Here's where fights to control state legislatures could impact abortion laws

Here’s where fights to control state legislatures could impact abortion laws

How

Good morning, and TGIF. Send Friday tips to rachel.roubein@washpost.com.

Today’s edition: The Pentagon will pay for service members to travel for an abortion. All you need to know about the “Fauci of Nashville.” But first…

Fights to control state legislatures in Arizona, Nevada and Michigan could affect abortion access

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the constitutional right to an abortion has raised the stakes for state legislative races across the country.

Fights for control of the legislature are playing out in battleground states like Arizona, Nevada and Michigan — which all also have competitive races for governor. Meanwhile, in North Carolinapicking up a handful more Republican seats would give the party the power to override the Democratic governor’s veto.

In most years, state legislative contests are overshadowed by congressional and governor races. But this isn’t most years, abortion rights and antiabortion advocates say.

The vast majority of state legislatures have been out of session since the high court overturned Roe v. wade in June. That means battles over new abortion restrictions or protections will kick into high gear next year — the first time many state lawmakers will be faced with such decisions since the notion of a post-Roe world is no longer hypothetical.

  • “People are paying attention and realize who your governor is, who your attorney general is, who is running your state legislature is so, so critical to your daily life and to your ability to access reproductive care and abortion,” said Ryan Stitzlein, the senior national political director for NARAL Pro-Choice Americaan abortion rights group.

This morning, we’re diving into state legislative races in four key states. (ICYMI, here’s our deep dives into races for governor, state attorneys general and state Supreme Courts.)

Arizona: Republicans on defense.

Republicans are looking to hold their majorities here, though their margins are thin. The party currently has 31 seats in the 60-member House. In the Senate, there are 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed a law restricting abortion after 15 weeks with limited exceptions. An Arizona judge briefly revived a near-total ban on the procedure dating back to the mid-19th century, but an appellate court has since blocked the law.

Nevada: Democrats on defense.

Democrats are on the defense here. The party has a 25-16 advantage in the State Assembly, and an 11-9 majority in the Senate.

Tea Republican State Leadership Committee previously identified the legislature as a possible place to make “meaningful gains in liberal strongholds.” But in a memo this summer, the group upgraded its assessment of the state, believing the party now has an opportunity to flip Nevada’s chambers as Democrats pledge to fight to maintain their majorities.

In 1990, Nevada voters passed a measure protecting abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, so enacting a ban would be difficult. Aim Lindsey Harmonthe executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, says she’s concerned a Republican-controlled legislature would attempt to put in place hoops to obtaining an abortion, such as mandatory waiting periods.

Michigan: Republicans on defense.

This is another GOP-controlled state legislature. But there’s a twist this year: An independent redistricting committee drew new maps for the state, creating an environment more favorable to Democrats than in the past. Tea Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee has listed the state legislature as one of the “best opportunities” to gain ground in the country.

The state has a near-total abortion ban dating back to 1931, which is currently blocked. But in less than three weeks, voters will decide whether they want to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution — and the outcome of that vote will impact whether the prohibition could ever be enacted, as well as how much control state lawmakers will have over access to the procedure. Abortion rights groups say they’re still focusing on legislative races here as a backstop.

North Carolina: Republicans seek supermajority.

This state is a bit different. North Carolina has a Democratic governor, Roy Cooperwho isn’t up for re-election.

Most abortions in the state are banned after 20 weeks. Yet, Republicans could try to pass further restrictions if they pick up a handful of seats in each chamber. They need two seats in the Senate and three in the House in order to have a supermajority that can override Cooper’s veto powers — but doing so is seemingly an uphill climb.

The legislature here is a huge a focus for antiabortion groups, such as Students for Life Action and SBA Pro-Life America. The latter group is working to craft mailers and digital advertisements that could go out by next week, according to Stephen Billy, vice president of state affairs at SBA Pro-Life America.

Pentagon to provide funds, support for service members traveling for abortions

The Pentagon will pay for service members and their dependents to travel to obtain abortions if the procedure is restricted or banned where they are stationed, the department announced yesterday.

