In This Episode
Abdul dissects the politics underneath Texas’s new anti-choice bill. Then he speaks with Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights about the wave of anti-abortion legislation sweeping the states, and what they mean for the fight over Reproductive Rights in the US.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: New evidence emerges that employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology fell ill in November of 2019, shaking the scientific community’s understanding of the origins of the virus. States like Ohio, New York and Maryland are offering lottery prizes upwards of a million dollars for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and vaccination rates are ticking upwards as a result. Purdue Pharma, the corporation responsible for kicking off the opioid epidemic with their aggressive marketing of OxyContin in the 2000s, is facing a restructuring vote. This is America Dissected. I’m your host Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I don’t know about you, but the day that Joe Biden put his hand on that Bible and swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, was the first day that I felt like, at least for a minute, I could rest easy. Look, I make no bones about my deep progressive values, but it wasn’t even about that. The pandemic had been raging for 10 months and was at its worst state yet inflamed by the rhetoric and irresponsibility of the clown Joe Biden was replacing. We didn’t know if the worst was behind us or if it was yet to come. It was also the January 6th insurrection and the attempt to overturn our democracy as we know it. It wasn’t certain that even after the race had been called for Biden, that we’d get through that moment of transition peacefully. I think for many of us, that huge exhale has led to a bit of wishful thinking. We did it, we won. The big orange clown has been banished from Facebook and Twitter. He’s writing weird rants from behind a 1990s-era blog called From the Desk of Donald J. Trump, which just conjures that tiny little desk he sat behind for Thanksgiving last year. Look, we all need a mental health break. I get it. But we can’t ignore the fact that while Trump seems to have been banished into the 1990s Internet, Trumpism is alive and well. Take Governor Greg Abbott. He’s got none of Trump’s chutzpah but all of his zest for fighting the anti-science culture war. First there was this:
[news clip] Arctic temperatures and rolling blackouts hammering Texas. More than three million homes and businesses without power and heat.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: This is what Abbott had to say about it:
[clip of Gov. Abbott] This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, that’s absolutely outrageous. May I remind you that the Green New Deal isn’t even a law yet? Never mind the fact that climate change is what’s causing erratic weather patterns like snowstorms in Texas in the first place. And that renewable energy is the key to slowing climate change. But there’s another part, of course, that he neglected to talk about. The part he didn’t say was that Texas, unlike the rest of the country, has been going it alone when it comes to its power grid for some time. Rather than having a grid that’s wired into the rest of the country, theirs is separate and apart, meaning that when the climate change catastrophe of a snowstorm hit Texas and knocked out their power plants, they couldn’t lean on the rest of the country for support. Millions lost power and over 150 lost their lives. In response, he played to his base and put public health in his crosshairs.
[clip of Gov. Abbott] They don’t need government to tell them what to do. They know exactly what to do.
[news clip] Governor Greg Abbott ordering all businesses back open, dropping the statewide mask mandate.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Mind you, this was on March 10th when less than 10% of Texans were fully vaccinated. But today, I want to focus on what Abbott did a few weeks ago, which could have far longer lasting implications for our country.
