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‘Forever Chemicals’ in Thousands of Private Wells Near Military Sites, Study Finds

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Patricia Kime
Wed, 29 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000

tests show nearly 3,000 private wells located near 63 active and former U.S. military bases are contaminated with “forever chemicals” at levels higher than what federal regulators consider safe for drinking.

According to the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that analyzed Department of Defense testing data, 2,805 wells spread across 29 states were contaminated with at least one of two types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, above 4 parts per trillion, a limit proposed earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency. That new drinking water standard is expected to take effect by the end of the year.

But contamination in those wells was lower than the 70 parts per trillion threshold the Pentagon uses to trigger remediation.

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EWG researchers said they did not know how many people rely on the wells for drinking, cooking, and bathing, but the 76 tested locations represent just a fraction of the private wells near 714 current or former military sites spread across the U.S. According to EWG, had nearly a third of the contaminated wells, with 909. Researchers recorded clusters of tainted wells in both urban and rural , from Riverside County and Sacramento in California to Rapid City, South Dakota, and Helena, Montana.

“They are going to have to test more bases,” said Jared Hayes, a senior policy analyst with EWG, in an interview with KFF . “Those 2,805 are going to be a small number when they start testing drinking water wells near every single base.”

Defense Department are investigating hundreds of current and former domestic U.S. military installations and communities that surround them to determine whether their soil, groundwater, or drinking water is contaminated with PFAS chemicals.

The Defense Department is a major contributor of PFAS pollution nationwide — the result of spills, dumping, or use of industrial solvents, firefighting foam, and other substances that contain what have been dubbed forever chemicals because they do not break down in the and can accumulate in the human body.

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Exposure to PFAS has been associated with health problems such as decreased response to vaccines, some types of cancer, low birth weight, and high blood pressure during pregnancy, according to a report published last year by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

A study published this year linked testicular cancer in military personnel to exposure to PFOS, the main type of PFAS chemical used in firefighting foam.

In July, a U.S. Geological Survey study estimated that at least 45% of U.S. tap water contains at least one type of PFAS chemical.

USGS researchers tested 716 locations nationwide and found the forever chemicals more frequently in samples that were collected near urban areas and potential sources of PFAS like military installations, airports, industrial sites, and wastewater treatment plants, according to Smalling, a USGS research chemist and lead author of the study.

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“We knew we would find PFAS in tap water,” she told KFF Health News in July. “But what was really interesting was the similarities between the private wells and the public supply.”

Drinking water sources near military installations that test above 70 parts per trillion draw immediate action from the Defense Department. Those responses include providing alternate drinking water sources, treatment, or water filtration systems.

Below that threshold, federal officials it up to homeowners to weigh and mitigate the health risks of contamination, Hayes said.

“It's unclear what, if anything, these private individuals are being advised,” Hayes said. “If DoD is saying that 70 parts per trillion is the level they are going to provide clean water … the understanding would be if it's below that, it must be fine.”

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The Pentagon bases its 70 parts per trillion standard for PFOS and PFOA chemicals on a 2016 health advisory issued by the EPA. Officials have said they're waiting for the new federal standard to go into effect before changing Defense Department parameters.

The Department of Defense did not respond by publication deadline to questions about EWG's findings, or how it will address the new EPA limits.

While EWG's examination found that thousands of wells contained PFAS at levels above the new EPA standard, but below the military's 70 ppt threshold for action, it also learned that the Defense Department had found 1,800 private wells that registered higher than 70 ppt and had provided mitigation services to the owners of those wells.

Hayes said the combined levels of PFOS and PFOA in some wells were as high as 10,000 ppt.

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Hayes said it's unclear how long people near those military sites have been drinking contaminated water. “Chances are it's been years, decades,” he said.

Federal law requires public water systems to be monitored regularly for pollutants, but private wells have no similar requirements. Hayes recommended that people who live near any current or former military installations and use a well for their drinking water have their water tested and use a filter designed specifically to PFAS.

