Tag: Courts

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Anti-Abortion Hard-Liners Speak Up

The Host

With abortion shaping up as a key issue for the November elections, the movement that united to overturn Roe v. Wade is divided over going further, faster — including by punishing those who have abortions and banning contraception or IVF. Politicians who oppose abortion are already experiencing backlash in some states.

Meanwhile, bad actors are bilking the health system in various new ways, from switching people’s insurance plans without their consent to pocket additional commissions, to hacking the records of major health systems and demanding millions of dollars in ransom.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins schools of public health and nursing and Politico Magazine.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • It appears that abortion opponents are learning it’s a lot easier to agree on what you’re against than for. Now that the constitutional right to an abortion has been overturned, political leaders are contending with vocal groups that want to push further — such as by banning access to IVF or contraception.
  • A Louisiana bill designating abortion pills as controlled substances targets people in the state, where abortion is banned, who are finding ways to get the drug. And abortion providers in Kansas are suing over a new law that requires patients to report their reasons for having an abortion. Such state laws have a cumulative chilling effect on abortion access.
  • Some Republican lawmakers seem to be trying to dodge voter dissatisfaction with abortion restrictions in this election year. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama introduced legislation to protect IVF by pulling Medicaid funding from states that ban the fertility procedure — but it has holes. And Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland declared he is pro-choice, even though he mostly dodged the issue during his eight years as governor.
  • Former President Donald Trump is in the news again for comments that seemed to leave the door open to restrictions on contraception — which may be the case, though he is known to make such vague policy suggestions. Trump’s policies as president did restrict access to contraception, and his allies have proposed going further.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Shefali Luthra of The 19th about her new book on abortion in post-Roe America, “Undue Burden.”

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

Julie Rovner: The 19th’s “What Happens to Clinics After a State Bans Abortion? They Fight To Survive,” by Shefali Luthra and Chabeli Carrazana. 

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Stat’s “How Doctors Are Pressuring Sickle Cell Patients Into Unwanted Sterilizations,” by Eric Boodman.  

Rachel Roubein: The Washington Post’s “What Science Tells Us About Biden, Trump and Evaluating an Aging Brain,” by Joel Achenbach and Mark Johnson.  

Joanne Kenen: ProPublica’s “Toxic Gaslighting: How 3M Executives Convinced a Scientist the Forever Chemicals She Found in Human Blood Were Safe,” by Sharon Lerner; and The Guardian’s “Microplastics Found in Every Human Testicle in Study,” by Damian Carrington. 

Also mentioned on this week’s podcast:


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Anti-Abortion Hard-Liners Speak Up

The Host

With abortion shaping up as a key issue for the November elections, the movement that united to overturn Roe v. Wade is divided over going further, faster — including by punishing those who have abortions and banning contraception or IVF. Politicians who oppose abortion are already experiencing backlash in some states.

Meanwhile, bad actors are bilking the health system in various new ways, from switching people’s insurance plans without their consent to pocket additional commissions, to hacking the records of major health systems and demanding millions of dollars in ransom.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Roubein of The Washington Post, and Joanne Kenen of the Johns Hopkins schools of public health and nursing and Politico Magazine.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • It appears that abortion opponents are learning it’s a lot easier to agree on what you’re against than for. Now that the constitutional right to an abortion has been overturned, political leaders are contending with vocal groups that want to push further — such as by banning access to IVF or contraception.
  • A Louisiana bill designating abortion pills as controlled substances targets people in the state, where abortion is banned, who are finding ways to get the drug. And abortion providers in Kansas are suing over a new law that requires patients to report their reasons for having an abortion. Such state laws have a cumulative chilling effect on abortion access.
  • Some Republican lawmakers seem to be trying to dodge voter dissatisfaction with abortion restrictions in this election year. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama introduced legislation to protect IVF by pulling Medicaid funding from states that ban the fertility procedure — but it has holes. And Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland declared he is pro-choice, even though he mostly dodged the issue during his eight years as governor.
  • Former President Donald Trump is in the news again for comments that seemed to leave the door open to restrictions on contraception — which may be the case, though he is known to make such vague policy suggestions. Trump’s policies as president did restrict access to contraception, and his allies have proposed going further.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Shefali Luthra of The 19th about her new book on abortion in post-Roe America, “Undue Burden.”

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

Julie Rovner: The 19th’s “What Happens to Clinics After a State Bans Abortion? They Fight To Survive,” by Shefali Luthra and Chabeli Carrazana. 

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Stat’s “How Doctors Are Pressuring Sickle Cell Patients Into Unwanted Sterilizations,” by Eric Boodman.  

Rachel Roubein: The Washington Post’s “What Science Tells Us About Biden, Trump and Evaluating an Aging Brain,” by Joel Achenbach and Mark Johnson.  

Joanne Kenen: ProPublica’s “Toxic Gaslighting: How 3M Executives Convinced a Scientist the Forever Chemicals She Found in Human Blood Were Safe,” by Sharon Lerner; and The Guardian’s “Microplastics Found in Every Human Testicle in Study,” by Damian Carrington. 

Also mentioned on this week’s podcast:


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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

Nursing Homes Wield Pandemic Immunity Laws To Duck Wrongful Death Suits

In early 2020, with reports of covid-19 outbreaks making dire headlines, Trever Schapers worried about her father’s safety in a nursing home in Queens.

She had delighted in watching her dad, John Schapers, blow out the candles on his 90th birthday cake that February at the West Lawrence Care Center in the New York City borough. Then the home went into lockdown.

Soon her father was dead. The former union painter spiked a fever and was transferred to a hospital, where he tested positive for covid, his daughter said, and after two weeks on a ventilator, he died in May 2020.

