Baby neck floats could lead to severe injury, death: FDA

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Food and Drug Administration issued a new alert this week, warning parents not to use baby neck floats on their children, particularly those with special needs, as part of a water therapy program because doing so could be fatal or lead to serious injury.

"Neck floats are inflatable plastic rings that can be worn around a baby's neck and allow babies to float freely in water," the FDA explained in a safety communication released Tuesday, adding that they are sometimes marketed for premature babies and babies as young as 2 weeks old, and as water-therapy products.

The FDA also said the "safety and effectiveness of neck floats to build strength, to promote motor development or as a physical therapy tool, have not been established."

According to the agency, neck floats "as therapy interventions" are especially hazardous for babies with developmental delays; birth defects or genetic disorders, such as cerebral palsy; Down syndrome; spina bifida; or spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) type 1.

"The use of neck floats in babies with special needs can lead to increased risk of neck strain and injury," the FDA said in a recommendation to parents and caregivers.

The FDA believes injury or death from neck floats is rare but noted that one baby who had been placed in a baby neck float had been hospitalized and another died. It also noted that there may be a chance other cases have gone unreported.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents in general avoid using "floaties" or inflatable swimming aids on children as they can provide kids a false sense of security. They also note that floats and swimming aids are not adequate substitutes for life jackets.

"The market will keep coming up with ways to float infants and adults and market them. This is not a lifesaving device, not designed to be. We consistently say anything inflatable is only a toy; and can deflate. No child should be unsupervised or left alone in water, even with a personal flotation device or if wearing a US Coast Guard approved life jacket," Dr. Linda Quan, an AAP spokesperson, told ABC News in a statement.

The FDA asks individuals to file a report if they know of any baby or individual injured by a neck float through their online voluntary reporting form.

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Fauci says he's taking 2nd course of Paxlovid after experiencing rebound with the antiviral treatment

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(NEW YORK) -- After testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that he has joined a growing group of people experiencing a Paxlovid rebound, following treatment with Pfizer's antiviral.

Fauci, 81, said that when he first tested positive two weeks ago, he had very minimal symptoms. However, when he began to feel worse, "given [his] age," he was prescribed Paxlovid.

Other than fatigue and a bit of congestion, Fauci reported that he felt "really quite well," and after his five-day course of Paxlovid, he tested negative with a rapid test.

However, after testing negative for three consecutive days, Fauci said he decided to take one more test out of precaution and subsequently found himself positive again on the fourth day.

"It was sort of what people are referring to as a Paxlovid rebound," Fauci said during a remote interview with the Foreign Policy Global Health Forum on Tuesday.

Over the course of the next day, he began to feel "really poorly," and "much worse than in the first go around," he added.

Paxlovid is authorized in the U.S. for people with mild-to-moderate symptoms of COVID-19, who are at significant risk of progressing to severe illness.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked doctors to be on the lookout for the seemingly rare, but increasingly reported phenomenon.

"Paxlovid continues to be recommended for early-stage treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 among persons at high risk for progression to severe disease," the CDC wrote in a health alert in May.

The rebounding phenomenon, which is described as a recurrence of COVID-19 symptoms or the development of a new positive viral test after having tested negative, has been found to occur between two and eight days after initial recovery. A brief return of COVID-19 symptoms may be part of the "natural history" of the virus, officials wrote, and may occur in some people, regardless of treatment with Paxlovid or vaccination status.

Just last week, Fauci told reporters during a White House COVID-19 briefing that he was feeling well after testing positive and taking his first course of Paxlovid.

"All is well with Fauci and thank you for asking," Fauci said. "I'm vaccinated. I'm doubly boosted. And I believe if that were not the case, I very likely would not be talking to you, looking as well as I look, I think, right now."

However, after his COVID-19 recurrence, Fauci was prescribed another course of Paxlovid, he said. As of Tuesday, he is on his fourth day of a five-day course.

"I am on my fourth day of a five-day course of my second course of Paxlovid. And fortunately, I feel reasonably good. I mean, I'm not complete[ly] without symptoms, but I certainly don't feel acutely ill," Fauci said.

Health officials have reported that while information is still limited, available data suggests that most people who experience the rebound are not likely to suffer from severe forms of disease.

At this time, CDC states that there is currently no evidence that an additional treatment of Paxlovid, is needed, following a rebound.

The Food and Drug Administration also says that “there is no evidence of benefit at this time for a longer course of treatment … or repeating a treatment course of Paxlovid in patients with recurrent COVID-19 symptoms following completion of a treatment course.”

The CDC currently recommends that doctors advise their patients with COVID-19 rebound to follow CDC’s guidance on isolation and take additional precautions to prevent transmission.

Patients should re-isolate for at least five days, and per agency guidance, can end their re-isolation period after five full days, if fever has dissipated for 24 hours and symptoms are improving, the CDC says. Physicians are also recommended to tell their patients to wear a mask for a total of 10 days after rebound symptoms started, the agency said.

"Regardless of whether the patient has been treated with an antiviral agent, risk of transmission during COVID-19 rebound can be managed by following CDC’s guidance on isolation, including taking other precautions such as masking," the agency wrote in May.

Earlier this month, Pfizer also reported new clinical trial data that showed that Paxlovid did significantly reduce the risk of going to the hospital or dying in people with standard risk of developing severe illness. However, the company said the treatment still works well in high-risk individuals.

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Health officials plan for updated vaccines with an eye on COVID’s unpredictability

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(NEW YORK) -- Updated COVID-19 vaccines that could better match the more recent variants are on the way.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's committee of independent advisors met and recommended that the vaccines should target the latest omicron variant, kicking off the process for distribution of the new vaccines this fall.

That could be good news for the fight against the virus. But the next few months hold a lot of uncertainty.

Many vaccine scientists agree that as the virus evolves, vaccines should be updated along with it. But scientists caution that planning ahead in this pandemic is challenging. A new variant could emerge by the fall, rendering even new vaccines old by then.

There's also a question of how many people will get the shot -- both because the government doesn't have enough funding to secure vaccines for everyone, and because less than half of eligible Americans have received their first booster shots.

That said, the vaccine companies have been testing different strategies for a new-and-improved booster shot.

On Tuesday, the FDA's advisers reviewed the data and favored a bivalent vaccine -- a type of vaccine that targets two strains of virus in the same shot. They recommended that it include the latest omicron subvariant and the original strain, generally supporting it because it could protect more broadly against future variants.

FDA leadership will announce the final decision sometime in early July, incorporating the advisers' discussion from Tuesday.

Health officials are aiming to roll out the newly designed vaccines in early October, said Dr. Peter Marks, who oversees the FDA's vaccine department.