[clip of Gov. Abbott] To pass a bill that I’m about to sign that ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: On May 19th, Governor Abbott signed one of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion bills into law. It’s known as a fetal heartbeat law because it bans any attempt to abort a fetus after six weeks, often before a person even knows they’re pregnant. Rather than being enforced by the government though, the law passes enforcement off the private citizens who are empowered to sue providers, or anyone who facilitates an abortion, after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Even people living out of state can sue, basically incentivizing the creation of organizations who exist simply to sue abortion providers in Texas. That odd enforcement mechanism was specifically designed to make the ban harder to overturn. From a legal perspective, it makes it almost impossible for reproductive rights advocates to sue the state over the law because they’re the ones enforcing it. Traditionally, advocates of anti-choice laws like this one argue that they’re quote unquote “pro-life” but on the very same day that Abbott signed that bill into law, his government took a life. Under the state’s archaic and too-often used execution law, the state of Texas executed Quinton Jones. He was 41, executed for a crime he committed 21 years prior at the age of 20. Quintin Jones was the 571st time Texas had killed someone since it reinstated the death penalty in 198w. 575 lives taken by the hands of the, quote, unquote “pro-life” state. Texas’s new abortion ban isn’t about life, it’s about control. The irony here, of course, is that the day that Abbott declared Texas, quote unquote “open for business” he said he was doing it to throw the yoke of state control off of Texans lives. As if masks and physical distancing to protect people from a pandemic that has now taken nearly 600,000 lives are tyranny while executing people or denying reproductive rights to millions are not. This is about legislating a very strict construction of who gets to have rights, in life, in Texas. But there is no coincidence that the people who are most likely to rely on abortion providers like Planned Parenthood are the same people who are most likely to get sick and die of COVID-19, they are disproportionately poor and disproportionately people of color. Quintin Jones was a poor Black man too. If you’re poor, if you’re a person of color, hell, if you’re even a woman in Texas, your rights don’t matter and neither does your life. What matters instead is what a particular upper crust of rich white Texans thinks is right and appropriate. They shouldn’t have to wear a mask indoors, even if that means that the person behind the counter or waiting the table would get sick. But if the very same server were to get pregnant after being raped, for example, that’s too bad. Here’s the thing, study after study has shown us that people who need abortions will get abortions. The question is whether they’ll be safe, accessible, and affordable. This is what makes reproductive rights a health issue. Texas’s abortion ban is just one in a line of statewide assaults on reproductive rights across the country, including new laws passed by GOP state legislatures in Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Montana, Arizona, Arkansas and Oklahoma. Across the nation. Conservatives are planting the seeds to overturn Roe v. Wade, the nearly 50-year old legal precedent protecting abortion rights across the country. And just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving Mississippi’s 2018 abortion ban that could overturn that precedent. Yup, that Supreme Court, the same one that Trump and Republicans packed with justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. But here’s the kicker, that law I told you about in Texas that was signed a couple of weeks ago, it’s not even the latest abortion bill from Texas’s Republican legislature. As if to anticipate the partisan Supreme Court’s overturning Roe, the legislature passed what’s called a trigger law that would go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court decision and it would prohibit abortion in 100% of cases, making zero exceptions for people at risk of suicide or self-harm, pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or potential lethal fetal abnormalities. Republicans are preparing for a world post Roe. Today, I wanted to sit down with someone who can walk us through what Texas’s law means for the future of the fight for reproductive rights, what the Mississippi Supreme Court case means for the future of Roe v. Wade, and what we can do to protect reproductive rights across the country. We’ll speak with Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights after the break.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: All right, can you introduce yourself for the tape?
Nancy Northup: Yes, I am Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating I wanted to understand how the Texas anti-abortion law fits into a broader strategy on the part of the anti-choice right to squelch reproductive rights in the US. Nancy Northup is the President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights an international human rights NGO with offices around the world. An attorney and prosecutor by background, she’s got an inside view into the legal architecture of reproductive rights in this country, the right strategy to dismantle it, and what we can do to protect it.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Nancy, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today on really challenging circumstances. I know how busy you are fighting the fight for reproductive rights. And we’re hoping to get your insights about how to fit this latest volley of anti-abortion rights legislation into a broader swath of a conversation about reproductive rights in America. So can you—I mean, there’s a big question—but if you had to hold our hands and walk us through the key moments in the fight for reproductive rights in our country, what would they be?