But when Trever Schapers sued the nursing home for negligence and wrongful death in 2022, a judge dismissed the case, citing a New York state law hastily passed early in the pandemic. It granted immunity to medical providers for “harm or damages” from an “act or omission” in treating or arranging care for covid. She is appealing the decision.

“I feel that families are being ignored by judges and courts not recognizing that something needs to be done and changed,” said Schapers, 48, who works in the medical field. “There needs to be accountability.”

A photo of an older man smiling for a photo outside.
John Schapers, a 90-year-old resident of the West Lawrence Care Center in Queens, New York, died in May 2020 from covid-related causes, according to a wrongful death and negligence lawsuit his daughter, Trever, filed against the nursing home. A judge dismissed the case last year, citing a 2020 state law granting health care providers immunity from liability for care during the pandemic. She is appealing the decision.(Trever Schapers)

The nursing home did not return calls seeking comment. In a court filing, the home argued that Schapers offered no evidence that the home was “grossly negligent” in treating her father.

More than four years after covid first raged through many U.S. nursing homes, hundreds of lawsuits blaming patient deaths on negligent care have been tossed out or languished in the courts amid contentious legal battles.

Even some nursing homes that were shut down by health officials for violating safety standards have claimed immunity against such suits, court records show. And some families that allege homes kept them in the dark about the health of their loved ones, even denying there were cases of covid in the building, have had their cases dismissed.

Schapers alleged in a complaint to state health officials that the nursing home failed to advise her that it had admitted covid-positive patients from a nearby hospital in March 2020. In early April, she received a call telling her the facility had some covid-positive residents.

“The call I received was very alarming, and they refused to answer any of my questions,” she said.

About two weeks later, a social worker called to say that her father had a fever, but the staff did not test him to confirm covid, according to Schapers’ complaint.

The industry says federal health officials and lawmakers in most states granted medical providers broad protection from lawsuits for good faith actions during the health emergency. Rachel Reeves, a senior vice president with the American Health Care Association, an industry trade group, called covid “an unprecedented public health crisis brought on by a vicious virus that uniquely targeted our population.”

In scores of lawsuits, however, family members allege that nursing homes failed to secure enough protective gear or tests for staffers or residents, haphazardly mixed covid-positive patients with other residents, failed to follow strict infection control protocols, and brazenly misled frightened families about the severity of covid outbreaks among patients and staff.

“They trusted these facilities to take care of loved ones, and that trust was betrayed,” said Florida attorney Lindsey Gale, who has represented several families suing over covid-related deaths.

“The grieving process people had to go through was horrible,” Gale said.

A Deadly Toll

KFF Health News found that more than 1,100 covid-related lawsuits, most alleging wrongful death or other negligent care, were filed against nursing homes from March 2020 through March of this year.

While there’s no full accounting of the outcomes, court filings show that judges have dismissed some suits outright, citing state or federal immunity provisions, while other cases have been settled under confidential terms. And many cases have stalled due to lengthy and costly arguments and appeals to hash out limits, if any, of immunity protection.

In their defense, nursing homes initially cited the federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, which Congress passed in December 2005. The law grants liability protection from claims for deaths or injuries tied to vaccines or “medical countermeasures” taken to prevent or treat a disease during national emergencies.

The PREP Act steps in once the secretary of Health and Human Services declares a “public health emergency,” which happened with covid on March 17, 2020. The emergency order expired on May 11, 2023.

The law carved out an exception for “willful misconduct,” but proving it occurred can be daunting for families — even when nursing homes have long histories of violating safety standards, including infection controls.

Governors of at least 38 states issued covid executive orders, or their legislatures passed laws, granting medical providers at least some degree of immunity, according to one consumer group’s tally. Just how much legal protection was intended is at the crux of the skirmishes.

Nursing homes answered many negligence lawsuits by getting them removed from state courts into the federal judicial system and asking for dismissal under the PREP Act.

For the most part, that didn’t work because federal judges declined to hear the cases. Some judges ruled that the PREP Act was not intended to shield medical providers from negligence caused by inaction, such as failing to protect patients from the coronavirus. These rulings and appeals sent cases back to state courts, often after long delays that left families in legal limbo.

“These delays have been devastating,” said Jeffrey Guzman, a New York City attorney who represents Schapers and other families. He said the industry has fought “tooth and nail” trying to “fight these people getting their day in court.”

A photo of a model ship.
A model ship built by John Schapers, who died at age 90 from covid-related causes. Building models was “what he loved to do,” says his daughter, Trever. “He was a genius with his hands.”(Trever Schapers)

Empire State Epicenter

New York, where covid hit early and hard, is ground zero for court battles over nursing home immunity.

Relatives of residents have filed more than 750 negligence or wrongful death cases in New York counties since the start of the pandemic, according to court data KFF Health News compiled using the judicial reporting service Courthouse News Service. No other area comes close. Chicago’s Cook County, a jurisdiction where private lawyers for years have aggressively sued nursing homes alleging poor infection control, recorded 121 covid-related cases.

Plaintiffs in hundreds of New York cases argue that nursing homes knew early in 2020 that covid would pose a deadly threat but largely failed to gird for its impact. Many suits cite inspection reports detailing chronic violations of infection control standards in the years preceding the pandemic, court records show. Responses to this strategy vary.

“Different judges take different views,” said Joseph Ciaccio, a New York lawyer who has filed hundreds of such cases. “It’s been very mixed.”

Lawyers for nursing homes counter that most lawsuits rely on vague allegations of wrongdoing and “boilerplate” claims that, even if true, don’t demonstrate the kind of gross negligence that would override an immunity claim.