The goal is to get ahead of a potential surge next winter.

"That combination of waning immunity, combined with the potential emergence of novel variants during a time this winter when we will move inside as a population, increases our risk of a major COVID-19 outbreak," Marks said.

"And for that reason, we have to give serious consideration to a booster campaign this fall to help protect us during this period from another COVID-19 surge," he said.

How much better will the new vaccines be?

Scientists cautioned that existing vaccines are still working well to prevent severe illness.

And while newer shots will help, they might not be significantly better at preventing more mild breakthrough illness.

"It will be better than what we have now, but I don't think we are going to see 94% again," said Dr. Paul Goepfert, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

The current vaccines, designed to match the original Wuhan virus, initially showed efficacy of 94% -- but that's now thought to be an untenable goal because of rapidly-evolving new variants, Goepfert said.

"It's essentially an arms race," said Dr. Dan Barouch, author on the recent study and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "As the population becomes more immune, the virus becomes more and more immune evasive."

Updated vaccines "will be helpful," Barouch said, but are unlikely to be a "game changer" that end the need for future boosters.

The political snag getting in the way

The other major caveat to the rollout of new vaccines this fall is funding -- the battle over which has been stuck in a stalemate on Capitol Hill since the winter.

The White House has since pulled funds out of COVID test manufacturing and put it toward contract negotiations for the newest vaccines, but the decision leaves the US vulnerable to a testing shortage, and still doesn't fully do the job.

"It's very clear we're not going to have enough vaccines for every adult who wants one," Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID coordinator, said last week.

Jha called the decision to move money away from testing "incredibly painful," but necessary to avoid missing out on orders entirely as other countries placed theirs.

"Contract negotiators on behalf of the US government are going to enter into contract negotiations with Moderna and Pfizer with the resources that we've been able to … cobble together for vaccines for the fall," Jha said.

The government will purchase enough for high-risk Americans to get the latest vaccines, Jha said.

But it's unclear how the rest of the population will get access to the vaccines. On one hand, demand for vaccines has continued to drop since the initial doses. If that trend continues and fewer people want a vaccine, it's possible that the government's smaller order could still cover people who want one.

And some experts don't think everyone will need a booster in the fall, like Dr. Paul Offitt, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who said he thinks re-upping antibody levels ahead of a likely winter surge would be beneficial for high-risk groups, but not necessary for everybody.

Another option is for insurance companies to step in and cover vaccines, rather than the government distributing them for free. Jha dismissed this option, though, calling it too soon to switch to the private market because there's still too much competition for ordering doses among countries and insurance companies wouldn't have enough leverage.

"There is not a commercialization plan that somehow would be ready in time for this fall and winter," Jha said.

Yet vaccine companies have indicated that they're ready to distribute their vaccines through insurance companies and won't leave the American market behind.

Though it's still months away, both the White House and the vaccine companies have committed to devising a plan as fall draws closer.

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Potential recession would harm mental health: Experts

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(NEW YORK) -- Jey Austen, a brand designer at a fintech company, lost their job about two weeks ago. But the layoff didn’t come as a surprise, said Austen, 27, who is trans and uses they/them pronouns.

A market downturn in recent months has hammered the tech industry, eliciting a wave of layoffs. Austen, whose lease on an apartment in Austin, Texas ends in August, will receive three weeks of severance pay but otherwise lacks savings, they said.

“Worst comes to worst, I’ll sleep in my car,” said Austen, who was making $80,000 a year. “It’s a sucky situation all around.”

Compounding the stress, Austen will likely struggle to afford their usual weekly therapy appointments, they said. To save money, they’re considering a reduction to bi-weekly or monthly appointments. “Therapy was already expensive,” Austen said.

Austen is hardly alone. So far this year, more than 21,000 tech workers have been laid off, according to Crunchbase. While notable, the layoffs make up a small fraction of the 8.9 million tech employees nationwide, according to an employment tally from the industry trade group CompTIA.

Across the economy, acute financial distress could grow as the Federal Reserve pursues a series of rate hikes that aim to dial back sky-high inflation but risk tipping the economy into a recession, experts told ABC News earlier this month.

Nearly 70% of economists believe that a recession will begin at some point next year, according to a survey of 49 macroeconomists conducted by the Financial Times and Chicago University’s Booth School of Business this month.

Research has linked economic recessions -- a shrinking of economic output that lasts at least several months -- with a rise in mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and even suicide, experts told ABC News. In hard economic times, the prevalence of potentially catastrophic financial events -- such as job loss or foreclosure -- exacerbates preexisting mental health challenges and gives rise to new ones, worsening such challenges further if a financial downturn persists over many months or years.

Moreover, since the U.S. healthcare system largely ties insurance to employment, the loss of a job often compromises access to mental health support when a person needs it most, the experts said. The prospect of heightened mental health issues -- combined with inadequate support -- poses added concern in light of the pandemic, which has already taken a toll on the psyches of many people, the experts added.

“After COVID, there was an unprecedented rise in mental health issues,” Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. “This coming in the wake of that is a real double whammy.”

Typically, the economy loses millions of jobs in a recession. During the Great Recession, between 2007 and 2009, nonfarm employment dropped by 6.8 million jobs while the unemployment rate rose from 4.8% to 9.6%, according to the Federal Reserve of St. Louis.

A robust, decades-long body of research links economic downturns with a rise in mental health issues, establishing the role played by a spike in major hardships tied to employment, housing, and other financial supports, experts told ABC News.

A 2019 study published in the Association for Psychological Science -- which examined individuals affected by the Great Recession -- found an increase in depression, anxiety, and problematic drug use among those who underwent even a single major hardship, such as job loss or foreclosure, let alone multiple incidents.

The loss of a job during the Great Recession increased the risk of a mood disorder in the U.S. by 22%, according to a study released last year by researchers at the University of Alberta that examined the available literature on the subject. The researchers also found found 1.2 to 5.8 times higher odds of a major depressive episode associated with the experience of home foreclosure during the Great Recession.

“Pre-existing mental health issues get worse, and mental health issues newly arise for some undergoing economic hardship,” Ralph Catalano, a professor of public health at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News. “How would you feel if you lost your job?”

Chris Ruhm, a economics and public policy professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in the health effects of economic downturns, put it bluntly: “When the economy gets worse, mental health gets worse,” he said

One alarming finding shows a correlation between recessions and increased rates of suicide, Ruhm said. Between 2008 and 2010, the first three years following the financial crisis, the suicide rate rose at a pace more than four times higher than it had over the eight years prior to the crisis, according to a 2012 study in The Lancet. “We’ve known for many years that the suicide rate goes up reliably with the unemployment rate,” Ruhm said.