Nancy Northup: Well, thank you for that question. And I want to start by making sure that we all know what we mean when we’re talking about reproductive rights, because many people think of it as very defined, maybe only about access to abortion care. But in fact, reproductive rights is about access to the full range of reproductive health care. That includes obstetrics care, prenatal care, contraception, STI testing and care, abortion, assisted reproduction such as in vitro fertilization, and full information about reproductive health care. So it’s both access to this full range, and also decision making without coercion about that health care. And I raise that because it’s so important about understanding that women and other people who get pregnant, their ability to control their reproduction is so central to their health and well-being so it’s important to look at that very wide picture. And so the very story about where we are on reproductive rights is really the story on how policies, health policies, and laws, have been building to allow women to have both that access and the ability to make decisions. So it’s everything from, yes, the decisions about the right for women to use contraception, you know, was back in the 1960s, a case had to go to the Supreme Court because Connecticut banned married couples from using contraception. And then, of course, the Roe versus Wade case in 1973, the right for women to make a decision to terminate a pregnancy can be made in the up to fetal viability. And now we see in the Affordable Care Act recognizing that access to contraception should be no copay because it’s so fundamental to women’s preventative health care, and also to cover maternity care under health insurance policies, and attending to the importance of maternal health care. So all of these things are very important. But in the United States, for years, but particularly intense this year, is a constant attempt to roll back the protections for women’s access to abortion care. And that is the moment that has landed us in the Supreme Court right now.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Nancy, I really appreciate you putting this in the context of a broader conversation over who has the right to make decisions about fertility and also the broader health care conversation that we have. Something that I’ve spent a lot of my career thinking and talking about has been infant mortality and maternal mortality. And these are conversations about reproductive rights, about how we think about access to health care with respect to, to reproduction. And um, and I really appreciate you putting this in context. Now, we’ve been having this conversation in a far more accelerated pitch, considering two, two pieces of legislation—or we’ll just say two public policy conversations that are happening at the same time. The first is the Texas fetal heartbeat abortion ban, which was signed into law a couple of weeks ago, which isn’t really even the only legislation that the Texas legislature has passed. They just actually passed a trigger law, which brings to the second point, which is a Supreme Court case. Can you tell us, talk to us about the Texas legislation first, and how this legislation may be telling us about the future of statewide abortion bans?
Nancy Northup: Yes. So Texas, which has been trying to ban abortion for decades, Roe versus Wade came out of the state of Texas. It was a complete ban on abortion out of the state of Texas. They have continued. We’ve been litigating against them for years, took them to the Supreme Court and won in 2016, about a law that would have closed so many of the clinics in the state and had the effect of closing half of them. And what they did was pass this six-week ban which is clearly unconstitutional, and they did it because, again, they’re looking to push as far as they can with these kind of test cases to roll back abortion care. You know, it doesn’t stand the test of time. It’s not in effect. And I think that’s important to say for your listeners in Texas. It’s not in effect. And we certainly are also looking at every possible legal route to keep it from going into effect. But, you know, they not only did this—and other states have done it, there have been other of these early bans passed in other states. None of them are in effect because they’re unconstitutional. But what Texas did was to, you know, make it even harder for us to challenge it in court. They have passed as part of this law, a outrageous provision that basically allows any person from local anti-abortion protesters to out of state lobbying groups, to sue people for providing abortions or helping others access abortion in Texas. So, you know, there are charitable groups that raise funds because unfortunately Medicaid doesn’t cover abortion in Texas. They could go after those groups. They could go after the receptionist the have at the clinic. They could go after somebody who drives a friend to their appointment. So it’s a really, really radical law. And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t go into effect.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, the way that this weaponizes the most extreme segments of society and gives them an incentive to try and make money off of this law is just, it is intended almost to have this sort of collective hushing effect that obviously doesn’t serve women or reproductive rights, but, but decidedly also no tears apart society at the seams over this issue. It’s like they want to enlist everybody in this fight over women’s rights and rights for people who can get pregnant. I want to turn my attention to the Supreme Court fight because we know that the case that’s being heard out of Mississippi is being heard in a court that is quite lopsided and still reeks of a lot of the games that were played to install conservative justices on the court. Can you tell us a little bit about the case itself and about what the threat is, both real and perceived around what this could mean for reproductive rights, reproductive access in our country?
Nancy Northup: Yes, the case pending before the Supreme Court that they just granted review on comes from the state of Mississippi, and Mississippi passed a ban in 2018 that bans abortions at 15 months in pregnancy. Now, that is a couple of months before Roe versus Wade says that states can ban abortion, as long as they have a protection for women’s life and health. So clearly unconstitutional. Texas passed this as a test case. Again, we have been litigating in the state of Mississippi for many, many, many years, representing the one clinic that is left in the state of Mississippi.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Wow.