New York lawmakers added another wrinkle by repealing the immunity statute in April 2021 after Attorney General Letitia James noted the law could give nursing homes a free pass to make “financially motivated decisions” to cut costs and put patients at risk.

So far, appeals courts have ruled lawmakers didn’t specify that the repeal should be made retroactive, thus stymying many negligence cases.

“So these cases are all wasting the courts’ time and preventing cases that aren’t barred by immunity statutes from being resolved sooner and clogging up the court system that was already backlogged from COVID,” said attorney Anna Borea, who represents nursing homes.

Troubled Homes Deflect Suits

Some nursing homes that paid hefty fines or were ordered by health officials to shut down at least temporarily because of their inadequate response to covid have claimed immunity against suits, court records show.

Among them is Andover Subacute and Rehabilitation nursing home in New Jersey, which made national headlines when authorities found 17 bodies stacked in a makeshift morgue in April 2020.

Federal health officials fined the facility $220,235 after issuing a critical 36-page report on covid violations and other deficiencies, and the state halted admissions in February 2022.

Yet the home has won court pauses in at least three negligence lawsuits as it appeals lower court rulings denying immunity under the federal PREP Act, court records show. The operators of the home could not be reached for comment. In court filings, they denied any wrongdoing.

In Oregon, health officials suspended operations at Healthcare at Foster Creek, calling the Portland nursing home “a serious danger to the public health and safety.” The May 2020 order cited the home’s “consistent inability to adhere to basic infection control standards.”

Bonnie Richardson, a Portland lawyer, sued the facility on behalf of the family of Judith Jones, 75, who had dementia and died in April 2020. Jones’ was among dozens of covid-related deaths at that home.

“It was a very hard-fought battle,” said Richardson, who has since settled the case under confidential terms. Although the nursing home claimed immunity, her clients “wanted to know what happened and to understand why.” The owners of the nursing home provided no comment.

No Covid Here

Many families believe nursing homes misled them about covid’s relentless spread. They often had to settle for window visits to connect with their loved ones.

Relatives of five patients who died in 2020 at the Sapphire Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in the Flushing neighborhood in Queens filed lawsuits accusing the home’s operators of keeping them in the dark.

When they phoned to check on elderly parents, they either couldn’t get through or were told there was “no COVID-19 in the building,” according to one court affidavit.

A photo from 2020 of a member the National Guard walking into Sapphire Center Nursing Home in New York.
Relatives of five patients who died in 2020 at the Sapphire Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in the Flushing neighborhood in Queens filed lawsuits accusing the home’s operators of keeping them in the dark.(John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx via AP)

One woman grew alarmed after visiting in February 2020 and seeing nurses wearing masks “below their noses or under their chin,” according to a court affidavit.

The woman was shocked when the home relayed that her mother had died in April 2020 from unknown causes, perhaps “from depression and not eating,” according to her affidavit.

A short time later, news media reported that dozens of Sapphire Center residents had died from the virus — her 85-year-old mother among them, she argued in a lawsuit.

The nursing home denied liability and won dismissal of all five lawsuits after citing the New York immunity law. Several families are appealing. The nursing home’s administrator declined to comment.

Broadening Immunity

Nursing home operators also have cited immunity to foil negligence lawsuits based on falls or other allegations of substandard care, such as bedsores, with little obvious connection to the pandemic, court records show.

The family of Marilyn Kearney, an 89-year-old with a “history of dementia and falls,” sued the Watrous Nursing Center in Madison, Connecticut, for negligence. Days after she was admitted in June 2020, she fell in her room, fracturing her right hip and requiring surgery, according to court filings.

She died at a local hospital on Sept. 16, 2020, from sepsis attributed to dehydration and malnutrition, according to the suit.

Her family argued that the 45-bed nursing home failed to assess her risk of falling and develop a plan to prevent that. But Watrous fired back by citing an April 2020 declaration by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, granting health care professionals or facilities immunity from “any injury or death alleged to have been sustained because of the individual’s or health care facility’s acts or omissions undertaken in good faith while providing health care services in support of the state’s COVID-19 response.”

Watrous denied liability and, in a motion to dismiss the case, cited Lamont’s executive order and affidavits that argued the home did its best in the throes of a “public health crisis, the likes of which had never been seen before.” The operators of the nursing home, which closed in July 2021 because of covid, did not respond to a request for comment. The case is pending.

Attorney Wendi Kowarik, who represents Kearney’s family, said courts are wrestling with how much protection to afford nursing homes.

“We’re just beginning to get some guidelines,” she said.

One pending Connecticut case alleges that an 88-year-old man died in October 2020 after experiencing multiple falls, sustaining bedsores, and dropping more than 30 pounds in the two months he lived at a nursing home, court records state. The nursing home denied liability and contends it is entitled to immunity.

So do the owners of a Connecticut facility that cared for a 75-year-old woman with obesity who required a lift to get out of bed. She fell on April 26, 2020, smashing several teeth and fracturing bones. She later died from her injuries, according to the suit, which is pending.

“I think it is really repugnant that providers are arguing that they should not be held accountable for falls, pressure sores, and other outcomes of gross neglect,” said Richard Mollot, executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, which advocates for patients.

“The government did not declare open season on nursing home residents when it implemented COVID policies,” he said.

Protecting the Vulnerable

Since early 2020, U.S. nursing homes have reported more than 172,000 residents’ deaths, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data. That’s about 1 in 7 of all recorded U.S. covid deaths.

As it battles covid lawsuits, the nursing home industry says it is “struggling to recover due to ongoing labor shortages, inflation, and chronic government underfunding,” according to Reeves, the trade association executive.