The adverse mental health effects of an economic downturn fall disproportionately on low-income people and minorities, since they’re less likely to have built up savings or alternative sources of wealth that could soften the blow, experts said.

“People of lower socioeconomic status are always more adversely affected by things like this,” Catalano said. “They have a more difficult time when recessions come.”

The scale of such mental health effects depends on the severity and duration of a recession, experts said. A long recession can prolong the time that individuals spend out of work, deepening mental health struggles as a person grapples with financial stress and possible feelings of self-blame, experts said. “When there’s a more severe recession, the effects are going to be more severe,” said Ruhm, the economics professor at the University of Virginia.

To be sure, the U.S. economy could avoid a recession altogether. If a recession does occur, it could prove short and mild, some economists predict. A mild downturn would blunt many of the worst mental health effects, in part because people are better equipped to withstand a brief financial challenge with savings or government support, experts said.

“With economic downturns that are short, it’s not an enormous effect,” said Kessler, the professor at Harvard Medical School. “A lot of resources are there to buffer for those types of things.”

Still, a potential recession brings stress, in part because the extent of financial difficulty remains uncertain, even for those in the middle and upper-middle class, Ruhm said. “In general, people live with a degree of anxiety and uncertainty,” he said.

A New York City-based employee at the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase -- who was laid off this month and requested anonymity due to the terms of a severance agreement -- said the prospect of a recession worries her because it could dry up job prospects after the severance pay runs out.

“What if a recession happens and I don’t get something?” she said. “How will I pay the rent?”

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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HHS to send out nearly 300,000 monkeypox vaccine doses across US in coming weeks

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration is planning to send out hundreds of thousands of monkeypox vaccines in response to the outbreak of the rare disease that has been identified in multiple non-endemic countries.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday on a call with reporters that it will be sending out 296,000 doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine for prevention of the disease for people who have been exposed.

Of that number, 56,000 doses will become available immediately and an additional 240,000 doses will become available in a few weeks. Officials said they expect 750,000 more doses to become available over the summer, and an additional 500,000 doses throughout the fall.

This allows for a total of "1.6 million doses we wouldn't have had otherwise," Dr. David Boucher, director of infectious disease preparedness and response at HHS, told reporters during the call.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding its recommendation of who gets the monkeypox vaccine due to the difficulty identifying all contacts in the current outbreak.

Previously, the federal health agency only recommended vaccination for people who had been identified as being exposed through contact tracing.

But the CDC said it is now recommending the vaccine for those with confirmed and suspected exposures, including those who have had close physical contact with a person who was diagnosed, contact with a known sexual partner who was diagnosed, and men who have sex with men who were in an area with known monkeypox exposure.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on the call that, as of Tuesday evening, 4,700 monkeypox cases have been detected globally in 49 countries.

In the U.S. alone, 306 cases have been identified across 28 jurisdictions with no deaths.

Many cases have been reported among men who identify as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, but there is currently no evidence monkeypox is a sexually transmitted infection -- and the experts emphasize that anyone can be infected.

Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC's Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, said the majority of U.S. cases in this outbreak have occurred through intimate close contact as exposure to transmission via droplets.

However, officials advised Americans not to panic and that there are plenty of tests, vaccines and treatments for those who have been exposed to monkeypox.

"We want to remind folks this is not a novel virus," Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said. "Unlike COVID, monkeypox is a virus that has been around forever. We have known about it for 60-some-odd years and we have spent years treating it in endemic nations."

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Some pharmacies limiting Plan B pill purchases as demand spikes

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(NEW YORK) -- Two of the country’s largest pharmacy chains, CVS and Rite Aid, confirmed to ABC News this week that they had restricted the amount of Plan B or morning-after pills a customer could buy, following a spike in demand for emergency contraceptive drugs in recent days.

In the case of CVS, the restrictions have since been dropped, according to company officials.

The rise in demand for Plan B pills came after the Supreme Court ruled on Friday to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which previously set a 49-year precedent for legal abortion in the U.S., at the federal level.

Following the ruling, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested other past court decisions, including the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision -- which ensured the right of married couples to buy and use contraception, and the right to marital privacy -- should be reconsidered as well.

A CVS spokesperson told ABC News that while CVS pharmacies had temporarily limited Plan B purchases to three at a time, given high demand, the company had since eased those restrictions as sales leveled off.

"Immediately following the Supreme Court decision, we saw a sharp increase in the sale of emergency contraceptives and implemented a temporary purchase limit to ensure equitable access," the spokesperson said. "Sales have since stabilized and we're in the process of removing the purchase limits, which will take effect in-store and on over the next 24 hours. We continue to have ample supply of emergency contraceptives to meet customer needs."

Rite Aid, as of Tuesday afternoon, was still restricting purchases of the morning after pill due to high demand.

A spokesperson told ABC News in a statement, that "due to increased demand, at this time we are limiting purchases of Plan B contraceptive pills to three per customer."

Walmart officials, meanwhile, have not said whether they will specifically place buying limits for morning-after pills. A company spokesperson told ABC News that "many of [Walmart's] products have online purchase limits in place," but did not specify what kind of limits, if any, would be applied to purchases of Plan B or morning-after pills.

"During times of fluctuating demand, these limits may change," they said.

Plan B or morning-after pills, which stop pregnancy before it happens, are different than abortion-inducing pills. Morning-after pills are instead a type of emergency contraception that can be taken orally up to five days after intercourse -- though it is recommended that they be taken within 72 hours, to be more effective -- to prevent an egg from being fertilized or delay ovulation, thus preventing unintended or undesired pregnancy.

Morning-after pills can be used when a birth control method fails, or if no birth control was used, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Levonorgestrel, the generic name of the drug used in Plan B, is sold over-the-counter under various brand names, including Plan B One-Step, AfterPill, Aftera, EContra One-Step, My Choice, My Way, Next Choice, Option 2, Preventeza, and Take Action.

Another type of morning-after pill, ulipristal acetate, is sold under the brand name Ella and usually requires a prescription.

This article has been updated to include comments from a Walmart spokesperson, and to add new information from a CVS spokesperson on the company's move to halt temporary purchasing limits on morning-after pills.

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Millions remain unboosted, as scientists say 3rd COVID shot provides 'significant' protection

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(WASHINGTON) -- As advisors to the FDA consider what type of COVID-19 shots should be offered in the fall, new federal data reveals a significant proportion of Americans have yet to receive their first and second boosters.

In May, federal officials authorized the use of COVID-19 boosters for children ages 5 to 11 years-old. However, now, nearly six weeks later, fewer than 10% of those eligible — representing just 1.7% of the age group — have been boosted, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Booster uptake among other young populations also continues to lag, with just 28.7% of eligible adolescents ages 12-17 boosted — representing 16% of the age group — and less than 40% of eligible 18- to 49-year-olds — representing 26.5% of the age group — boosted.