Nancy Northup: And so what, what the issue, unfortunately, that the Supreme Court granted review on was the question of whether it can be constitutional to have a law like, like Mississippi does. And you can’t have a law like Mississippi does without reversing Roe versus Wade. So the Supreme Court should have rejected this out of hand. I mean, it was rejected by the district court in Mississippi. It was rejected by the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, who we’ve had to take to the Supreme Court twice in the last five years because they’ve been going rogue on not respecting constitutional rights to abortion access. But even here, the Fifth Circuit clearly could see that the Mississippi law was unconstitutional. So the court should not have taken it. They should have quickly denied review, but instead they granted review. And that is extremely alarming because they’ve put squarely in front of them the question basically should Roe vs. Wade be overturned?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: And as we think about the Supreme Court’s hearing this argument, my understanding is that so much of the protections of reproductive rights in our country, because they stand on this legal precedent, and that a legal precedent can be overturned by the courts and rather than standing on federal legislation, that the architecture underlying support for reproductive rights in this country is itself not as strong as it should be considering where public opinion is on this. As you think about this case in the context of the broader conversation about reproductive rights in this country, is this case the biggest threat toward reproductive rights? If not, what is? And if we needed to protect, if we want to protect reproductive rights in the country, what do we have to do to make sure that it stands on, on more stable ground than this?
Nancy Northup: So, this case before the Supreme Court, Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is the biggest threat to the constitutional protections for abortion rights right now. And I should mention that if Roe were to fall, probably about almost half the states in the United States, would re-criminalize abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights has a report: What if Roe Fell? You can look at it on our website. You can see what the situation is in your own state. But it really makes it clear that abortion access, particularly in the South, particularly in the Midwest, would be very constrained where Roe to be reversed. And so this should be of great alarm to everyone in the nation, no matter where you live, because it would affect so many, so many people in so many areas and also in surrounding states where people would need to travel to get access to abortion care. So that is an enormous, enormous threat. What’s important to remember is that there are many ways to protect access to reproductive health care and decision making about that. And one way to protect it has been through strong federal constitutional protections. There are also strong state protections in some states, and that is incredibly important. And there’s also legislation. And there’s a very important piece of legislation before the United States Congress called the Women’s Health Protection Act. And it is really critical in terms of addressing the kind of, the kind of restrictions like the state of Mississippi has and frankly, the hundreds of restrictions that we have been fighting and others have been advocating against for the past decade. And the Women’s Health Protection Act, which was first introduced in 2013, would create a federal safeguard against the restrictions that are not medically necessary at all, and the bans on abortion, that single out abortion like no other health care procedure and impede access to services. So that is critically important. And what’s also critically important is to make sure that abortion access is affordable and repealing the Hyde Amendment, including the EACH Act, which has also been introduced in the Congress many times and including right now. And also important because, you know, a right is not real if you can’t access it. And if we’ve seen one thing during this pandemic, it’s been the shocking inequality of access to health care generally. And this is unfortunately very true in the area of reproductive health care, also very true in the area of abortion care. And so we need to make sure that insurance programs, including those that are covered by the federal government, need to be able to have abortion care be affordable and accessible for all.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Yeah, the point you’re raising is really important one. We’ve talked quite a bit on this podcast about inequity in health care and in public health. And the point you’re making about reproductive rights and reproductive access is absolutely critical. And the role that the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from being used for abortion services—the role that that has in terms of freezing access, especially for low-income people, can’t be overstated. I want to ask you, we know that in a pre-Roe world, it wasn’t that abortion services were inaccessible to anyone, it was that if you didn’t have the means and connections and you weren’t a part of a particular swath of society, that meant that you didn’t have access. But for others, they were able to leverage those means and those connections to get services. Can you talk to us about who would be affected most of all if Roe were to fall?