She said the American Health Care Association has advocated for “reasonable, limited liability protections that defend staff and providers for their good faith efforts” during the pandemic.

“Caregivers were doing everything they could,” Reeves said, “often with limited resources and ever-changing information, in an effort to protect and care for residents.”

But patients’ advocates remain wary of policies that might bar the courthouse door against grieving families.

“I don’t think we want to continue to enact laws that reward nursing homes for bad care,” said Sam Brooks, of the Coalition for the Protection of Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities, a patient advocacy group.

“We need to keep that in mind if, God forbid, we have another pandemic,” Brooks said.

Bill Hammond, a senior fellow at the Empire Center for Public Policy, a nonpartisan New York think tank, said policymakers should focus on better strategies to protect patients from infectious outbreaks, rather than leaving it up to the courts to sort out liability years later.

“There is no serious effort to have that conversation,” Hammond said. “I think that’s crazy.”

KFF Health News’ ‘What the Health?’: Alabama’s IVF Ruling Still Making Waves

The Host

Reverberations from the Alabama Supreme Court’s first-in-the-nation ruling that embryos are legally children continued this week, both in the states and in Washington. As Alabama lawmakers scrambled to find a way to protect in vitro fertilization services without directly denying the “personhood” of embryos, lawmakers in Florida postponed a vote on the state’s own “personhood” law. And in Washington, Republicans worked to find a way to satisfy two factions of their base: those who support IVF and those who believe embryos deserve full legal rights.

Meanwhile, Congress may finally be nearing a funding deal for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. And while a few bipartisan health bills may catch a ride on the overall spending bill, several other priorities, including an overhaul of the pharmacy benefit manager industry, failed to make the cut.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, Riley Griffin of Bloomberg News, and Joanne Kenen of Johns Hopkins University’s schools of nursing and public health and Politico Magazine.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Lawmakers are readying short-term deals to keep the government funded and running for at least a few more weeks, though some health priorities like preparing for a future pandemic and keeping down prescription drug prices may not make the cut.
  • After the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision that frozen embryos are people, Republicans find themselves divided over the future of IVF. The emotionally charged debate over the procedure — which many conservatives, including former Vice President Mike Pence, believe should remain available — is causing turmoil for the party. And Democrats will no doubt keep reminding voters about it, highlighting the repercussions of the conservative push into reproductive health care.
  • A significant number of physicians in Idaho are leaving the state or the field of reproductive care entirely because of its strict abortion ban. With many hospitals struggling with the cost of labor and delivery services, the ban is only making it harder for women in some areas to get care before, during, and after childbirth — whether they need abortion care or not.
  • A major cyberattack targeting the personal information of patients enrolled in a health plan owned by UnitedHealth Group is drawing attention to the heightened risks of consolidation in health care. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is separately investigating UnitedHealth for possible antitrust violations.
  • “This Week in Health misinformation”: Panelist Joanne Kenen explains how efforts to prevent wrong information about a new vaccine for RSV have been less than successful.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Greer Donley, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, about how a 150-year-old anti-vice law that’s still on the books could be used to ban abortion nationwide.

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

Julie Rovner: ProPublica’s “Their States Banned Abortion. Doctors Now Say They Can’t Give Women Potential Lifesaving Care,” by Kavitha Surana.

Rachel Cohrs: The New York Times’ “$1 Billion Donation Will Provide Free Tuition at a Bronx Medical School,” by Joseph Goldstein.

Joanne Kenen: Axios’ “An Unexpected Finding Suggests Full Moons May Actually Be Tough on Hospitals,” by Tina Reed.

Riley Griffin: Bloomberg News’ “US Seeks to Limit China’s Access to Americans’ Personal Data,” by Riley Griffin and Mackenzie Hawkins.

Also mentioned on this week’s podcast:


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

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

Adolescentes en Texas podían obtener control de la natalidad en clínicas federales, hasta que un padre cristiano lo objetó

AMARILLO, Texas – En el vasto Panhandle de Texas, azotado por un viento y sol implacables, las mujeres deben conducir durante horas para llegar a Haven Health, una clínica en Amarillo.

Haven es una de las más de 3,200 clínicas federales de planificación familiar en todo el país, que atiende a los hablantes de inglés y español, proporcionando anticoncepción, pruebas de embarazo e infecciones de transmisión sexual, y detección de cáncer de cuello uterino. Todo a bajo costo o sin cargo para pacientes que están ansiosos, son pobres, o ambas cosas.

Esos pacientes incluyen adolescentes menores de 18 años, que buscan píldoras anticonceptivas o anticoncepción de acción prolongada.

Pero bajo una sorprendente decisión judicial emitida en diciembre, un juez federal dictaminó que estas clínicas violan la ley estatal de Texas y los derechos constitucionales federales, cortando de raíz una fuente vital de atención médica para mujeres jóvenes en el estado.

Defensores de la salud de las mujeres y proveedores de atención médica han denunciado la decisión del juez conservador designado por el presidente Donald Trump, que está en el centro de otros casos de derechos reproductivos. Dicen que es demasiado amplia y sin precedentes. (El fallo se aplica a las regulaciones nacionales, pero por ahora se sigue solo en Texas).

“Ni siquiera podemos proporcionar anticonceptivos para un problema ginecológico”, dijo Carolena Cogdill, directora ejecutiva de Haven Health, quien dijo que el fallo del juez federal de distrito Matthew Kacsmaryk ha tenido un efecto escalofriante en la atención.

