has been fairly well supported by the public, according to opinion polling. But new surveys suggest Americans’ views may be shifting as they witness the consequences of the Supreme Court decision and tragic stories appear about pregnancies in which fetal anomalies are discovered late or a mother’s health is impaired in late pregnancy.
  • On the covid-19 front, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters Wednesday that the covid pandemic is not over but was upbeat about the fight against the virus. “The end is in sight,” he said.
  • His comments came as a group of world health experts, the Lancet Covid-19 Commission, blamed the WHO, the U.S. government, and others for insufficient coordination in fighting the disease. And a report by Politico and the German newspaper Welt looks at four non-governmental health organizations that had an influence on pandemic efforts.
  • Despite Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ comments, public health officials in the U.S. are pushing hard for Americans to get another covid booster this fall. And the situation points out that public health officials may not have a good handle on how to transition from treating covid as an emergency to an ongoing health threat.
  • The outlook is also muddled because the Biden administration has asked for more money from Congress to continue to fund vaccination and testing efforts, but congressional Republicans appear unlikely to support that effort. They believe it is time for the government to move out of that effort and allow the regular health industry to take over.
  • The latest statistics from the Census Bureau show a near-record low in the number of people who are uninsured. But most experts are concerned because once the covid emergency ends, states will again be allowed to recalibrate their Medicaid rolls and many people who have been covered by the federal-state health program during the pandemic could be pushed off government coverage.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health policy stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Mary Agnes Carey: KHN’s “As State Institutions Close, Families of Longtime Residents Face Agonizing Choices” by Tony Leys

Rachel Cohrs: Politico’s “A New Approach to Domestic Violence” by Joanne Kenen

Sandhya Raman: The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Philly’s Kids Are Grieving Alone From the Far-Reaching Trauma of Gun Violence, Advocates Say” by Abraham Gutman

Margot Sanger-Katz: The New York Times’ “Despite Their Influence and Extensive Access to Information, Members of Congress Can Buy and Sell Stocks With Few Restrictions”  and “These 97 Members of Congress Reported Trades in Companies Influenced by Their Committees” by Kate Kelly, Adam Playford, and Alicia Parlapiano

Also discussed on this week’s podcast:

Politico and Welt’s “How Bill Gates and Partners Used Their Clout to Control the Global Covid Response — With Little Oversight” by Erin Banco, Ashleigh Furlong, and Lennart Pfahler

The Census Bureau’s “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2021

To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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