According to the DoD's PFAS remediation website, as part of its ongoing investigation and remediation effort, it has closed contaminated wells, installed new water sources, and treated drinking water on military bases. According to DoD, it is working to “to ensure no one on-base is exposed to PFOS or PFOA in drinking water above 70ppt.”

“Addressing DoD's PFAS releases is at the core of the Department's commitment to protect the health and safety of its Service members, their families, the DoD civilian workforce, and the communities in which DoD serves,” Pentagon officials said on the site.

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KFF Health News' Hannah Norman contributed to this report.

——————————
By: Patricia Kime
Title: ‘Forever Chemicals' in Thousands of Private Wells Near Military Sites, Study Finds
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/forever-chemicals-pfas-private-wells-military-bases/
Published Date: Wed, 29 Nov 2023 10:00:00 +0000

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Pregnancy Care Was Always Lacking in Jails. It Could Get Worse.

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Renuka Rayasam
Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

It was about midnight in June 2022 when officers showed up at Angela Collier's door and told her that someone anonymously requested a welfare check because they thought she might have had a miscarriage.

Standing in front of the concrete steps of her home in Midway, Texas, Collier, initially barefoot and wearing a baggy gray T-shirt, told officers she planned to see a doctor in the morning because she had been bleeding.

Police body camera footage obtained by KFF Health News through an open request shows that the officers then told Collier — who was 29 at the time and enrolled in online classes to study psychology — to turn around.

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Instead of taking her to get medical care, they handcuffed and arrested her because she had outstanding warrants in a neighboring county for failing to appear in court to face misdemeanor drug charges three weeks earlier. She had missed that court date, medical records show, because she was at a hospital receiving treatment for pregnancy complications.

Despite her symptoms and being about 13 weeks pregnant, Collier spent the next day and a half in the Walker County Jail, about 80 miles north of Houston. She said her bleeding worsened there and she begged repeatedly for medical attention that she didn't receive, according to a formal complaint she filed with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

“There wasn't anything I could do,” she said, but “just lay there and be scared and not know what was going to happen.”

Collier's experience highlights the limited oversight and absence of federal standards for reproductive care for pregnant women in the criminal justice system. Incarcerated people have a constitutional right to , yet only a half-dozen states have passed laws guaranteeing access to prenatal or postpartum medical care for people in custody, according to a of reproductive health care legislation for incarcerated people by a research group at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. And now restrictions might be putting care further out of reach.

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Collier's arrest was “shocking and disturbing” because officers “blithely” took her to jail despite her miscarriage concerns, said Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit organization that studies incarceration. Bertram reviewed the body cam footage and Collier's complaint.

“Police arrest people who are in medical emergencies all the time,” she said. “And they do that regardless of the fact that the jail is often not equipped to care for those people in the way an emergency room might be.”

After a decline during the first year of the pandemic, the number of women in U.S. jails is once again rising, nearly 93,000 in June 2022, a 33% increase over 2020, according to the Department of Justice. Tens of thousands of pregnant women enter U.S. jails each year, according to estimates by Carolyn Sufrin, an associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who researches pregnancy care in jails and prisons.

The health care needs of incarcerated women have “always been an afterthought,” said Dana Sussman, deputy executive director at Pregnancy Justice, an organization that defends women who have been charged with crimes related to their pregnancy, such as substance use. For example, about half of states don't provide free menstrual products in jails and prisons. “And then the needs of pregnant women are an afterthought beyond that,” Sussman said.

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Researchers and advocates worry that confusion over recent abortion restrictions may further complicate the situation. A nurse cited Texas' abortion laws as one reason Collier didn't need care, according to her statement to the standards commission.

Texas law allows treatment of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies, a life-threatening condition in which a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. However, different interpretations of the law can create confusion.

A nurse told Collier that “hospitals no longer did dilation and curettage,” Collier told the commission. “Since I wasn't hemorrhaging to the point of completely soaking my pants, there wasn't anything that could be done for me,” she said.

Collier testified that she saw a nurse only once during her stay in jail, even after she repeatedly asked jail staffers for . The nurse checked her temperature and blood pressure and told her to put in a formal request for Tylenol. Collier said she completed her miscarriage shortly after being released.