“Recibimos a una joven que tenía un sangrado anormal y queríamos recetarle anticonceptivos para ayudar a controlar ese sangrado. Y no pudimos hacerlo porque tenía 16 años”. La paciente había dicho que su madre no entendería, creyendo que su hija “iba a salir y tener relaciones sexuales”, dijo Cogdill.

La ley de Texas ha exigido durante mucho tiempo que las adolescentes tengan el permiso de los padres para obtener anticonceptivos recetados. Pero bajo el programa federal Título X, ciertas clínicas podrían proporcionar anticonceptivos sin el consentimiento de los padres. Establecido en 1970, Título X evolucionó a partir de la era de la “Guerra contra la Pobreza” y fue aprobado con un amplio apoyo bipartidista.

La legislación fue firmada por el entonces presidente republicano Richard Nixon, para brindar servicios de planificación familiar a personas de bajos ingresos, incluidos menores, con el objetivo de reducir el embarazo adolescente.

Pero en julio de 2022, semanas después de que la Corte Suprema revocara la protección constitucional para el aborto en Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Alexander R. Deanda, padre de tres hijas adolescentes que vive en Amarillo, demandó al Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos. Argumentó que el gobierno había violado su derecho constitucional a liderar la crianza de sus hijas.

En su demanda, Deanda, quien es cristiano, dijo que estaba “criando a cada una de sus hijas de acuerdo con la enseñanza cristiana sobre cuestiones de sexualidad” y que no podía tener “la seguridad de que sus hijas no podrán acceder a anticonceptivos recetados” que “facilitan la promiscuidad sexual y el sexo pre-matrimonial”.

En su opinión, Kacsmaryk estuvo de acuerdo y escribió que “el uso de anticonceptivos (al igual que el aborto) viola los principios tradicionales de muchas religiones, incluidas las prácticas de los demandantes de fe cristiana”.

Además, Kacsmaryk, quien también es cristiano, dijo que la existencia de clínicas federales que operan en Texas, donde la ley estatal requiere el permiso de los padres para que las adolescentes reciban anticonceptivos, representaba un “daño inmediato”.

“Las clínicas del Título X están abiertas la mayoría de los días y, por lo tanto, presentan un riesgo continuo, continuo e inminente”, escribió el juez.

La decisión, que hace referencia al catecismo católico y a textos religiosos del siglo IV, sorprendió a expertos legales como Elizabeth Sepper, profesora de derecho en la Universidad de Texas en Austin, quien dijo que esta narrativa era parte de la creciente influencia de la teología cristiana conservadora en los tribunales.

“Estamos viendo cada vez más argumentos religiosos que llegan a los tribunales disfrazados de argumentos legales”, dijo Sepper. “Creo que estamos viendo un movimiento que comenzó con una exención religiosa, diciendo ‘Permítanme estructurar mi atención médica para que se adapte a mi moral’, y ahora se está avanzando hacia una agenda que dice, ‘Permítanme estructurar toda la atención médica de acuerdo con mi moral’”.

Ni Deanda ni su abogado, Jonathan Mitchell, el artífice de la prohibición del aborto en Texas antes de Dobbs, respondieron a las solicitudes de comentarios.

Los efectos del embarazo adolescente en la vida de una mujer pueden ser profundos. La mitad de las madres adolescentes reciben un diploma de escuela secundaria a los 22 años, en comparación con el 90% de las mujeres jóvenes que no dan a luz en la adolescencia. Los nacimientos de adolescentes pueden conducir a malos resultados para la próxima generación: los hijos de madres adolescentes tienen más probabilidades de abandonar la escuela secundaria y terminar en la cárcel o prisión durante la adolescencia.

El doctor Stephen Griffin, profesor asistente en la Universidad Tecnológica de Texas en Lubbock, y obstetra y ginecólogo, describió el acceso a los métodos anticonceptivos para las mujeres jóvenes como un “problema de seguridad”, y agregó que muchos padres subestiman la actividad sexual de sus adolescentes.

“Sabemos que las personas que se identifican como asistentes regulares a la iglesia tienen más probabilidades de subestimar el comportamiento arriesgado de sus hijos en términos de sexo”, dijo Griffin. “Y que los padres que sienten que tienen líneas abiertas de comunicación con sus hijos” también subestiman el riesgo.

Texas tiene una de las tasas más altas de embarazo adolescente en la nación y la tasa más alta de embarazo adolescente recurrente: más de 1 de cada 6 adolescentes que dieron a luz en Texas en 2020 ya tenían un hijo.

Expertos en salud dicen que es probable que la decisión judicial que prohíbe el acceso a la anticoncepción aumente esos números, siguiendo los pasos de otras restricciones a la atención de la salud reproductiva en el estado.

“El aborto es ilegal en Texas. Los niños no reciben educación sexual integral en las escuelas. Un gran [número] de personas en Texas viven sin seguro médico”, dijo Stephanie LeBleu, directora interina de Every Body Texas, que administra las más de 150 clínicas del Título X del estado. “Así que hace que sea muy difícil obtener servicios de salud sexual”.

La administración Biden apeló la decisión de Texas en febrero. Mientras tanto, LeBleu dijo que aquí no queda ninguna red de seguridad para los adolescentes.

“Les roba su humanidad”, dijo. “Les roba potencialmente su futuro. Y les roba su autonomía corporal, y creo que los jóvenes son más que capaces de tomar decisiones sobre su propia atención médica”.

Décadas de investigación muestran que es más probable que los adolescentes busquen atención de salud sexual si pueden hacerlo de manera confidencial. Pero para los tejanos como Christi Covington, la creencia es que la ley no debería hacer excepciones, ni siquiera en los casos más difíciles.