"Despite strong evidence for the value of a booster in providing more complete protection, we are seeing massive confusion on the need for third and fourth shots. The slow uptake has created public health vulnerability as we face a surge from the BA4 and BA5 variants and likely a new variant this coming Fall," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

Older Americans — people over 50 — have proven to be more likely to receive their first COVID-19 booster. Over 55% of the eligible 50- to 64-year-old age group, and 72% of eligible people 65 and older have received their first boost.

However, despite repeated encouragements from federal officials for the immunocompromised, as well as those over 50, to receive their second booster shot, uptake for the supplemental doses has been noticeably slower.

Since the rollout, earlier this spring, fewer than a fifth of eligible people ages 50 to 64 have received their second boost -- only about 8% of the age group. Uptake is a bit higher among the elderly, with 35% of those eligible — representing just 20% of the age group.

In May, the CDC announced that it is "strengthening" its recommendation for Americans over the age of 12 who are immunocompromised and those over the age of 50 receive their second booster shot.

"While older Americans have the highest coverage of any age group of first booster doses, most older Americans received their last dose (either their primary series or their first booster dose) many months ago, leaving many who are vulnerable without the protection they may need to prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death," the CDC wrote in a press release last month.

Health experts suggest that some booster uptake may increase in the fall, should a new generation of vaccines be made available.

"Muddled booster messaging has placed many Americans into a wait and see category, given the prospects for a more well-matched vaccine. While the current booster campaign has likely stalled out, it doesn’t mean we won’t see higher uptake when a vaccine that targets Omicron variants becomes available," Brownstein said.

During a presentation to the FDA's independent advisory committee, Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), scientists outlined data showing that vaccine effectiveness with the current COVID-19 shots continues to wane with the latest variants.

However, a third COVID-19 dose was not only found to provide "significant" additional protection against infection and severe disease, but effectiveness also appeared to wane more slowly.

Although officials said it is still too early to draw conclusions about the protection provided by a second booster, the additional shot has been found to provide "substantial" additional protection among the immunocompromised.

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Biden's health secretary unveils 'action plan' on abortion access

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(WASHINGTON) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Tuesday unveiled what was called an "action plan" on abortion access as advocates call on President Joe Biden and his administration to do more in the wake of the Supreme Court stripping the constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

Becerra said there's no "magic bullet" that could restore Americans' constitutional right to abortion, but said the administration was working with its top legal advisers to explore every option.

"Stay tuned," he told reporters.

Becerra's comments are likely to be a steep disappointment for progressives after he promised to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. In his remarks, Becerra only noted that federal law allows for abortions through its Medicaid program in cases of rape and incest -- a standard at odds with states like Arkansas.

"Friday's Supreme Court decision was despicable. But it was not unpredictable. HHS has been preparing for this for some time," he began, before laying out largely existing policy protecting the right to abortion.

When pressed by ABC Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce on why he didn't have more concrete proposals if the ruling was predictable, Becerra noted that he wanted to ensure the administration was on firm legal ground.

"We're not interested in going rogue and doing things just because we want to make sure what we tell Americans is accurate -- because we hear, we know, a lot Americans are hearing a lot of inaccurate information," Becerra replied. "And so to every American who's impacted: My apologies that, I as I said, we can't tell you there's a silver bullet. But what I am saying to you is that the more we dig, we will do everything we can with what we find to make sure we're protecting women's reproductive health care services. It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law."

Among actions he ticked off, Becerra said he was directing his Office of Civil Rights to ensure patient privacy of anyone seeking reproductive care, working to ensure the clinical judgment of doctors is supported in treating patients at risk because of pregnancy and working to expand access to family planning and contraceptives.

He also said HHS will first take steps to increase access to medication abortion -- but he said later to "stay tuned" on what exactly those steps would be.

"How we respond will speak to how we view the rights, the dignity and the well-being of women everywhere," he said, before taking questions from reporters. "At HHS, we will leave no stone unturned."

Abortion rights groups have also pitched a variety of options for the federal government to take.

One option presented was to declare a public health emergency to free up federal funds, possibly to use for transportation, an idea supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But this approach would likely be challenged in court as a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds to cover almost all abortions. Becerra did not call for one Tuesday.

While some Democrats have urged the administration to look into whether reproductive health services could be provided on federal lands or on federal property, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shot down the idea Tuesday, saying anyone who is not a federal employee who utilized such facilities could be subject to prosecution under some state laws.

"We understand the proposal as well the intention but here's the thing, it could actually put women and providers at risk," she said.

Another idea is to loosen restrictions on the abortion pill so that it can be picked up at pharmacies. Currently, only registered clinicians can prescribe it and mail it. Pharmacies are not part of that network, which would require FDA regulatory action.

"Federal law requires our programs to provide medication abortion in certain circumstances, such as the life of the woman rate, or instance," Becerra said Tuesday. "Now more than ever, it is imperative that all federally supported programs and services are complying with the law."

While telehealth medicine is allowable under federal rules, it's not a loophole to circumvent state restrictions -- which Becerra acknowledged.

Asked about possible ways to help with transportation for women who may need to travel to another state to get an abortion, as Becerra hinted the administration was looking into on Monday, he said, "Once we tell you exactly what we believe we are able to do, have the money to do, we will let you know, but until then, what I can simply say to you is every option is on the table."

Right now, the only legal option a person has in a restricted state for abortion services would be to travel to a state where it is allowed.

"It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law," a careful Becerra said.

Otherwise, the person can go online and engage providers who are outside the scope of the U.S. regulatory system, such as the international organization Aid Access, which says it will prescribe the pill to women in the U.S. for 95 euros regardless of where they live. The FDA does not recommend this, although advocates say the group is using a reputable pharmacy in India.

"We're going to stay within the confines of the law," Becerra stressed, "even though it's a lot I personally believe jeopardizes the health of women."

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Evolution is on omicron subvariants’ side

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study finds that as the coronavirus continues to evolve, each new omicron subvariant is increasingly likely to lead to reinfection or breakthrough infection. However, researchers say current vaccines are still doing a good job of protecting people against severe illness.

Meanwhile, vaccine makers are working on new and improved boosters that will hopefully be a better match against omicron and its subvariants. Food and Drug Administration advisers are slated to meet on June 28 to discuss the new booster shots.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, echoes prior studies, and the finding is consistent with what we're seeing in the real world. Working in a laboratory, researchers measured neutralizing antibody response against the original Wuhan variant, compared to the new omicron variant and many of its sub variants.

