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May 23rd, 2022:

The coming fight over medical abortion

Sure is a good thing SCOTUS will leave this up to the states, isn’t it?

Republican-led states are moving swiftly to restrict access to medication abortion.

The efforts so far have focused on regulations around the pills, such as banning them from being shipped or prescribed. But can states ban the actual abortion pill itself, even though the Food and Drug Administration has approved it? That question could be the next frontier in the abortion wars.

The short answer comes down to this: The issue isn’t settled law and will likely be litigated in the courts. Some argue states may be hard-pressed to ban the federally approved medication, though antiabortion advocates disagree.

[…]

Some states have introduced bills focused on banning abortion pills, but they haven’t gotten a lot of traction, per Elizabeth Nash, an interim associate director at Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. (A recent exception is Oklahoma, whose Republican governor is poised to sign legislation banning abortions – including medication abortions – from the moment of “fertilization.”)

Rather, states are banning the practice of medicine around the pills. For instance: At least 19 states ban the use of telehealth for medication abortion, and some states have additional restrictions, like prohibiting pills from being mailed.

Yet, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, some states may try to ban the actual medication. And states already have gestational limits and other abortion bans on the books that could kick in quickly if Roe is overturned — and those likely encompass limitations on the pills, experts said.

Can states ban a medication the FDA has signed off on?

There’s no clear precedent here.

Some states may argue they can ban medication abortion because states have the authority to regulate the practice of medicine. The FDA, on the other hand, is the acknowledged authority on medical products, such as the abortion pill. But the line between medical practice and medical products is not always clear.

And if a state squared off against the federal government over an FDA-approved drug … “We don’t know how the court would rule. It’s an open question,” Patti Zettler, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and former associate chief counsel in the FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel.

See here for some background. Reminder #1: The state of Texas has made it a felony to provide abortion medication after seven weeks, after having already banned anyone but doctors from dispensing such medication, and only via an in-person office visit – no telemedicine. You can be sure that Texas will take this to the next level in the next legislative session if it is in position to do so.

Reminder #2: The same medicine that is used for abortion is also used to treat miscarriages. Needless to say, women who are suffering through a miscarriage will face – and as that story notes, are already facing – barriers to medical care that could threaten their health, their future ability to get pregnant and carry a child to term, and even their lives. That’s our future, and if you think I’m being alarmist, go back and read all those soothing articles about how this Supreme Court was never ever going to overturn Roe v Wade because it would cause too much upheaval.

House committee passes Ike Dike bill

Another step forward.

A House committee on Wednesday approved legislation that gives the go-ahead to the so-called Ike Dike project, a massive $31 billion proposal that includes building giant gates across the mouth of Galveston Bay with the goal of stopping hurricane storm surge.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted to move the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 toward the full House for a floor vote. This follows a vote two weeks ago by a similar committee in the Senate, which also included language in its bill approving the project.

Getting the sign-off from key committees in both chambers of Congress marks a significant step forward for a plan that has been spiritedly debated since Hurricane Ike hit with devastating force in 2008. Both bills must be approved by their respective bodies, then merged for a final bicameral vote.

“The Water Resources Development Act is our legislative commitment to investing in and protecting our communities from flooding events, restoring our environment and ecosystems and keeping our nation’s competitiveness by supporting our ports and harbors,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-California, chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Her comments prior to the vote addressed the big picture: “Through the biannual enactment of WRDA, this committee has addressed local, regional, national needs through the authorization of the new US Army Corps of Engineers projects, studies and policies that benefit every corner of the nation.”

The Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study, as the federal version of the Ike Dike plan is formally known, is the largest engineering recommendation of its kind that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ever proposed. It was one of 16 finalized projects included in the House bill.

See here for the background. I still need to see it pass a cloture vote and not get doomed to procedural hell by the likes of Rand Paul, but for now it is moving forward. For now.

Hey look! Some info about mail ballots in the May election!

It’s not much, but I’ll take what I can get.

For the second time in less than two weeks, Texans are heading back to the polls to decide on a host of statewide and local elections.

Voters are deciding who should come out on top in primary runoff elections. However, issues with election counting in Harris County have led to some frustration, but some widespread issues of the past may be corrected during this primary runoff.

“So far it’s been a really busy day, we’re really pleased with the turnout,” Nadia Hakim, Deputy Director of Communication and Voter outreach for Harris County elections said.

[…]

Those voting by mail are reminded by officials to complete the identification fields to avoid the ballot being rejected.

“So what we saw during March 1st was a high rate of rejection for mail ballots. Of course, it was our first large election with SB1 put into place and unfortunately, we saw a similar trend for the May 7th election. It was about a 20 percent rejection rate again,” Hakim said.

Voters are urged to contact the Harris County election office with any questions regarding issues they may face at 713-755-6965.