Covington vive en Round Rock, un suburbio de Austin. Se crió en una gran familia evangélica y está transmitiendo esas enseñanzas a sus tres hijos. Dejando de lado las objeciones religiosas al control de la natalidad, dijo que se debe respetar la unidad familiar.

“Dios diseñó el mundo para que haya padres y luego tenemos nuestra descendencia y que los padres cuiden a esos niños, y eso está diseñado”, dijo. “Y lo vemos reflejado en la naturaleza”.

En cuanto al control de la natalidad, dijo, “se siente como una curita”.

“Démosles control de la natalidad, y entonces no tendremos que lidiar con lo que está sucediendo en nuestra sociedad, donde estas adolescentes quedan embarazadas tan rápido y tan fácilmente”, dijo Covington.

Agregó que ya está obligada a dar permiso para el cuidado de la salud de sus hijos, incluidas las vacunas. “Honestamente, tengo que dar mi consentimiento en todas partes para la otra atención médica de mis hijos”, dijo. “¿Por qué decidiríamos que esta área está exenta?”.

Pero Rebecca Gudeman, directora sénior de salud del National Center for Youth Law, dijo que el 60% de los adolescentes involucran a sus padres en estas decisiones.

“Lo hacen no porque la ley les exija hacerlo, sino porque es lo que quieren hacer”, dijo Gudeman.

Algunos jóvenes, dijo, simplemente no pueden involucrar a sus padres o tutores, incluidas parejas como Victoria y Richard Robledo, quienes comenzaron a salir y tener relaciones sexuales cuando ambos eran menores de edad. Victoria dijo que en esos primeros días decidió obtener un control de la natalidad, pero no podía acudir a su madre, una católica devota, en busca de consejo.

“Éramos un hogar hispano típico”, recordó Victoria. “Y, por lo general, en hogares como el mío, no quieren hablar de novios, sexo ni nada de eso”.

Pero Victoria encontró una clínica a menos de una milla de su escuela secundaria y pudo obtener anticonceptivos sin costo. La pareja ahora está casada, vive en Clovis, Nuevo México, al otro lado de la frontera estatal, y tiene dos hijos.

Victoria dijo que poder protegerse del embarazo cuando era adolescente cambió el curso de su vida, permitiéndole ir a la universidad y a su esposo unirse al ejército.

“No nos preocupaba el hecho de que pudiéramos tener un hijo”, dijo. “Ambos pudimos salir y vivir nuestras propias vidas”.

One Texas Judge Will Decide Fate of Abortion Pill Used by Millions of American Women

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AMARILLO, Texas — Federal judges in Texas have delivered time and again for abortion opponents.

They upheld a state law that allows for $10,000 bounties to be placed on anyone who helps a woman get an abortion; ruled that someone opposed to abortion based on religious beliefs can block a federal program from providing birth control to teens; and determined that emergency room doctors must equally weigh the life of a pregnant woman and her embryo or fetus.

Now abortion rights advocates — galvanized by the reversal of Roe v. Wade — are girding for another decision from a Texas courtroom that could force the FDA to remove a widely used abortion pill from pharmacies and physicians’ offices nationwide.

The wide-ranging lawsuit, brought by a conservative Christian legal group, argues that the FDA’s approval process more than two decades ago was flawed when it authorized the use of mifepristone, which stops the development of a pregnancy and is part of a two-drug regimen used in medication abortions.

“The FDA has one job, which is just to protect Americans from dangerous drugs,” said Denise Harle, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, part of a conservative coalition that brought the suit in federal district court in Amarillo, Texas. “And we’re asking the court to remove that chemical drug regimen until and unless the FDA actually goes through the proper testing that it’s required to do.”

A decision in the case was expected as soon as Friday. If successful, the lawsuit would force federal officials to rescind mifepristone’s approval, and manufacturers would be unable to ship the drug anywhere in the United States, including to states like California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and New York where abortion remains legal.

Abortion rights supporters and medical groups have pushed back on the lawsuit’s claims. Twelve leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say medication abortion is effective and safe.

Indeed, decades of research show the risk of major complications from taking abortion pills is less than 0.4% — safer than such commonly used drugs as Tylenol or Viagra.

“We’ve got 23 years of data domestically that shows how safe medication abortion is, and it’s been used internationally for decades,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Woman’s Health, a medical organization with clinics in several states. “It’s much safer than somebody being forced to carry a pregnancy against their will.”

About 5 million women in the United States, federal data shows — and millions more across the world — have safely used abortion pills. They can be taken up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy and are also used by OB-GYNs to manage early miscarriages. All told, more than half of all abortions in the U.S. are a result of medication rather than a medical procedure, according Guttmacher Institute research.

Medication abortion involves taking two pills: mifepristone, which blocks the pregnancy hormone, progesterone; and misoprostol, which induces a miscarriage. Both drugs have long and safe track records: Misoprostol was approved in 1988 to treat gastric ulcers, with mifepristone earning approval in 2000 to end early pregnancy.

By filing its lawsuit in Amarillo, the Alliance Defending Freedom was almost guaranteed to draw U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a President Donald Trump appointee who worked as deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute, a conservative nonprofit advocating for religious liberty, before being confirmed to the federal judiciary in 2019.

Civil rights groups universally opposed Kacsmaryk’s nomination to the Northern District of Texas. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, said during the confirmation process that Kacsmaryk showed “alarming bias against LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents.”

“He’s made statements in opposition to reproductive rights, linking up reproduction to the feminist movement and making anti-feminist statements,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas-Austin, adding that the Supreme Court’s decision last summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe, allowed the suit against the FDA to proceed. “Prior to Dobbs, the right to abortion would have stood in the way of this lawsuit. But now the conservative legal movement feels empowered.”