The memo issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seeks to address abortion rights advocates’ concerns about access to the procedure and reproductive privacy since the Supreme Court’s ruling. Several of the nation’s major military bases are located in states where antiabortion laws are now in place.

Notable: The agency’s guidance only applies to travel costs needed to obtain abortions, not the procedure itself (which military health insurance doesn’t cover in most circumstances). That’s because the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is at risk.

The new policy also includes several measures to strengthen privacy protections around abortions, such as directing Department of Defense health-care providers not to disclose reproductive health information to commanders except in specific circumstances. The memo extends the time by which troops must report a pregnancy to 20 weeks.

Also… The Pentagon will now offer legal support for Department of Defense health-care workers who face civil or criminal penalties for providing abortion services that are permitted under federal law, along with covering the fees for those who wish to become licensed in a different state. The memo says all actions should be completed no later than the end of the year.

Biden supports federal fund for women seeking abortions

President Biden would support a federal fund to help cover the economic costs associated with seeking an abortion, he said in an interview with NowThis that will air Sunday on the company’s social media channels.

Key context: Biden was responding to a question from Danielle Mathisena 26-year-old OB/GYN resident, who noted that several companies have begun offering financial assistance for their employees obtain abortions, and asked if he would back a similar program at the federal level.

“The answer is absolutely,” Biden said. “I do support that, and I’ve publicly urged companies to do that.”

From our reporters’ notebooks

Our colleague Dan Diamond sends The Health 202 this dispatch:

“The Fauci of Nashville”: The trauma surgeon who led one city’s coronavirus strategy has a story that’s both familiar and unusual.

“I am one doctor who led one Coronavirus Task Force in one American city,” Alex Jahangir writes in his new memoir, “Hot Spot,” recounting his two years unexpectedly chairing Nashville’s virus task force. “I was called a hero one day and a villain the next. Neither was true.”

Jahangir’s book — billed as a doctor’s diary of the pandemic — takes well-known challenges that faced the nation’s public health leaders, like wrestling with virtual schooling and strategizing vaccine rollout, but refracts them through a local prism. He’s “the Fauci of Nashville,” said TJ Ducklo, a spokesperson for Mayor John Cooper (D), adding that the doctor’s ubiquity and communications chops made him a trusted figure through the pandemic.

But instead of fighting with rivals in Congress or Trump appointees, Jahangir’s antagonists include local bar owners and the city’s public health director, who ultimately resigned after an HR scandal. Shutting down high school football was one of his team’s hardest decisions. And similar to national leaders, Jahangir continues to face criticism from groups that link his lockdown recommendations to local economic and health setbacks.

Jahangir, who spoke at DC’s Politics and Prose last night, told The Post that there’s been clear progress heading into a third covid winter. But he lamented the slow uptake of booster shots and anti-viral Paxlovid.

“I do think we’re at a place where most people know what to do to keep themselves from being super sick and dying,” he said. “The problem — especially in the southeast — is we choose not to do it.”

CDC advisers endorse adding coronavirus shots to vaccine schedules

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously yesterday to add coronavirus vaccines to the agency’s immunization schedules for both children and adults.

The decision to officially add the shots to the schedule now heads to the agency, which is expected to sign off on the recommendation.

The addition of the coronavirus vaccines to the lists wouldn’t make them mandatory for anyone, a point that panel members emphasized after false claims circulated earlier this week that new actions by the agency would force schools to require the shots. Instead, the schedule is meant to serve as a guide for health-care workers for what vaccines people should receive and at what age.

The CDC doesn’t have the authority to mandate students get certain vaccines. For example, both the flu shot and HPV vaccine are on the list but aren’t required for school attendance in many states. Also, coronavirus vaccines are explicitly banned from being included in school mandates in at least 20 states, according to the National Academy of State Health Policy.

An autistic teen needed mental health help. He spent weeks in an ER instead. (By William Wan | The Washington Post)

Tobacco companies shower Black Democrats with campaign cash (By Nicholas Florko | Stat)

DC-area children’s hospitals are at capacity (By Jenna Portnoy | The Washington Post)

Thanks for reading! See y’all Monday.

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