Antibody levels are one measure of immune response, and often used as a rough indication of a variant's ability cause reinfection or breakthrough infection. Other parts of your immune system, like T-cells, are harder to measure but are a much better indicator of how well protected you are against severe disease.

Researchers found neutralizing antibody levels were six-fold lower against the original omicron variant, fourteen-fold lower against BA.2.12.1, and twenty-fold lower against BA.4/BA.5.

The BA.2.12.1 sub variant is currently dominant in the U.S., but the BA.4/BA.5 sub variants have been growing proportionally and now account for more than a third of estimated cases.

"It's essentially an arms race," said Dr. Dan Barouch, author on the recent study and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "As the population becomes more immune, the virus becomes more and more immune evasive."

The good news, said Barouch, is current vaccines are still working to dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease. "That's the most important goal of vaccination."

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Poor women of color will bear brunt of abortion bans following Roe reversal: Expert

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(WASHINGTON) -- After the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, women in states that now outlaw abortion have scrambled to cobble together piecemeal solutions, including traveling across state lines, an expert told ABC News.

However, for many that won't be an option, according to Deon Haywood, executive director of New Orleans women's health organization Women with a Vision.

"If you have a job where you're being paid hourly and being paid minimum wage, how easy would it be for you to be able to leave your job or existing kids to leave to drive somewhere, to be driven somewhere ... to have an abortion and then come back?" Haywood told ABC News.

"It wouldn't work for them," she added. "It just wouldn't work. It's not practical for their lives, the lives that they are living."

Forty-nine percent of abortion patients have an income below the poverty line, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And in Louisiana, where Haywood lives, the maternal mortality rate is one of the worst in the nation, especially among Black women. The state has since shuttered its abortion clinics, though a Louisiana judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the state's "trigger" abortion ban Monday.

"For the Black women I work with who already fear entering the health care system, this just exacerbates that even more," Haywood said. "The idea that somebody in the state that doesn't care what we say about Louisiana, in the state that doesn't care about people, that people will have to carry a child to term when they're already living in substandard housing, when their children are not getting the best education, when they can barely see their families."

And for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, many of whom also struggle with homelessness, accessing safe abortions in a different state is completely out of the question, according to Haywood.

"If one of our clients were to have an unintended pregnancy, then if they're on probation and parole or house arrest, they're not going anywhere," she said.

Haywood said the lack of information and transparency about safe abortion options, especially in Louisiana, which has one of the country's lowest literacy rates, may also drive women to seek recourse in dangerous home remedies.

"If you get pregnant, we know that people when they're reacting out of fear we don't always make the best decision for ourselves, and so we're unsure what to do," she said.

"One person wanted to know, 'How much bleach should I mix with my cold drink or juice to end my pregnancy?'" she added. "We're saying, 'Absolutely don't take bleach, don't mix any household cleaner or chemicals and ingest them because of the danger of poisoning or death.'"

Haywood's organization, Women with a Vision, is doubling down on its efforts to equip women of color in New Orleans with reproductive health information and connecting them with safe resources.

"Black women have intersectional lives," she said. "It's a particular way that people of color and Black people fight because we don't have the privilege to sit on one thing."

"I can't just talk about abortion and not talk about health care. I can't talk about health care if I'm not talking about access to housing as a basic, fundamental human right," she added.

ABC News' Annie Ochitwa contributed to this report.

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More than 150,000 births could occur in the US every year following the reversal of Roe v. Wade, report predicts

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The reversal of Roe v. Wade could lead to a dramatic increase of babies born in the United States, including thousands of high-risk births, a new report finds.

The data, from health care industry consulting firm Sg2, estimates there will be an additional 150,500 to 159,700 live births each year in the U.S. The projections have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Birth rates in the country have been declining ever since the Great Recession of 2008-09 and were only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers found limiting access to abortion in several states will boost birth rates beginning in the second half of this year.

For the report, Sg2 looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2019 abortion surveillance report as well as data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that focuses on sexual and reproductive health.

About 808,000 to 862,000 abortions were estimated to have occurred in 2019 with 60% of those being in so-called “protected” states, where abortion access is in little danger of being restricted. The group then analyzed how many of the abortions in “restricted” states would not have been performed if the Supreme Court ruling had occurred then.

In addition to the overall increase in births, the report projected there will be a larger number of births requiring a higher level of care, between 18,400 and 19,600 per year.

Of those, 17,300 to 18,400 are expected to be babies born prematurely, including about 5,400 born early preterm, which is before 34 weeks gestation.

Premature babies are at a greater risk for problems with feeding, breathing, vision and hearing, as well as behavioral issues.

The higher level of care group also includes 1,500 to 1,600 infants born with congenital anomalies such as Down syndrome or heart defects.

Additionally, the report estimated there will be an increase in both maternal and neonatal mortality rates, especially among groups with traditionally less access to prenatal care, such as Black women.

The team suggests that in states where abortion is restricted, physicians at hospitals, clinics and other services should prepare for the increase in births as well as the increase in more babies requiring a higher level of care.

“There is no question that this ruling significantly alters the landscape for reproductive services nationwide,” the report read. “The state-level disparities that already exist in women’s health outcomes will deepen

ABC News’ Andrew Fies contributed to this report.

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Can high-tech air filtration systems lower the risk of COVID in autos?

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(NEW YORK) -- Still concerned about COVID-19 transmission in automobiles? One carmaker may have a novel approach to keeping passengers safe.

British luxury marque Jaguar Land Rover claims the Cabin Air Purification Pro filtration in its new Range Rover SUV can "significantly reduce odors, bacteria, viruses and allergens including SARS-CoV-2 virus" thanks to nanoe X, an electrostatic technology developed by Panasonic.

When the SUV's heating, ventilation and air conditioning [HVAC] filtration system is turned on, trillions of ionized water particles are released into the cabin through the front and rear air vents, according to JLR. These particles "denature," or essentially kill the virus on contact, the automaker says.

"We want people to know the capability of the vehicle," Nick Miller, program chief of the new Range Rover, told ABC News. "This is the first Range Rover to have the next generation system."

Health officials and practitioners have long underscored the importance of proper air filtration and ventilation for lowering transmission of the novel coronavirus. The Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that air cleaners and HVAC filters can help reduce airborne contaminants, including viruses, in a building or small space when used properly, but they are not sufficient on their own.

"By itself, air cleaning or filtration is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. When used along with other best practices recommended by CDC and other public health agencies, including social distancing and mask wearing, filtration can be part of a plan to reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors," according to the EPA.