Nancy Northup: Yes, unfortunately, the people that would be most affected are those who are struggling to make ends meet. And disproportionately, that would be Black women and other people of color. If we take the state of Mississippi where this case comes out on, you know Mississippi itself is a case that is, is a state that is low on so many health indicators, so it’s a real concern about the inequity, about the way that this would fall. I mean, it was, the district court in this case in Mississippi fully understood what this bill was all about and what it would do. He actually said that, that in his opinion, that this was restriction in Mississippi was closer to the old Mississippi, the Mississippi bent on controlling women and minorities. And he particularly talked about Mississippi’s history with coercive sterilization of Black women. So it is a, it is great concern about how hard that would fall.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I want to ask you in so many ways this fight over reproductive rights and abortion services specifically, has become a pillar of dogma among conservatives, and it hasn’t always been that way. Can you tell us why this has become such a gantlet for them, and made it such a gantlet for those of us who believe in rights? And then also, where do you think this fight goes from here? We’ve seen a redoubling on these efforts, given the changes in the Supreme Court—you know Texas and Mississippi aren’t the only places with relatively new laws on the books. You got places like Louisiana and Arkansas, and a number of states in the south in particular. Why has this become such an obsession on the right? And where do you think this goes next?
Nancy Northup: Unfortunately, and one can, a lot has been written about this, and one can study it, it’s been politicized. And that is the reason that we see the state we are in today. I mean, I have been working on this issue for a long time since I first started advocating on abortion rights as a college student. And, you know, back in the early days, there were, this had bipartisan support for reproductive rights, including for abortion rights. And what you have seen over the last 40 years was the decision by the Republican Party to make this a political wedge issue. And so instead of having conversations about public policy, about health care and what is good for people’s health and well-being, you know—let’s just even look at the question of comprehensive sex education instead of having listening to educators who have been working for a long time about thinking what is age appropriate sexuality education for kids. You know, we’ve been funding for years a lousy “abstinence only until heterosexual marriage” policies that fail. Right? The data, the science shows that they fail. And so, you know, this issue is almost, I’m excited to be talking to a medical doctor today because this issue is almost never covered from a health care perspective. It’s covered by political reporters, right? You don’t read about, oh, what is the newest, you know what’s the newest developments on abortion care? You don’t read about that in the health section of papers or issues around, you know, even issues around maternal health care don’t get a lot of coverage in the health section. So we need to get back and fight for the notion that this is an issue of public health, that’s an issue of fundamental human rights, because the ability to live in health and well-being is a fundamental human right, and get it out of the political football landscape. It should be as guaranteed, you know, as our rights to exercise our religion. You shouldn’t wake up the day after an election in the United States and ask: wow, you know, is my house of worship going to be closed? Am I going to be able to be able to access my church or synagogue or mosque? And what we unfortunately have in this country right now, as you can wake up the day after election and say: wow, is my local abortion provider going to be closed?
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: I really appreciate that point because, you know, oftentimes people on the other side of this will say, well, it is a religious issue, and my religion says . . . And the problem with that, right, is that it is antithetical to the ideals of this country, that any one person’s religion should be read into the laws that then cover everybody. And part of my frustration also is that this ends up reducing to a debate about control ultimately, about who gets to have control over whom, because the same people who say that they’re against abortion tend also to be against the principle means of abortion, which is the preconception family planning. And so at some point, you have to say, well, you are inconsistent about this unless the goal here is to control the rights of somebody else to get health care. And that is the real issue here. And I think it’s important for us to be able to call that out and to recognize that there is no reason why this type of health care ought to be any different than any other health care. Unless you think that a small subset of our population ought to be able to control who gets access to anything. And I think all of us ought to be committed to an America where no matter who you are, no matter the color of your skin, how you pray, who you love, how you identify, that you get access to health care that you need when you need it. And I think it’s important for us to recognize that this conversation over reproductive rights is a part of that broader conversation about people having access to ownership over their own bodies and their own choices. And we appreciate you fighting for these human rights. I also want to highlight the fact that the fight over reproductive rights, as you maintained, is far bigger than simply abortion, and it’s far bigger than simply the United States. This is a global fight. And I think the thing I really appreciate about the frame that you offer is that this is about human rights. It’s about who gets rights to access over the control of their own bodies. I want to ask you, how does the United States fit within a broader global context? How are we unique? How are we different? And what are the comparisons that we can make to understand our own circumstances vis-a-vis the rest of the world?