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Collier's case is a “canary in a coal mine” for what is happening in jails; abortion restrictions are “going to have a huge ripple effect on a system already unequipped to handle obstetric emergencies,” Sufrin said.

‘There Are No Consequences'

Jail and prison health policies vary widely around the country and often fall far short of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' guidelines for reproductive health care for incarcerated people. ACOG and other groups recommend that incarcerated women have access to unscheduled or emergency obstetric visits on a 24-hour basis and that on-site health care providers should be better trained to recognize pregnancy problems.

In Alabama, where women have been jailed for substance use during pregnancy, the state offers pregnancy tests in jail. But it doesn't guarantee a minimum standard of prenatal care, such as access to extra food and medical visits, according to Johns Hopkins' review.

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Policies for pregnant women at federal facilities also don't align with national standards for nutrition, safe housing, and access to medical care, according to a 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office.

Even when laws exist to ensure that incarcerated pregnant women have access to care, the language is often vague, leaving discretion to jail personnel.

Since 2020, Tennessee law has required that jails and prisons provide pregnant women “regular prenatal and postpartum care, as necessary.” But last August a woman gave birth in a jail cell after seeking medical attention for more than an hour, according to the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office.

Pregnancy complications can quickly escalate into life-threatening situations, requiring more timely and specialized care than jails can often provide, said Sufrin. And when jails fail to comply with laws on the books, little oversight or enforcement may exist.

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In Louisiana, many jails didn't consistently follow laws that aimed to improve access to reproductive health care, such as providing free menstrual items, according to a May 2023 report commissioned by state lawmakers. The also said jails weren't transparent about whether they followed other laws, such as prohibiting the use of solitary confinement for pregnant women.

Krishnaveni Gundu, as co-founder of the Texas Jail Project, which advocates for people held in county jails, has lobbied for more than a decade to strengthen state protections for pregnant incarcerated people.

In 2019, Texas became one of the few states to require that jails' health policies include obstetrical and gynecological care. The law requires jails to promptly transport a pregnant person in labor to a hospital, and additional regulations mandate access to medical and mental health care for miscarriages and other pregnancy complications.

But Gundu said lack of oversight and meaningful enforcement mechanisms, along with “apathy” among jail employees, have undermined regulatory protections.

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“All those reforms feel futile,” said Gundu, who helped Collier prepare for her testimony. “There are no consequences.”

Before her arrest, Collier had been to the hospital twice that month experiencing pregnancy complications, including a bladder infection, her medical records show. Yet the commission found that Walker County Jail didn't violate minimum standards. The commission did not consider the police body cam footage or Collier's personal medical records, which support her assertions of pregnancy complications, according to investigation documents obtained by KFF Health News via an open records request.

In making its determination, the commission relied mainly on the jail's medical records, which note that Collier asked for medical attention for a miscarriage once, in the morning on the day she was released, and refused Tylenol.

“Your complaint of no medical care is unfounded,” the commission concluded, “and no further action will be taken.”

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Collier's miscarriage had ended before she entered the jail, argued Lt. Keith DeHart, jail lieutenant for the Walker County Sheriff's Office. “I believe there was some misunderstanding,” he said.

Brandon Wood, executive director of the commission, wouldn't comment on Collier's case but defends the group's investigation as thorough. Jails “have a duty to ensure that those records are accurate and truthful,” he said. And most Texas jails are complying with heightened standards, he said.

Bertram disagrees, saying the fact that care was denied to someone who was begging for it speaks volumes. “That should tell you something about what these standards are worth,” she said.

Last year, Chiree Harley spent six weeks in a Comal County, Texas, jail shortly after discovering she was pregnant and before she could get prenatal care, she said.

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I was “thinking that I was going to be well taken care of,” said Harley, 37, who also struggled with substance use.

Jail put her in the infirmary, Harley said, but she saw only a jail doctor and never visited an OB-GYN, even though she had previous pregnancy complications including losing multiple pregnancies at around 21 weeks. This time she had no idea how far along she was.