Panasonic says its nanoe X technology "inhibits bacteria and viruses, moulds, allergens, pollens and hazardous substances ... and helps clean the air that we breathe." The technology can be found in homes, offices, hotels, schools and spas and has been tested globally in laboratories and institutions. Experts interviewed by ABC News said the technology could help in vehicles but were skeptical of its overall impact compared to mask-wearing.

JLR partnered with Perfectus Biomed Ltd, a microbiology and virology lab, to test the company's prototype system. A sealed chamber simulated "a vehicle ventilation system in recirculation mode over a 30-minute cycle," JLR said. The result? The system inhibited the virus's spread by as much as 97%, the automaker said.

The Range Rover filtration system, which also includes a PM2.5 filter (blocking particles down to 2.5 microns in size), discharges 10 times the amount of ionized particles than the previous system, Miller noted. Moreover, the nanoe X technology was also tested on the virus in a closed lab environment by Texcell, a research organization that specializes in viral testing and immunoprofiling, which claimed "over 99.99% of novel coronavirus activity was inhibited within 2 hours."

Since the technology collects invisible moisture in the air, the Range Rover's filtration system does not need servicing or updating, Miller said. And there are limitations, he acknowledged.

"We're absolutely not claiming we're a medical device," Miller said. "No way are we claiming that you will not get COVID in the car. But it decreases the likelihood."

John Brownstein, Ph.D., an ABC News medical contributor, epidemiologist and chief innovation officer of Boston Children's Hospital, said the risk of COVID transmission in an automobile is small but "turning on these air filtration systems can create an additional level of protection."

"You can't social distance in a car," he pointed out. "These systems could be a useful tool. But if you're really concerned [about COVID], wear a mask with other passengers."

He added, "The new trend in public health is air quality. But there's a gimmicky part too."

Dr. Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical engineering and medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said he doubted the claims made by Panasonic and Jaguar Land Rover. In the Texcell test, conducted in a 45-liter chamber, a piece of gauze saturated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus solution was placed in a petri dish and exposed to the nanoe X technology for two hours.

"The inside volume of a car is 3,000 to 5,000 liters -- 100 times bigger than this chamber in the lab," Mittal told ABC News. "In the test, the virus couldn't move and was locked in place on a piece of gauze. In a real situation, an infected person will circulate and spread the virus in the air via little droplets."

He added, "I really think more is needed to convince someone like me with a scientific background that it is a valid claim."

Advanced, powerful infiltration systems in automobiles are starting to become more common. In 2015, Tesla was the first to install HEPA-rated filters in its electric vehicles. The carmaker claims passengers can "literally survive a military grade bio attack" when the Bioweapon Defense Mode is running.

The large HEPA filter in the new Mercedes EQS all-electric sedan eliminates 99.6% of pollutants -- fine dust, microparticles, pollen and other substances -- from the cabin, according to Mercedes. Moreover, the sedan's Energizing Air Control Plus system cuts odors such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Volvo, Ford and Lincoln are also rolling out premium air filtration systems. Volvo's Advanced Air Cleaner technology comes with a sensor that measures PM2.5 levels inside the cabin. Lincoln says its Auto Air Refresh, available in the Aviator SUV, is a "holistic air filtration and active air monitoring system" that helps "clean the cabin air by filtering out particles caused by atmospheric dust, tobacco smoke, smog and some allergens, including pollen."

Ford's all-new standard certified cabin air filters, called Ford Refresh95, will be available in a majority of its vehicle lineup by the end of 2023.

James Dickerson, chief scientific officer at Consumer Reports, said more high-tech filtration systems, like the one in the Range Rover, may be coming to the market if automakers see high demand from consumers.

"Introducing an ionization system that's effective and can fit inside the tight confines of an automobile ... this is novel technology" for the industry, Dickerson told ABC News. "We very much support manufacturers that are looking for ways to make their vehicles more pleasant and more attune to the needs of consumers particularly as it relates to air quality."

Mittal of Johns Hopkins said vehicle air filtration systems are only effective with a HEPA filter and a fast replacement rate of air inside the cabin.

"A HEPA filter will definitely catch viruses and the AC needs to be on with air recirculated quickly," he said.

There are downsides, however: Some filters would have to be maintained and replaced and any benefits may not outweigh the costs, he argued.

"I wouldn't pay even $100 to put one in my car -- they're not worth the money," he said. "Wear a mask and open the windows. That's the best thing you can do to reduce transmission."

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Experts looking for ways to prevent hot car deaths, new radar technology could detect heartbeats

Mykhailo Polenok / EyeEm/ Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Every year, approximately 38 children die from being left in a hot car, according to Kids and Cars Safety, a national nonprofit that tracks hot car deaths and aims to prevent vehicle-related risks to children and pets.

As the U.S. heads into more heat waves this summer and temperatures in the Midwest, South and West soar into the triple digits, there is a concern for parents about hot car deaths. One parent, Peter Hansen, opened up about the issue on social media.

“I have severe anxiety about leaving our kids in a hot car on accident,” Hansen, a father of three in Chicago, wrote in a LinkedIn post. "It's 100 degrees in Chicago today and the heat is intense across the country. Working from home has me multitasking more than usual, which can distract me from the kids some days, especially if driving on a work call. This is simply a post to make sure your kids are not left in your car in this heat."

The 40-year-old told Good Morning America a recent episode with two of his three kids one morning gave him a scare and prompted him to reflect on the dangers of hot cars and how easily things can go wrong.

"We got doughnuts and came back in the house," Hansen recalled. "It's still 7 in the morning – it wasn't 100 degrees yet – but five minutes later, I was in the house and my four-year-old walked through the door five minutes later, she's like, 'Daddy, you forgot me.' And it was like, I swear I saw her get out of the car … but I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' It really terrified me that I thought both of them got out of the car together like they normally do."

Data from Kids and Cars Safety indicates over 1,000 children, with 87% of them age 3 and under, have died from heatstroke after being in a hot car since 1990 and so far, six hot car deaths have occurred this year, including one in Houston where a 5-year-old boy was reportedly in a car for several hours on a day when the Texas city reached 102 degrees.

Amber Rollins, a director at Kids and Cars Safety, said the issue is often misunderstood and even dismissed by many parents and caregivers.

"I think the No. 1 misconception is that this will never happen to me and that it only happens to bad parents and nothing could be further from the truth," Rollins told GMA. "I've worked with families that this has happened to for 16 years and they are engineers, school teachers, principals, nurses, doctors, you name it. It's the type of people that I aspire to be as a parent, the kind that read every safety book about the most expensive car seat and strapped him in so tight and covered every outlet. That's the kind of person this is happening to."

According to Rollins, hot car deaths have also been trending upwards for the last three decades, with an exception during the last two years of the pandemic when more families stayed at home.

