KFF Health News' 'What the Health?': The Supreme Court and the abortion pill

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The host

Julie Rovner KFF Health News @jrovner

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

In its first abortion case since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, the Supreme Court this week looked unlikely to uphold an appeals court ruling that would dramatically restrict the availability of the abortion pill mifepristone. But the court already has another abortion-related case teed up for April, and abortion opponents have several more challenges in mind to limit the procedure in states where it remains legal.

Meanwhile, Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, continue to take aim at popular health programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act on the campaign trail — much to the delight of Democrats, who feel they have an advantage on the issue.

This week's panelists are Julie Rovner of KFF Health News, Alice Miranda Ollstein of Politico, Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet, and Lauren Weber of The Washington Post.

Panelists

Sarah Karlin-Smith Pink Sheet @SarahKarlin

Alice Miranda Ollstein Politico @AliceOllstein

Lauren Weber The Washington Post @LaurenWeberHP

Among the takeaways from this week's episode:

  • At least two conservative Supreme Court justices joined the three more progressive members of the bench during Tuesday's oral arguments in expressing skepticism about the challenge to the abortion drug mifepristone. Their questions focused primarily on whether the doctors challenging the drug had proven they were harmed by its availability — as well as whether the best remedy was to broadly restrict access to the drug for everyone else.
  • A ruling in favor of the doctors challenging mifepristone would have the potential to reduce the drug's safety and efficacy: In particular, one FDA decision subject to reversal adjusted dosing, and switching to using only the second drug in the current two-drug abortion pill regimen would also slightly increase the risk of complications.
  • Two conservative justices also raised the applicability of the Comstock Act, a long-dormant, 19th-century law that restricts mail distribution of abortion-related items. Their questions are notable as advisers to Trump explore reviving the unenforced law should he win this November.
  • Meanwhile, a Democrat in Alabama flipped a state House seat campaigning on abortion-related issues, as Trump again discusses implementing a national abortion ban. The issue is continuing to prove thorny for Republicans.
  • Even as Republicans try to avoid running on health care issues, the Heritage Foundation and a group of House Republicans have proposed plans that include changes to the health care system. Will the plans do more to rev up their base — or Democrats?
  • This Week in Medical Misinformation: TikTok's algorithm is boosting misleading information about hormonal birth control — and in some cases resulting in more unintended pregnancies.

Also this week, Rovner interviews KFF Health News' Tony Leys, who wrote a KFF Health News-NPR "Bill of the Month" feature about Medicare and a very expensive air-ambulance ride. If you have a baffling or outrageous medical bill you'd like to share with us, you can do that here.

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

Julie Rovner: KFF Health News' "Overdosing on Chemo: A Common Gene Test Could Save Hundreds of Lives Each Year," by Arthur Allen.

Alice Miranda Ollstein: Stat's "Fetal Tissue Research Gains in Importance as Roadblocks Multiply," by Olivia Goldhill.

Sarah Karlin-Smith: The Washington Post's "The Confusing, Stressful Ordeal of Flying With a Breast Pump," by Hannah Sampson and Ben Brasch.

Lauren Weber: Stateline's "Deadly Fires From Phone, Scooter Batteries Leave Lawmakers Playing Catch-Up on Safety," by Robbie Sequeira.

Also mentioned on this week's podcast:

Credits

  • Francis Ying Audio producer
  • Emmarie Huetteman Editor

Kaiser Health NewsThis article was reprinted from khn.org, a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF - the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism.

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