She said that she started leaking amniotic fluid and having contractions on Nov. 1, but that jail officials waited nearly two days to take her to a hospital. Harley said officers forced her to sign papers releasing her from jail custody while she was having contractions in the hospital. Harley delivered at 23 weeks; the baby boy died less than a day later in her arms.

The whole experience was “very scary,” Harley said. “Afterwards we were all very, very devastated.”

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Comal County declined to send Harley's medical and other records in response to an open records request. Michael Shaunessy, a partner at McGinnis Lochridge who represents Comal County, said in a statement that, “at all times, the Comal County Jail provided Chiree Harley with all appropriate and necessary medical treatment for her and her unborn child.” He did not respond to questions about whether Harley was provided specialized obstetric care.

‘I Trusted Those People'

In states like Idaho, Mississippi, and Louisiana that installed near-total abortion bans after the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in 2022, some patients might have to wait until no fetal cardiac activity is detected before they can get care, said Kari White, the executive and scientific director of Resound Research for Reproductive Health.

White co-authored a recent study that documented 50 cases in which pregnancy care deviated from the standard because of abortion restrictions even outside of jails and prisons. Health care providers who worry about running afoul of strict laws might tell patients to go home and wait until their situations worsen.

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“Obviously, it's much trickier for people who are in jail or in prison, because they are not going to necessarily be able to again,” she said.

Advocates argue that boosting oversight and standards is a start, but that states need to find other ways to manage pregnant women who get caught in the justice system.

For many pregnant people, even a short stay in jail can cause lasting trauma and interrupt crucial prenatal care.

Collier remembers being in “disbelief” when she was first arrested but said she was not “distraught.”

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“I figured I would be taken care of, that nothing bad was gonna happen to me,” she said. As it became clear that she wouldn't get care, she grew distressed.

After her miscarriage, Collier saw a mental health specialist and started medication to treat depression. She hasn't returned to her studies, she said.

“I trusted those people,” Collier said about the jail staff. “The whole experience really messed my head up.”

——————————
By: Renuka Rayasam
Title: Pregnancy Care Was Always Lacking in Jails. It Could Get Worse.
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/pregnancy-care-jails-prisons-incarcerated-women/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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Florida Defies CDC in Measles Outbreak, Telling Parents It’s Fine to Send Unvaccinated Kids to School

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Amy Maxmen
Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

With a brief memo, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has subverted a public standard that's long kept measles outbreaks under control.

On Feb. 20, as measles spread through Manatee Bay Elementary in South Florida, Ladapo sent a letter granting them permission to send unvaccinated children to school amid the outbreak.

The Department of Health “is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance,” wrote Ladapo, who was appointed to head the agency by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose name is listed above Ladapo's in the letterhead.

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Ladapo's move contradicts advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is not a parental rights issue,” said Scott Rivkees, Florida's former surgeon general who is now a professor at Brown University. “It's about protecting fellow classmates, teachers, and members of the community against measles, which is a very serious and very transmissible illness.”

Most people who aren't protected by a vaccine will get measles if they're exposed to the virus. This vulnerable group includes children whose parents don't get them vaccinated, infants too young for the vaccine, those who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons, and others who don't mount a strong, lasting immune response to it. Rivkees estimates that about a tenth of people in a community fall into the vulnerable category.

The CDC advises that unvaccinated students stay home from school for three weeks after exposure. Because the highly contagious measles virus spreads on tiny droplets through the air and on surfaces, students are considered exposed simply by sitting in the same cafeteria or classroom as someone infected. And a person with measles can pass along an infection before they develop a fever, cough, rash, or other signs of the illness. About 1 in 5 people with measles end up hospitalized, 1 in 10 develop ear infections that can to permanent hearing loss, and about 1 in 1,000 die from respiratory and neurological complications.

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“I don't know why the health department wouldn't follow the CDC recommendations,” said Thresia Gambon, president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician who practices in Miami and Broward, the county affected by the current measles outbreak. “Measles is so contagious. It is very worrisome.”