"In the '90s, we realized children were being killed by overpowered airbags and children are still safer riding in the back seat. We moved them to the back seat because that's where they're the safest. However, now they're out of sight of the driver," Rollins explained. "So they're in the back seat, they're rear-facing now until age 3 or even longer, depending on the size of the child. And that car seat looks the same for the driver whether there's a baby in there or not."

"This is not like parents didn't just all of a sudden overnight become neglectful and irresponsible," she added. "This is an unintended consequence of moving them to the back seat."

How to prevent hot car deaths

Multiple solutions have been proposed to avert a hot car death before they occur. Among the high-tech options include carbon dioxide detection, lidar or light detection and ranging technology, car alarm systems, car camera systems and car seats with weight sensors, each with its own pros and cons.

A new idea, called "Cabin Awareness," from Toyota would use radar technology, powered in part by a car's battery, to notify drivers who have left a Toyota vehicle that a child or a pet remained inside the car.

Brian Kursar, chief technology officer for Toyota Connected North America and Toyota Motor North America, has led the "Cabin Awareness" project since its inception in 2018 and said the project is moving now toward a testing phase with May Mobility, a Michigan-based company that develops autonomous technology, including vehicles.

"The 'Cabin Awareness' concept uses millimeter-wave radar to detect micro-movements and so micro-movements really are the things that a camera can't see. So it's also able to understand breathing, heartbeat, and ultimately provides us a solution to something that we've not been able to really touch, which is the ability to understand life in a vehicle," Kursar explained to GMA, adding that radar could "see through things like cloth" and go beyond a camera's line of sight.

Toyota's "Cabin Awareness" could link up to a driver's cell phone, a smart device -- such as smart lights, a smart speaker, or smart TV -- inside their home, or possibly other Toyota vehicles in an environment such as a parking lot and ultimately, contact emergency services when other alerts go unanswered.

"Based on our algorithms, we're able to understand where in the vehicle that movement is coming from. And then we're able to now take a number of options to escalate, to let the customer know that there is life potentially at risk in a vehicle," Kursar said.

"We see this as an opportunity not just to contact the customer. You can give the system a list of contacts such as grandma, right, such as your neighbor, right, and these are additional folks that can start helping to resolve this problem with the vehicle," Kursar added. "Maybe we can now do a vehicle-to-vehicle ping to say, if you're within proximity of a child or an adult at risk in a car, now you have this almost community outreach where people in their cars, they turn on their cars, and it says, [someone in] a green Sienna within your proximity, may be at risk for heat exhaustion."

For now, "Cabin Awareness" is not available in Toyota vehicles just yet and the timeline for a potential rollout will depend on testing results.

In the meantime, Kids and Cars Safety's Rollins recommends several solutions that parents can keep in mind and adopt this summer.

Adopt the “look before you lock” habit.

"We want to use that habit system to prevent it from happening," Rollins said. "No matter what, even if the child is not with you, open the back door and check the back seat. Every single time you leave the car."

"It takes two seconds," she continued. "And it's a great way to make sure you're never forgetting anything, including your children or inanimate objects that aren't as important but make that a 100% habit."

In addition to being left in a car, a child or pet can gain access to a car when they're unlocked, so Rollins also emphasized the importance of utilizing car door locks. "You want to keep your car locked 100% of the time, even if you don't have children. Little ones can get into neighbors' cars. It happens all the time. You want to keep keys and remote openers out of reach of children 100% of the time and childproof your home."

"You want to check the inside trunk and floorboards of all vehicles in the area immediately, even if they're locked," Rollins added. "A lot of times, kiddos will get in and they try to get out and they push the lock button. And so people don't think they're in there if it's locked, but they definitely can be."

Rollins suggests keeping a physical object, like a diaper bag, in the front seat or playing a kid's song to remember that you're traveling with your child. "If you're not a diaper bag person 100% of the time, create a reminder object in your car. So throw a stuffed animal in the car seat. And then anytime you put the child in the car seat, that stuffed animal comes up to the front seat with you as your visual cue that the baby is with you," Rollins said.
Enlist the help of others.

"If you take your child to daycare or anyone, a family member that watches them, whoever it is, you want to make a policy with them. They would call you immediately if your child didn't show up as scheduled and I mean immediately," said Rollins. "That one phone call could have been the difference between life or death for hundreds of children."
Make kids aware of the hazards of a hot car.

"Talk to your kids about how dangerous it is to get into a car without a grown-up and talk to them about never allowing a grown-up to leave them in the car," Rollins said.

Use stick-on door alarms.

Inexpensive door alarms can be more accessible for parents than full-fledged home security systems in the short term and peel-and-stick options are sold online and in stores.

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Overturning Roe v. Wade raises stakes for patients who need IVF, experts say

Cara Skowronski and her husband hold their daughter, who was born via a gestational surrogate. - Cara Skowronski

(NEW YORK) -- Cara Skowronski and her husband are the parents of a 2-year-old daughter who was born through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and a gestational surrogate, who carried their daughter.

Now, as the Skowronskis look to expand their family, they say they are afraid of the obstacles they will face, a fear they say has been magnified by the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Skowronski and her husband recently moved from Nebraska to Texas, where abortion will be banned under a trigger law that goes into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court's decision.

The couple's remaining frozen embryos are in Nebraska, where Gov. Pete Ricketts has said he will push for the state legislature to pass a total abortion ban in the wake of Roe being overturned.

"It's challenging enough to have infertility treatment today," Skowronski told ABC News. "I think the additional potential state legislations that ban or make IVF incredibly difficult will really take it away as an option to a lot of couples and a lot of individuals, and it's heartbreaking."

Skowronski and other IVF patients, as well as medical providers, say they fear is that as states enact strict abortion regulations under the power given to them by the Supreme Court, infertility treatments will be at risk due to the language of those restrictions.

"There is a race to see who can be the most extreme on abortion restrictions, and I can tell you who the losers of that are going to be: fertility patients and women who might need contraception," said Sean Tipton, chief advocacy, policy and development officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), adding of the Supreme Court's ruling, "There is a very serious threat to reproductive medicine from that decision."

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling, at least 26 states are expected to eventually ban or severely restrict abortion.

If legislation banning or restricting abortion defines life as beginning at fertilization, fertility treatments -- specifically IVF -- could be at risk, experts say.

In the IVF process, ovulation is induced and eggs are removed from a patient's ovaries. The eggs are then fertilized with sperm outside of the body, and the resulting embryos are either placed in the patient's uterus in the hope of pregnancy or are stored in a laboratory for future use, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Mary Ziegler, law professor at the University of California and author of "Dollars for Life: The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment," said that as states have rushed to define abortion, more questions than answers have arisen, especially when it comes to IVF.

