In the News, September 2020

Written by Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations | Published: August 31, 2020

Billions Will Suffer as Climate Warms

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warns that as the earth’s average temperature rises, increasing numbers of people will be living in climate conditions most similar to those seen in the Sahara Desert today. The study’s authors concluded that 50 years from now, depending on population growth and how extensively the world embraces climate mitigation strategies, up to 3.5 billion people could be living in places so hot they would historically have been considered uninhabitable by humans.

Though the consequences are likely to be felt more heavily in less developed countries, the United States is not immune. A separate study published by the American Geophysical Union indicates that the number of Americans exposed each year to extreme climate conditions—including dangerous heat waves, droughts, and flooding—could rise to more than 160 million by 2050.

Abortion in the States

Abortion rights advocates are fighting new attacks in multiple states. Tennessee has become the most recent state to pass a so-called “heartbeat bill” banning abortion at only six weeks gestation—well before many people even know they’re pregnant. Meanwhile, the Mississippi legislature has passed a ban on abortions based on “race, sex, or genetics,” framing it as an attempt to combat “discrimination.” Iowa, after seeing its 72-hour waiting period defeated in court two years ago, is taking another bite at the apple with a 24-hour waiting period bill. Anti-choice advocates in both Colorado and Michigan are pinning their hopes on ballot initiatives. Colorado voters will be asked to vote in November on a 22-week ban. Michiganders, however, will have to wait to find out if they’ll get to vote on their own measure—the state has given proponents extra time to collect the necessary number of valid signatures required to place the issue on the ballot after their first attempt failed.

Virginia, at least, has gone in a different direction. The state’s Reproductive Health Protection Act went into effect on July 1. Passed by the state legislature after Democrats took control of both chambers in last year’s elections, the measure repeals a host of restrictions, including an ultrasound requirement, a 24-hour waiting period, state-mandated counseling, and the requirement that most facilities performing abortions meet the same standards as hospitals. It also allows nurse practitioners to provide abortions.

No Country on Track to Meet 2025 Nutrition Targets

The 2020 Global Nutrition Report, an independent assessment of the state of global nutrition, has found that malnutrition remains a pressing global concern, with some 1 in 9 people around the world hungry or undernourished. Almost a quarter of all children under five experience stunted growth due to lack of adequate nutrition, and no country is on track to meet 2025 targets set in 2013. The report highlights wealth inequities and inadequate health systems as the main contributors to the crisis and calls for increased investment in food and nutrition at both the national and global levels.

China’s Treatment of Uighurs May Constitute Genocide

In a new report published by the Jamestown Foundation, China scholar Dr. Adrian Zenz charges that China’s treatment of ethnic Uighurs—specifically coercive reproductive policies aimed at Uighur women—may constitute genocide under Article II, Section D of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

More than a million Uighurs—an ethnic minority group from China’s officially autonomous Xinjiang province—are believed to be held in “re-education” camps in the region, which is north of Tibet near the Kyrgyzstan border. Over the past five years, population growth among Uighurs in the region has plummeted—most rapidly in rural areas, contrary to the expected pattern identified in essentially every other instance of demographic transition and lending credence to claims of coercive practices by the government. Internees have reported being sterilized without their consent, coerced into accepting birth control implants, and even forced into submitting to unwanted abortions. Government data shows that in 2018, Xinjiang accounted for 80 percent of all IUD placements, even though the region contains only 1.8 percent of China’s population.

China denies the report, calling it “baseless.” The country had also previously denied the existence of the camps, before reversing course and claiming they were a necessary national security measure.

Abortion Restrictions Increase Costs, Have No Effect on Safety

Abortion rights advocates have long maintained that state laws requiring abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical facilities rather than office or clinic-based settings are not focused on patient safety, but rather are designed to make the procedure more expensive and difficult to access. A new study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology lends weight to that view.

Researchers examined more than 50,000 abortions occurring between 2011 and 2014. Eighty-nine percent were performed in office-based settings, while 11 percent took place in ambulatory surgical centers. Controlling for length of gestation and patient demographics, the researchers found that abortions performed in ambulatory surgical centers were significantly more expensive than those offered in office settings but showed no difference in the rate of complications requiring follow-up care.

Mass Extinctions Accelerating

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences warns that Earth’s mass extinction crisis is worsening. Scientists have identified 543 terrestrial vertebrate species that have gone extinct since 1900, and another 515 that are “on the brink” of extinction. Under the “background extinction rate” covering the past 2 million years, it would have taken 11,700 years for 1,058 terrestrial vertebrate species to go extinct.

The study’s authors write, “The growing human population, increasing rates of consumption, and projected growth in the future can only accelerate the rapid disappearance of species, now a stream, to a rushing torrent—a problem for survival that only human beings have the power to alleviate.”

FDA Approves New Non-Hormonal Contraceptive

In mid-May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave final approval to Phexxi, a contraceptive gel designed to maintain vaginal pH at a level inhospitable to sperm. The gel comes in pre-loaded applicators and must be inserted into the vagina no longer than one hour before intercourse. In a study of 1,400 women ages 18–35, Phexxi was shown to be around 86 percent effective at preventing pregnancy over an average of seven menstrual cycles—roughly as effective as male condoms, but less effective than the most common hormonal methods. Phexxi is expected to be available to consumers in September.

U.S. Birth Rate Hits Lowest Level in 35 Years

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that in 2019, for the fifth year in a row, the U.S. birth rate declined. It is now at the lowest level in 35 years. Last year, there were 3,745,540 births to women ages 15–44—a 1 percent decrease from 2018. The total fertility rate was 1.71 births per woman—a record low. Birth rates decreased among almost every age group, including a 5 percent decline in teen births. One noteworthy exception: women in their 40s, whose birth rates continue to increase as American women delay childbearing in favor of education and career opportunities. There is little expectation that 2020 will reverse the trend. Researchers at The Brookings Institution predict that amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic uncertainty, next year may see 300,000–500,000 fewer births than would otherwise be predicted.