Considering the dangers of the disease, the vaccine is incredibly safe. A person is about four times as likely to die from being struck by lightning during their lifetime in the United States as to have a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

Nonetheless, last year a record number of parents filed for exemptions from school vaccine requirements on religious or philosophical grounds across the United States. The CDC reported that childhood immunization rates hit a 10-year low.

In addition to Florida, measles cases have been reported in 11 other states this year, Arizona, Georgia, Minnesota, and Virginia.

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Only about a quarter of Florida's counties had reached the 95% threshold at which communities are considered well protected against measles outbreaks, according to the most recent data posted by the Florida Department of Health in 2022. In Broward County, where six cases of measles have been reported over the past week, about 92% of children in kindergarten had received routine immunizations against measles, chickenpox, polio, and other diseases. The remaining 8% included more than 1,500 kids who had vaccine exemptions, as of 2022.

Broward's local health department has been offering measles vaccines at Manatee Bay Elementary since the outbreak began, according to the county school superintendent. If an unvaccinated person gets a dose within three days of exposure to the virus, they're far less likely to get measles and spread it to others.

For this reason, have occasionally mandated vaccines in emergencies in the past. For example, Philadelphia's deputy health commissioner in 1991 ordered children to get vaccinated against their parents' wishes during outbreaks traced to their faith-healing churches. And during a large measles outbreak among Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn in 2019, the New York City health commissioner mandated that anyone who lived, worked, or went to school in hard-hit neighborhoods get vaccinated or face a fine of $1,000. In that ordinance, the commissioner wrote that the presence of anyone lacking the vaccine in those areas, unless it was medically contraindicated, “creates an unnecessary and avoidable risk of continuing the outbreak.”

Ladapo moved in the opposite direction with his letter, deferring to parents because of the “high immunity rate in the community,” which data contradicts, and because of the “burden on families and educational cost of healthy children missing school.”

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Yet the burden of an outbreak only grows larger as cases of measles spread, requiring more emergency care, more testing, and broader quarantines as illness and hospitalizations mount. Curbing a 2018 outbreak in southern Washington with 72 cases cost about $2.3 million, in addition to $76,000 in medical costs, and an estimated $1 million in economic losses due to illness, quarantine, and caregiving. If numbers soar, death becomes a burden, too. An outbreak among a largely unvaccinated population in Samoa caused more than 5,700 cases and 83 deaths, mainly among children.

Ladapo's letter to parents also marks a departure from the norm because local health departments tend to take the lead on containing measles outbreaks, rather than state or federal authorities. In response to queries from KFF Health , Broward County's health department deferred to Florida's state health department, which Ladapo oversees.

“The county doesn't have the power to disagree with the state health department,” said Rebekah Jones, a data scientist who was from her post at the Florida health department in 2020, over a rift regarding coronavirus data.

DeSantis, a Republican, appointed Ladapo as head of the state health department in late 2021, as DeSantis integrated skepticism about covid vaccines into his political platform. In the months that followed, Florida's health department removed information on covid vaccines from its homepage, and reprimanded a county health director for encouraging his staff to get the vaccines, leading to his resignation. In January, the health department website posted Ladapo's call to halt vaccination with covid mRNA vaccines entirely, based on notions that scientists call implausible.

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Jones was not surprised to see Ladapo pivot to measles. “I think this is the predictable outcome of turning fringe, anti-vaccine rhetoric into a defining trait of the Florida government,” she said. Although his latest runs contrary to CDC advice, the federal agency rarely intervenes in measles outbreaks, entrusting the task to states.

In an email to KFF Health News, the Florida health department said it was working with others to identify the contacts of people with measles, but that details on cases and places of exposure were confidential. It repeated Ladapo's decision, adding, “The surgeon general's recommendation may change as epidemiological investigations continue.”

For Gambon, the outbreak is already disconcerting. “I would like to see the surgeon general promote what is safest for children and for school staff,” she said, “since I am sure there are many who might not have as strong immunity as we would hope.”