"States have definitions of abortion that are potentially in tension with IVF," she said. "For example, if you say life begins at fertilization, what does that mean for the storage of embryos, what does that even mean for the practice of IVF, because sometimes it involves the implantation of more than one embryo to maximize the chances of a successful pregnancy, and sometimes some of those pregnancies are terminated in the hope that one will last. Will that be prohibited?"

In Oklahoma, an abortion ban signed into law in May by Gov. Kevin Stitt defines an unborn child as "a human fetus or embryo in any stage of gestation from fertilization until birth." The state also has a trigger law banning abortions that went into effect Friday, quickly after the Supreme Court's ruling.

In Nebraska, where Skowronski's embryos are stored, a proposed bill that would ban all abortions defines an unborn child as "throughout the embryonic and fetal stages of development from fertilization to full gestation and childbirth."

The bill, LB933, failed by two votes in April, but the state's governor has said he plans to call a special legislative session in the wake of Roe being overturned. The potential for the bill to be reintroduced concerns Dr. Stephanie Gustin, a fertility doctor in Omaha and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska College of Medicine.

"If this trigger ban law gets reintroduced and it gets passed as is, we are incredibly vulnerable," said Gustin, adding that she and other fertility doctors are at risk because they "work with embryos all the time." "It essentially states that any destruction of life, intentional or otherwise, is punishable by felony," she said.

"The reach of this is much further than an abortion and that could have so many negative impacts on individuals who want to become parents," she added.

Gustin, who is Skowronski's fertility doctor, said that well before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she was receiving panicked calls from patients wondering if their IVF journey was at risk, and hearing from other patients who made plans to start IVF in another state.

In Texas, where abortion will be illegal 30 days after the Supreme Court's decision, Dr. Timothy Hickman, medical director and co-founder of CCRM Houston, a fertility treatment center, said he also fielded questions from "worried" patients in the weeks leading up to the court's ruling.

Hickman, also the president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), said that while abortion and IVF are "two very different things," he is concerned state laws may not "appropriately designate between the two."

"People are stating that life begins at conception, therefore a fertilized egg should be considered a person," he said. "In IVF, we routinely fertilize eggs and biopsy them to check them for genetic abnormalities and freeze them, and obviously, they're used in family building."

It was not until the early 1980s that the first IVF baby was born in the U.S., but IVF now accounts for as many as 3% of all births every year in the U.S., research shows.

People today also use IVF for many different reasons beyond infertility, including to be able to have kids later in life, or after a cancer diagnosis or another health condition, and to be able to screen for genetic disorders.

Destynie Sewell, an assistant professor of law at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, said both she and her husband suffered from infertility issues, causing them to use IVF to become pregnant with their now 2-year-old twin sons.

Sewell, 42, said as she and her husband now contemplate having another child, the threat of the IVF process being legislated or prohibited in Nebraska weighs on them heavily.

"To have someone tell me, 'Well if you retrieve your eggs, this is what you have to do with them,'" said Sewell. "It's bad enough I don't have control over my own body because of my medical makeup, but to have you tell me what I have to do to my body, are we back in slavery days? I no longer have autonomy over my body?"

Fertility doctors said they feel in limbo as they try to determine their state's current or potential abortion laws and what the language could mean for their and their patient's futures.

"I have a full-time practice. I'm a mom. I'm obviously not a legislator or lawyer. This is not my wheelhouse," said Gustin, the Nebraska doctor. "Yet here I am, like before I do an egg retrieval and after I put my kids to bed, trying to figure this out."

"Right now, we just don't know," said Dr. Robert K. Hunter, practice director of the Kentucky Fertility Institute. "The trigger law in Kentucky, to my reading of it, isn't going to make anything I do a felony, yet, but that's protected by about a two- to three-word clause, from my reading."

Hunter said his practice is already booked out about five months due to high demand, making him worry even more for patients who could potentially lose access to care.

"Infertility is full of anxiety, and this has just introduced a whole new layer of stress and worry to our patient population that they didn't even know they had to worry about," said Hunter, adding that he plans to stay in Kentucky for his patients, saying, "I have firmly committed myself to this career and to this patient population, and it's a cause I'm willing to fight for."

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With Roe v. Wade overturned, medication abortions take center stage

Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker

(WASHINGTON) -- As reactions to the Dobbs decision roll in, Congressional Democrats are outraged. But don't expect that outrage to translate to passable legislation anytime soon.

Any effort to codify a woman's right to choose would need to clear the Senate filibuster. That means 60 votes. And those votes are nowhere to be seen in the Senate.

Undoubtedly, today's Supreme Court decision will reignite discussion among some progressives about overturning the filibuster to try to codify the rights previously enshrined in Roe v. Wade. They'll have to wait to see if those discussions gain any traction, but 50 votes are needed to change the Senate rules.

That will need the support of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has been exceptionally clear that he doesn't support a filibuster carve out. Without his support, the Senate rules can't be changed.

In a statement today following the ruling, Manchin said he's hopeful for a bipartisan solution (which, if some are reading the Joe Manchin tea leaves, likely means a path forward that does NOT involve a change to the Senate rules).

"Let me be clear, I support legislation that would codify the rights Roe v. Wade previously protected," Manchin said in a statement. "I am hopeful Democrats and Republicans will come together to put forward a piece of legislation that would do just that."

When the draft Dobbs decision leaked in May, reporters chased after Manchin to ask him if he'd support a filibuster carve out to codify Roe. He held the line then on defending the Senate rules. He was asked if he'd be willing to get rid of the filibuster in light of the ruling if it meant Democrats could be successful in their efforts to codify Roe.

"The filibuster is the only protection of democracy," he said.

When reporters pushed him on women who are going to be affected by the ruling, he said, "We've protected women's rights with the filibuster, so we have to look at it. But the bottom line is it is the only check and balance we have."

It's deeply unlikely Manchin will have a change of tone. Which means any legislative efforts are going to be largely for show. That's a road that Democrats have already gone down. Democrats forced a vote on the Senate floor on the Women's Health Protection Act in May. It failed 49-51 (Sen. Joe Manchin opposed it because he felt it was more sweeping than simply codifying a right to an abortion).

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said they support codifying a woman's right to choose, but their support isn't enough to get to 60.

Collins said in a statement Friday she’s working with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on bipartisan legislation to codify Roe.

“Our goal with this legislation is to do what the Court should have done — provide the consistency in our abortion laws that Americans have relied upon for 50 years,” she said.

If that effort fails to gain traction, where does that leave abortion rights supporters? Looking toward the 2022 election. That's why Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others today have been calling on Americans to take to the polls in November.

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