The lawsuit is the latest effort by opponents of abortion rights to stymie the use of abortion pills, which many people seeking abortion prefer because it allows them to control their own health care and affords privacy for a process that involves cramping and bleeding, similar to a miscarriage.

“When you have medication abortion, part of the process happens at home. And a lot of people like that,” said Hagstrom Miller, of Whole Woman’s Health. “People can be at home with their loved ones and can sort of schedule the passing of the pregnancy around their work schedule or their child care schedule.”

Harle, however, said that the FDA used a provision to approve the drug that should be used only for medications that treat illness, and that pregnancy is not an illness, but a condition.

“They didn’t meet the standards of federal law,” she said.

Mifepristone’s approval was investigated in 2008 — during the Republican administration of George W. Bush — by the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, which found that the process was consistent with FDA regulations.

“It’s hard to think of a drug that’s been under more scrutiny than mifepristone,” said I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard Law School professor and one of 19 FDA scholars who filed an amicus brief opposing the lawsuit. “We don’t think there’s a problem here statutorily or medically. It’d be very dangerous to allow a single judge sitting in Amarillo to essentially order a drug that’s used by many women in America off the market.”

But Harle said that no amount of scientific data would be enough to convince her that mifepristone should be on the market.

“I think chemical abortion does great harms to women and their unborn children,” she said. “And that’s what this lawsuit is really about.”

Abortion care providers like Hagstrom Miller are bracing for the ruling. “I think people know that what happens in Texas doesn’t stay in Texas,” she said. “Some of the most progressive states in the country will face restrictions if this lawsuit is successful.”

If that’s the case, her clinics and OB-GYNs across the country will be forced to use only misoprostol for miscarriage and early abortion care, something that will reduce the efficacy of the method: While taking the two pills together is 99.6% effective in terminating early pregnancy, misoprostol alone — although still extremely safe — is about 80% effective.

Hagstrom Miller also notes that side effects from misoprostol can be more intense, including nausea, diarrhea, and severe cramping and bleeding.

“And that matters, right?” she said. “People should have access to the highest level of medical care.”

A Health-Heavy State of the Union

The Host

Health care was a recurring theme throughout President Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address on Capitol Hill this week. He took a victory lap on recent accomplishments like capping prescription drug costs for seniors on Medicare. He urged Congress to do more, including making permanent the boosted insurance premium subsidies added to the Affordable Care Act during the pandemic. And he sparred with Republicans in the audience — who jeered and called him a liar — over GOP proposals that would cut Medicare and Social Security.

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates and opponents are anxiously awaiting a federal court decision out of Texas that could result in a nationwide ban on mifepristone, one of two drugs used in medication abortion.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Rachel Cohrs of Stat, and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address emphasized recent victories against high health care costs, like Medicare coverage caps on insulin and out-of-pocket caps on prescription drug spending. Biden’s lively, informal exchange with lawmakers over potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security seemed to steal the show, though the political fight over cutting costs in those entitlement programs is rooted in a key question: What constitutes a “cut”?
  • Biden’s calls for bipartisanship to extend health programs like pandemic-era subsidies for Affordable Care Act health plans are expected to clash with conservative demands to slash federal government spending. And last year’s Senate fights demonstrate that sometimes the opposition comes from within the Democratic Party.
  • While some abortion advocates praised Biden for vowing to veto a federal abortion ban, others felt he did not talk enough about the looming challenges to abortion access in the courts. A decision is expected soon in a Texas court case challenging the future use of mifepristone. The Trump-appointed judge’s decision could ban the drug nationwide, meaning it would be barred even in states where abortion continues to be legal.
  • The FDA is at the center of the abortion pill case, which challenges its approval of the drug decades ago and could set a precedent for legal challenges to the approval of other drugs. In other FDA news, the agency recently changed policy to allow gay men to donate blood; announced new food safety leadership in response to the baby formula crisis; and kicked back to Congress a question of how to regulate CBD, or cannabidiol, products.
  • In drug pricing, the top-selling pharmaceutical, Humira, will soon reach the end of its patent, which will offer a telling look at how competition influences the price of biosimilars — and the problems that remain for lawmakers to resolve.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Kate Baicker of the University of Chicago about a new paper providing a possible middle ground in the effort to establish universal health insurance coverage in the U.S.

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

Julie Rovner: The New York Times’ “Don’t Let Republican ‘Judge Shoppers’ Thwart the Will of Voters,” by Stephen I. Vladeck

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Politico’s “Mpox Is Simmering South of the Border, Threatening a Resurgence,” by Carmen Paun

Sarah Karlin-Smith: KHN’s “Decisions by CVS and Optum Panicked Thousands of Their Sickest Patients,” by Arthur Allen

Rachel Cohrs: ProPublica’s “UnitedHealthcare Tried to Deny Coverage to a Chronically Ill Patient. He Fought Back, Exposing the Insurer’s Inner Workings,” by David Armstrong, Patrick Rucker, and Maya Miller

Also mentioned in this week’s podcast:


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on SpotifyApple PodcastsStitcherPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Part II: The State of the Abortion Debate 50 Years After ‘Roe’

The Host

The abortion debate has changed dramatically in the seven months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its nationwide right to abortion. Nearly half the states have banned or restricted the procedure, even though the public, at the ballot box, continues to show support for abortion rights.