KFF Health News is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF—an independent source of health policy research, polling, and journalism. Learn more about KFF.

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By: Amy Maxmen
Title: Florida Defies CDC in Measles Outbreak, Telling Parents It's Fine to Send Unvaccinated Kids to School
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/florida-defies-cdc-measles-outbreak/
Published Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2024 10:00:00 +0000

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KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Alabama Court Rules Embryos Are Children. What Now?

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Thu, 22 Feb 2024 20:00:00 +0000

The Host

Julie Rovner
KFF Health


@jrovner


Read Julie's stories.

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Julie Rovner is chief Washington correspondent and host of KFF Health News' weekly health policy news , “What the Health?” A noted expert on health policy issues, Julie is the author of the critically praised reference book “ Politics and Policy A to Z,” now in its third edition.

The Alabama Supreme Court's groundbreaking ruling last week that frozen embryos have legal rights as people has touched off a national debate about the potential fallout of the “personhood” movement. Already the of Alabama-Birmingham has paused its in vitro fertilization program while it determines the ongoing legality of a process that has become increasingly common for those wishing to start a family. 

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump is reportedly leaning toward endorsing a national, 16-week abortion ban. At the same time, former aides are planning a long agenda of reproductive health restrictions should Trump win a second term.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Lauren Weber of The Washington Post, Rachana Pradhan of KFF Health News, and Victoria Knight of Axios.

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Panelists

Victoria Knight
Axios


@victoriaregisk


Read Victoria's stories.

Rachana Pradhan
KFF Health News

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@rachanadpradhan


Read Rachana's stories.

Lauren Weber
The Washington Post


@LaurenWeberHP

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Read Lauren's stories.

Among the takeaways from this week's episode:

  • The Alabama Supreme Court's decision on embryonic personhood could have wide-ranging implications beyond reproductive health care, with potential implications for tax deductions, child payments, criminal law, and much more.
  • Donald Trump is considering a national abortion ban at 16 weeks of gestation, according to recent reports. It is unclear whether such a ban would go far enough to please his conservative supporters, but it would be far enough to give Democrats ammunition to campaign on it. And some are looking into using a 19th-century anti-smut law, the Comstock Act, to implement a national ban under a new Trump presidency — no action from necessary.
  • New reporting from KFF Health News draws on many interviews with clinicians at Catholic hospitals about how the Roman Catholic Church's directives dictate the care they may offer , especially in reproductive health. It also draws attention to the vast number of religiously affiliated hospitals and the fact that, for many women, a Catholic hospital may be their only option.
  • Questions about 's cognitive health are drawing attention to ageism in politics — as well as in American life, with fewer people taking precautions against the covid-19 virus even as it remains a serious threat to vulnerable people, especially the elderly. The mental of the nation's leaders is a valid, relevant question for many voters, though the questions are also fueled by frustration with a political system in which many offices are held by older people who have been around a long time.

Plus, for “extra credit” the panelists suggest health policy stories they read this week that they think you should read, too:

Julie Rovner: Stat's “New CMS Rules Will Throttle Access Researchers Need to Medicare, Medicaid Data,” by Rachel M. Werner.

Lauren Weber: The Washington Post's “They Take Kratom to Ease Pain or Anxiety. Sometimes, Death Follows,” by David Ovalle.

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Rachana Pradhan: Politico's “Red States Hopeful for a 2nd Trump Term Prepare to Curtail Medicaid,” by Megan Messerly.

Victoria Knight: ProPublica's “The Year After a Denied Abortion,” by Stacy Kranitz and Kavitha Surana.

Also mentioned on this week's podcast:

Credits

Francis Ying
Audio producer

Emmarie Huetteman
Editor

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To hear all our click here.

And subscribe to KFF Health News' “What the Health?” on SpotifyApple PodcastsPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Title: KFF Health News' ‘What the Health?': Alabama Court Rules Embryos Are Children. What Now?
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/podcast/what-the-health-335-alabama-ruling-embryos-children-february-22-2024/
Published Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2024 20:00:00 +0000

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