Nancy Northup: Yes, fantastic question. And the United States is different from the rest of the world, unfortunately, in the way that we treat health care. Which is that in most countries, health care is a fundamental human right, and the government is responsible for providing it for its people. So elsewhere in the world these questions about, it took the Affordable Care Act to get the United States government to insist that maternity care be covered in health insurance programs, right? Before that, you would be excluded if you had, say, had a Caesarean section for your first pregnancy, you could be excluded as a preexisting condition from getting pregnancy care in your insurance plan for your next child that you were having. So in other countries, it’s covered. So in other countries where abortion is legal, it is covered in their government health insurance programs. And the Center for Reproductive Rights works around the world. We work in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Europe and are active at the UN in terms of human rights standards. And when we win cases right, or legislation is passed in a country, then it becomes implemented for the public health system. Right? And the United States excludes abortion care in federal government insurance programs, and so that is insurance programs for people on Medicaid, its insurance programs for people who work for the federal government’s work force, people who serve in the military. It covers a lot of people. And they also, unfortunately, some states have passed these laws saying that private insurance can’t cover abortion care unless you take out a rider. And even though one in four women in the United States will make the decision to have an abortion in her lifetime, most people don’t think they’re going to need one and so they’re not going to take out a rider on their insurance policy, nor do they probably want to tell their employer—which is where most people get their insurance—that, oh, I’d like to add the abortion rider, because of the stigma around abortion care. So that is a big difference with the rest of the world. Now, there are parts of the world still where abortion is not legal under any circumstance, including to save a woman’s life. And so that obviously is quite draconian. It doesn’t help what your health care system is, if it’s banned by law. And other places where it’s very restrictive, and you can take a look at, we have a world abortion map at the Center for Reproductive Rights on our website, and you can look at where different countries are. And I would say about this, however, that the world has been moving forward. We also have in our world abortion map showing that in the last 25 years, there has been a tremendous liberalization of abortion laws around the world because governments recognize that they, that the necessity of accessing abortion care for women’s health and life, because whether abortion is legal or not legal does not change whether people get abortions or not. It does not affect it. But what it affects it is, is it available? Is it safe? Are they able to get the care in a way that is part of the health system? And so that is, the trend has been towards that, the trend, and we do a lot of work, as I said, at the U.N. and human rights bodies and regional human rights bodies, has been to recognize that access to abortion care is about a woman’s life, right to life, right to health, right to equality, to be free from discrimination, to be free from cruel, unusual and degrading treatment. All of those things are trending that way. The United States is standing out as retrogressing on abortion, as going backward on abortion rights. And it is a fundamental principle of human rights that you don’t go backwards. And that, unfortunately, is a way in which we are really standing out today.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Nancy, what can listeners do who are passionate about making sure that we don’t go backwards in this country? What can they do right now?
Nancy Northup: So I would say several things. One is definitely get yourself educated on what the state of things are in the United States. And you can take a look at our website or many others that let you know what’s happening with the laws and policies of your state and at the national level. Second, it’s really important to make your support visible. There’s so much stigma around abortion care and I mentioned earlier that one in four women make this choice. And if you think about that, everybody probably knows someone or is someone who’s decided to have an abortion. And we just need to make that visible for people to talk about in their, in their families, in their communities, in all the places where everyone has a sphere of influence. Everyone does. What is your sphere of influence and how can you let people know why you stand up? You don’t need to tell other people what to think. You need to tell them why you care. Why it’s important to you. Because that’s what changes people’s minds, is to understand how other people have experienced things. And then directly, of course, it’s important to get involved and know what’s happening with your elected representatives, and let them know about that. Obviously, voting is an important piece. And then also supporting, if you can, supporting the local abortion funds that exist in one’s area. Again, there are many places where abortion is not covered by Medicaid, and so the abortion funds come in as charitable organizations to do that and to support women. Support activist organizations who are working on this issue. Support your local providers by letting them know you care and if they need it, to help them with being escorts. Unfortunately, there are still protests at the clinics. So these are just some of the ways that you can get in touch with the organizations in your own area, and also be, make sure you’re active at the national level where this is happening still. But the biggest thing is how ever one is doing it, and everybody should do it in whatever way is right for them, is to make sure, again, that your sphere of influence knows why you care about access to reproductive rights, access to abortion rights, and you care about what is happening at the national level and the Supreme Court.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, narrating That was Nancy Northup. She is the President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: Nancy, thank you so much for taking the time today.
