Happy Friday! This week was so busy that I am going to take the unprecedented step and highly recommend you check out our Morning Briefings for the past few days. So many compelling, interesting stories didn’t make the cut for the Breeze, but they’re worth reading.
On to what you may have missed!
Well, this one you probably didn’t miss unless you were in the middle of the woods sans cellphone service: Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation that effectively bans all abortions and criminalizes the procedure. The uproar that followed was immediate and ferocious — especially from 2020 Democrats who all but tripped over each other to denounce it as “shameless” and “outrageous” — but is the bill actually the threat to Roe v. Wade that it so dearly wants to be?
The measure is destined for the courts, certainly, but that doesn’t mean it will make it to SCOTUS. One likely outcome: The justices can simply refuse to take it up, leaving in place the lower courts’ decision (which will probably be that the law is unconstitutional). Chief Justice John Roberts is known for favoring incrementalism over sweeping decisions that would overturn nearly 50 years of precedent on a hot-button social issue.
But you need only four votes to get a case on the docket, which has court-watchers eyeing newbie Justice Brett Kavanaugh. His appointment helped galvanize the anti-abortion movement in the first place, but in the past he’s talked seriously about needing a compelling reason to overturn precedent. So far, he has disagreed with the hard conservatives more than people expected. So, the future for Alabama’s law remains uncertain.
What seems more likely is that the high court will instead look to less extreme, but still restrictive state laws (such as bills dictating the disposal of fetal remains and an 18-hour waiting period after state-mandated ultrasound examinations) that are heading toward them even as we speak.
No matter how it plays out, you can pretty much guarantee this is going to be a Big Deal on the campaign trail.
A smattering of the other (dozens and dozens) of thoughtful stories from the past few days:
• What is it like living in a liberal city in the Deep South during times like this?
• Missouri wants in on the action this week.
• A vote in deep-blue (and very Catholic) Rhode Island was overshadowed by Alabama’s news, but it highlights how nuanced and complicated the issue can be.
• A lot of Senate Republicans are trying their best to nope out of this conversation, like “no thank you, not touching that with a 10-foot pole.”
• And a really handy look at what’s going on at the state level.
House Democrats took advantage of their newfound power by tying a vote on reining in high drug prices to legislation shoring up the health law. The bill is destined to die, of course, but the move forced their Republican colleagues to go on record voting against something that voters care very, very deeply about.
They also foreshadowed a potential subpoena with letters to Attorney General William Barr. Five powerful committee chairmen said that they’ve been asking since April 8 for documents connected to the Justice Department’s decision to stop defending the health law but haven’t received a sufficient response. They’re giving DOJ two more weeks before they consider “alternative means of obtaining compliance.”
Meanwhile, a new Sunlight Foundation report found that the Trump administration has been systematically altering and eliminating information on the health law that’s on government websites.
Surprise medical billing is truly the darling of Capitol Hill recently with all the attention it’s getting. Multiple variations of bipartisan duos and groups are working on introducing legislation to combat the issue. The most recent bill unveiled would protect patients from the surprise costs, and let an outside arbitrator settle any disputes between hospitals and insurers. Other proposals have instead favored a rate-setting method to solve payment issues.
Attorneys general from 44 states have filed suit against pharma companies over allegations that “the generic drug industry perpetrated a multibillion-dollar fraud on the American people.” The lawsuit implicates 20 pharma firms following an investigation into allegations that the companies sought not only to maintain their “fair share” of the generic drug market through agreements with one another but also to “significantly raise prices on as many drugs as possible.”
Washington state took a big step this week in approving the creation of a public option — which would essentially look like a state-sponsored health plan. But now comes the hard part: making it work.
And don’t call it a game changer quite yet, experts say. Even sponsors of the legislation acknowledge the state plans may save consumers only 5-10% on their premiums. Still, the rollout will likely be watched closely as the progressive universal health care push grows stronger.
(If you feel like you need a refresher on all these terms — join the crowd, amiright? — this one from NYT’s Margot Sanger-Katz is great.)
Rural hospitals, which sometimes fight literally hour by hour to afford to stay open, are in a crisis in this country, as evidenced by two amazing pieces this week on what happens to a town when one dies.
“If we aren’t open, where do these people go?” asked one hospital worker in The Washington Post’s coverage.
“They’ll go to the cemetery,” another employee answered. “If we’re not here, these people don’t have time. They’ll die along with this hospital.”
But I found a flicker of hope in a lovely story about how a one-room clinic in North Carolina just marked its 100th year.
Think this measles outbreak is big? (It is, by the way!) How about the one in 1990, which had more than 27,000 cases? In the past few months, I’ve read and written about the record 963 cases from 1994 more times than you can count but had no idea that just four years earlier it was that much higher. If you’re as intrigued as I was about how that changed, dive into NPR’s historical look at what exactly was going on at the time, and how public officials made so much progress so quickly.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• There’s a pretty serious debate going on right now about fair distribution of donated livers. A new rule that went into effect this week and then was immediately blocked by a judge would give the organ to the sickest patient within 500 nautical miles. But advocates in the Midwest and South say that’s unfair.
• The U.S. birth rate has fallen again to the lowest in three decades. Some say that means the sky is falling; others are unconcerned.
• Despite there being thousands of children in the country with a terminal diagnosis, only three hospice facilities in the U.S. are designed specifically for them.
• Can we learn about trauma from an island of monkeys that was devastated by Hurricane Maria?
• Many of our gun safety discussions focus on buying the weapons, but teaching about proper storage can make a bigger difference than you’d necessarily expect.
Whew! You made it both through this hefty Breeze and the week itself. Take it easy this weekend as a reward!