In this special, two-part podcast, taped the week of the 50th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade, an expert panel delves into the fight, the sometimes-unintended side effects, and what each side plans for 2023.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Sarah Varney of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Exemptions to state abortion bans came into question shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, with national debate surrounding the case of a 10-year-old in Ohio who was forced to travel out of state to have an abortion — although, as a rape victim, she should have been able to obtain an abortion in her home state.
  • The restrictions in many states have caused problems for women experiencing miscarriages, as medical providers fear repercussions of providing care — whether affecting their medical licenses or malpractice insurance coverage, or even drawing criminal charges. So far, there have been no reports of doctors being charged.
  • A Christian father in Texas won a lawsuit against the federal government that bars the state’s Title X family-planning clinics from dispensing birth control to minors without parental consent. That change poses a particular problem for rural areas, where there may not be another place to obtain contraception, and other states could follow suit. The Title X program has long required clinics to serve minors without informing their parents.
  • Top abortion opponents are leaning on misinformation to advance their causes, including to inaccurately claim that birth control is dangerous.
  • Medication abortion is the next target for abortion opponents. In recent months, the FDA has substantially loosened restrictions on the “abortion pill,” though only in the states where abortion remains available. Some opponents are getting creative by citing environmental laws to argue, without evidence, that the abortion pill could contaminate the water supply.
  • Restrictions are also creating problems for the maternal care workforce, with implications possibly rippling for decades to come. Some of the states with the worst maternal health outcomes also have abortion bans, leading providers to rethink how, and where, they train and practice.
  • Looking ahead, a tug of war is occurring on state and local levels among abortion opponents about what to do next. Some lawmakers who voted for state bans are expressing interest in at least a partial rollback, while other opponents are pushing back to demand no changes to the bans. With Congress divided, decisions about federal government spending could draw the most attention for those looking for national policy changes.

And for extra credit, the panelists recommend their most memorable reproductive health stories from the last year:

Julie Rovner: NPR’s “Because of Texas’ Abortion Law, Her Wanted Pregnancy Became a Medical Nightmare,” by Carrie Feibel

Alice Miranda Ollstein: The New York Times Magazine’s “She Wasn’t Ready for Children. A Judge Wouldn’t Let Her Have an Abortion,” by Lizzie Presser

Sandhya Raman: ProPublica’s “’We Need to Defend This Law’: Inside an Anti-Abortion Meeting with Tennessee’s GOP Lawmakers,” by Kavitha Surana

Sarah Varney: Science Friday’s and KHN’s “Why Contraceptive Failure Rates Matter in a Post-Roe America,” by Sarah Varney

Also mentioned in this week’s podcast:


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on SpotifyApple PodcastsStitcherPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Part I: The State of the Abortion Debate 50 Years After ‘Roe’

The Host

The abortion debate has changed dramatically in the seven months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and its nationwide right to abortion. Nearly half the states have banned or restricted the procedure, even though the public, at the ballot box, continues to show support for abortion rights.

In this special two-part podcast, taped the week of the 50th anniversary of the Roe decision, an expert panel delves into the fight, the sometimes-unintended side effects, and what each side plans for 2023.

This week’s panelists are Julie Rovner of KHN, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sandhya Raman of CQ Roll Call, and Sarah Varney of KHN.

Among the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Exemptions to state abortion bans came into question shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, with national debate surrounding the case of a 10-year-old in Ohio who was forced to travel out of state to have an abortion — although, as a rape victim, she should have been able to obtain an abortion in her home state.
  • The restrictions in many states have caused problems for women experiencing miscarriages, as medical providers fear repercussions of providing care — whether affecting their medical licenses or malpractice insurance coverage, or even drawing criminal charges. So far, there have been no reports of doctors being charged.
  • A Christian father in Texas won a lawsuit against the federal government that bars the state’s Title X family-planning clinics from dispensing birth control to minors without parental consent. That change poses a particular problem for rural areas, where there may not be another place to obtain contraception, and other states could follow suit. The Title X program has long required clinics to serve minors without informing their parents.
  • Top abortion opponents are leaning on misinformation to advance their causes, including to inaccurately claim that birth control is dangerous.
  • Medication abortion is the next target for abortion opponents. In recent months, the FDA has substantially loosened restrictions on the “abortion pill,” though only in the states where abortion remains available. Some opponents are getting creative by citing environmental laws to argue, without evidence, that the abortion pill could contaminate the water supply.
  • Restrictions are also creating problems for the maternal care workforce, with implications possibly rippling for decades to come. Some of the states with the worst maternal health outcomes also have abortion bans, leading providers to rethink how, and where, they train and practice.
  • Looking ahead, a tug of war is occurring on state and local levels among abortion opponents about what to do next. Some lawmakers who voted for state bans are expressing interest in at least a partial rollback, while other opponents are pushing back to demand no changes to the bans. With Congress divided, decisions about federal government spending could draw the most attention for those looking for national policy changes.

Also this week, Rovner interviews Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state reproductive health policies for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group.


To hear all our podcasts, click here.

And subscribe to KHN’s What the Health? on SpotifyApple PodcastsStitcherPocket Casts, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Watch: Fifty Years after ‘Roe,’ Abortion Rights Battle Shifts to the States

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Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade, granting federal constitutional protection for the right to seek an abortion. Last year, a very different Supreme Court overturned Roe, erasing that federal right for women across the United States and, instead, giving individual states broad authority to regulate and restrict abortion within their borders.

In this report co-produced by PBS NewsHour, KHN senior correspondent Sarah Varney joins “PBS News Weekend” anchor John Yang to discuss how abortion opponents and supporters are taking their campaigns to the states, the impact of abortion bans on medical care for women, and the emerging conflicts over medication abortion pills.

We asked people across the country what the abrupt shift in abortion access has meant to them, and we lay out the stakes in the political battles ahead.