Nancy Northup: Great. Thank you for covering this issue.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: As usual, here’s what I’m watching right now. This was Dr. Anthony Fauci this week after learning about an intelligence report that documented workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had been hospitalized in November of 2019:
[speaker] Are you still confident that it developed naturally?
[clip of Dr. Antony Fauci] No, I’m not convinced about that. I think that we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we find out to the best of our ability exactly what happened.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: The new evidence throws open the question of whether or not the sars-cov-2 virus originated in the laboratory at the Wuhan institute. Previously, a team of investigators over which the Chinese government had tight control concluded that the possibility the virus leaked from a laboratory was the least likely of all the hypotheses they considered. However, the team didn’t have evidence that laboratory personnel had been hospitalized at the time. Taken together, though, the new evidence in no way confirms that the virus leaked from a laboratory, it certainly confirms that the Chinese government has been anything but open, transparent, or honest with the global community. And in the absence of that transparency, it calls into question the integrity of the WHO investigation. To be clear, other origins of the virus, like emergence from an animal reservoir, remain the most likely explanation for sars-cov-2. And that’s because it’s the way that pandemics like this have always emerged. But the lab leak remains a plausible and perplexing possibility. Meanwhile, the effort to bring the pandemic to a close is getting more and more creative. States all over the country are turning to incentives to drive vaccination rates up among the hesitant and just plain skeptical. Ohio, for example, is offering five, one million dollar lotteries for adults in their Vax-A-Million campaign and full-ride scholarships for young people. Drawings are every Wednesday for the next four weeks. Here’s last week’s winner, Abigail Bugenske.
[clip of Abigail Bugenske] I did come up to Cleveland from Cincinnati to look at a used car, and I think buying a used car is still in my future. So that’s about as far as I’ve gotten.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: In the first few days after the lottery was announced, average daily vaccines nearly doubled, jumping from 15,000 to up to 26,000 a day. The question is ultimately whether the bump will hold. Meanwhile, Purdue Pharma, the corporation responsible for kicking off the opioid epidemic with their aggressive marketing of OxyContin in the 2000s, is facing a restructuring. A federal bankruptcy judge put the future of the corporation in the hands of thousands of plaintiffs last week. They’ll vote regarding whether the corporation can become a nonprofit organization that sells overdose reversing medications and uses the profits to support the plaintiffs. But in return, the company would be released from all present and future lawsuits. And it also releases the company’s owners, the billionaire Sackler family. The family would be required to pay $4.5 billion back. It remains, of course, absurd that petty drug dealers are whiling away their lives in prison because of aggressive policing, prosecution and sentencing, and these people: the arch drug dealers whose product is responsible for the deaths of nearly 840,000 people, won’t just avoid jail time, they’ll stay billionaires.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: That’s it for today. If you like our pod, please tell everyone by rating and reviewing us, it helps other people find us. So please do your part. And of course, we appreciate word of mouth. Tell your friends, post it on Instagram, put it on Facebook, put on Twitter. We appreciate that too. And don’t forget to pick up your Science Always Wins dad caps, sweatshirts and teas in adult and kid sizes at the Crooked Media store. And stay tuned, we’ve got some more merch coming.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed: America Dissected is a product of Crooked Media. Our producer is Austin Fisher. Our associate producer is Olivia Martinez. Veronica Simonetti mixes and masters the show. Production support from Tara Terpstra and Lyra Smith. The theme song is Taka Asuzawa and Alex Sugiura. Our executive producers are Sara Geismer, Sandy Girard, and me: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, your host. Thanks for listening.