KHN’s ‘What’s the Health?’: Graham’s bill centers abortion debate

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) put abortion back on the Republican 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 fuel public unease over the party’s efforts to limit access to abortion as they look to the midterm elections.

The World Health Organization suggested this week that the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is in sight, but that doesn’t mean there’s no end to second-guessing about how public health officials responded or their plans moving forward.

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

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Graham appears to be trying to build consensus among conservatives on his bill. Republicans have been surprised by how a Supreme Court decision this summer ending constitutional rights to abortion has emboldened voters who oppose the move. In some red states, there has been confusion over how strongly lawmakers might support a ban. Graham’s bill would allow states to enact abortion laws that are more restrictive but block efforts by more progressive states to legalize abortion after pregnancy. He had the support of several influential anti-abortion groups.
  • That doesn’t seem to matter to many Capitol Hill Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected the proposal, saying the issue needed to be dealt with at a state level, and refused to commit to bringing up the bill if Republicans took over the Senate in the fall election. 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 over abortion access has focused on state races, but his bill allows Democrats to make it an issue in congressional races as well.
  • Anti-abortion groups say Graham’s effort is a good first step toward setting policy for the country, especially as states may become more restrictive.
  • In the past, the 15-week gestational ban has been fairly well supported by the public, according to opinion polls. But new polls suggest that Americans’ attitudes may be changing as they witness the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision and the tragic stories of pregnancies where fetal anomalies are discovered late or a mother’s health deteriorates late in pregnancy.
  • On the Covid-19 front, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Wednesday that the Covid pandemic is not over but he is upbeat about the fight against the virus. “The end is in sight,” he said.
  • His comments came as the Lancet Covid-19 Commission, a group of global health experts, blamed WHO, the US government and others for insufficient coordination in the fight against the disease. And a report by Politico and the German newspaper Welt looked at four private health agencies that had an impact on pandemic efforts.
  • Despite Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ comments, US public health officials are pushing hard for Americans to get another Covid booster this fall. And the situation suggests that public health officials may not have a good handle on how to transition Covid from being treated as an emergency to an ongoing health threat.
  • The outlook has also been clouded as the Biden administration has sought more money from Congress to continue vaccination and testing efforts, but congressional Republicans appear unlikely to support those efforts. They believe it’s time for the government to step back from that effort and allow the regular health industry to take over.
  • The latest figures from the Census Bureau show the number of uninsured people is near a record low. But most experts are concerned that once the Covid emergency is over, states will be allowed to recalibrate their Medicaid rolls again, and many people who were covered by federal-state health programs during the pandemic could be pushed away from government coverage.

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

Mary Agnes Carey: KHN’s “As state institutions close, families of longtime residents face agonizing choices” by Tony Leis

Rachel Kohrs: “A new approach to domestic violence” by Joan Kennen of Politico

Sandhya Raman: “Philly’s kids grieve alone from far-reaching trauma of gun violence, advocates say” by Abraham Gutman of the Philadelphia Inquirer

Margot Sanger-Katz: The New York Times “Despite Their Influence and Wide 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” Kate Kelly, Adam Playford, and Alicia Parlapiano

Also discussed in this week’s podcast:

“How Bill Gates and Partners Used Their Influence to Control the Global Covid Response—With Little Oversight” by Erin Banko, Ashley Furlong, and Lennart Fahler, Politico and Welt

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

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KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Along with policy analysis and polling, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.

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