Disappointing, but not surprising. I have mentioned speaking with the elections office a couple of times, and this was something I inquired about as well. At a closer look, the rejection rate for the May 7 election was closer to 15% than 20% as cited in the story, but still too high and almost as high as it had been in March. As we’ve discussed, the people who voted in the May election likely included a lot of people who hadn’t voted in March, so this was their first experience with the new voter suppression law. The statewide rate of mail ballot rejection from March was about 12-13%, and it was about 19% in Harris County. I still want to know what the statewide rate was for the May election, and of course I care a lot about what it will be for the runoff, where there should be a greater percentage of voters who now do know what to do.

I will have more questions about this for after the runoff, but in the meantime I came across this story from Bexar County, which is my nominee for the cutting edge leader in doing this right.

After a rocky first election under new requirements for voting by mail, Bexar County Elections officials are celebrating a sharp decline in rejection of mail ballots.

Though more Bexar County voters voted by mail in the May 7 election than had in the Mar. 1 primary, the preliminary mail ballot rejection rate of 3% was far lower than the 21.7% that left thousands of ballots uncounted two months earlier.

[…]

“Those [March] numbers – it was a tragedy. It was personal. It was personal to us. Everything is personal to us,” said Elena Guajardo, a mail clerk for the Bexar County Elections Department.

Trying to avoid a repeat of the issues in the primary, Bexar County Elections officials highlighted the new requirement on the elections department website ahead of the May 7 election.

They also included an informational insert in every mail ballot, alerting voters to the new ID requirement and recommended writing both numbers, in case one of them wasn’t linked to their voter registration.

Their efforts appear to have paid off.

“We had a success story in this election,” said Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen, who previously said a typical election would “probably” have a 2% to 3% rejection rate.

That story was from May 13, before the official canvass and the deadline for curing deficient ballots, so the numbers may have changed a bit. Regardless, this is damned impressive. Some of it was just learning from the initial experience and being able to be prepped from day one, which was not the case in March due to slowness in providing information by the Secretary of State, and part of it is clearly this strategy of pointing the voters in the right direction up front. Bexar County was talking about this at the time, and now that we can see how well it worked, every other county should look to emulate them. It’s a pain that they have to do this, but it is what it is. Kudos to Bexar County for showing the way.

Tomorrow is Primary Runoff Day

You know the drill, this is your last chance to vote in the primary runoffs. We will finally have the 2022 lineup set for November and can concentrate all of our attention and attacks on the other guys. The map of Tuesday voting locations in Harris County is here – there will be 263 locations, you can vote at any of them, but remember that this map only shows 50 at a time, so if you don’t see something close to you either go to the next 50 or search by your address. An alphabetized list of all locations is here.

I continue to be obsessed by mail ballots and their rejection rates, which was a huge story in March and (very annoyingly) has largely dropped off the radar since. I have some info about mail ballot rejections in the May election in the next post, and in the same search for news that I did on Sunday I found this story from El Paso about their primary runoff experience so far.

More than one of every seven mail ballots cast in El Paso for the primary runoff elections were rejected, mostly because of failure to comply with new steps required this year, the county’s election administrator said.

That rejection rate is much higher than in previous years, when fewer than 10% of mail ballots were thrown out, but down from the 45% rejection rate in the first week of early voting for the March 1 primary.

[…]

Through Wednesday, 562 mail-in ballots — or about 15% of the more than 3,800 cast — had been returned to voters, most because they did not include a driver’s license number or last four digits of their Social Security number on the ballot envelope, El Paso County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise said.

Wise said 165 of the returned ballots had been “cured” as of Wednesday, meaning voters had fixed the error. The 397 remaining rejected mail-in ballots — and any others that might be rejected before Tuesday’s runoff elections — can only be counted if they’re cured by next week.

[…]

Wise said the elections office has been proactive in trying to reduce the number of rejected ballots.

“This election, we began highlighting the carrier envelope from the beginning, alerting voters to the required information. That happened about halfway through with the primary election,” she said. “I believe that is helping with the percentage (of rejected ballots), and many of these voters are getting a second look at the new requirements as well.”

In the March primary, more than 1,000 mail-in ballots were rejected in the first week of early voting. Many voters were able to cure their ballots, but more than 700 mail-in ballots in El Paso County were discarded after election officials found non-compliance with state law and the voters failed to fix the problem. An El Paso Matters analysis found that the vast majority of rejected ballots were from regular voters, many of whom had been registered to vote in the county for decades.

That last sentence is why I’ve been beating the drum about this, and emphasizing that the Democratic Party and its candidates, groups, clubs, and volunteers need to be leading the effort to educate their voters. (The rejection rate in Harris County was at about twelve percent, better than March but still too high.) Some county election offices have been doing a good job of this, but we can’t count on that. This is fixable, but people have to know what they need to do. And if you have received a mail ballot but for whatever the reason decide you want to vote in person, bring the mail ballot with you and turn it in when you go to vote in person.