Editorial Roundup: United States
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Washington Post on access to birth control after the SCOTUS ruling on abortion:
The French company that has asked for permission to sell birth control pills over the counter in the United States says the timing of its request to the Food and Drug Administration, coming soon after the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, is coincidental. That might be, but the court’s decision eliminating the constitutional right to abortion makes more urgent than ever the imperative of easily accessible birth control. As with any drug, the FDA must follow the science. But if over-the-counter birth control makes sense — and for years it has worked safely in other countries — the agency should approve it as soon as possible.
Paris-based HRA Pharma announced last week that it has applied to the FDA for approval to switch Opill, a progestin-only daily oral contraceptive licensed for prescription use in 1973, to over-the-counter use. If approved, it would be the first time Americans would have access to oral contraceptives without the need to obtain a prescription from a health professional. Another pill manufacturer, Cadence Health, has been discussing with the FDA switching its progesterone-estrogen combination to over-the-counter sales in hopes of also submitting an application.
About half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The requirement for a prescription can create barriers for women who don’t have easy access to a health-care provider because of cost, lack of transportation or child care, and privacy and confidentiality concerns. Making the pill available without a prescription could be particularly helpful to women in rural, poor and marginalized communities.
Oral contraceptives have been safely used by millions of women in the United States for six decades. They are available over the counter in more than 100 countries, and clinical trials have shown them to be safe and reliable. The chief health risk — blood clots in veins — is rare, occurring in less than 1 in every 1,000 pill takers per year. Major medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have voiced their support for making birth control pills available without prescription.
Birth control is certainly no substitute for access to abortion care, but it is key to people making choices about their bodies, and can help in preventing unintended pregnancies and thereby reducing abortions. There should be timely review of this request, as House Democrats urged in a letter to the FDA sent even before the court’s misguided ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. And if the application passes scientific muster, we hope the FDA doesn’t repeat the mistake it made in its approval of over-the-counter use of the emergency contraception pill, Plan B, when it imposed age limits.
Another issue will be affordability. A spokesperson for HRA Pharma promised the company would make Opill “very affordable for consumers” — though it is unclear what that would mean. Insurance companies are now required under the Affordable Care Act to cover the expense of prescription contraceptives, and a bill before Congress would require insurance companies to cover the cost of over-the-counter pills as well. With states rushing to cut off access to abortion, and birth control looming as a potential battleground in the war over reproductive rights, it is important that the FDA make this matter a priority.
The Wall Street Journal on a political dispute within the National Association of Attorneys General:
A political dispute inside the National Association of Attorneys General is revealing some unsavory practices that deserve more public exposure. One question is whether Republican AGs are willing to walk away if the group won’t shape up.
NAAG — no acronym jokes, please — describes itself as the national forum for AGs from the states and U.S. territories. It is supposed to be nonpartisan, but it has been steering left. One sign of this trend is the group’s close ties with trial lawyers, who bring tort cases on behalf of the AGs and then give some of the settlement proceeds to NAAG. Those proceeds have become a fund that then finances more tort cases.
Kentucky AG Daniel Cameron laid out his concerns about these practices in a five-page May 24 letter to Chris Toth, who was then NAAG’s executive director. Mr. Cameron’s letter was joined by seven other GOP AGs from Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
“There needs to be greater transparency prior to NAAG receiving, holding, and expending certain kinds of funds,” Mr. Cameron writes. He cites “some multi-state settlement agreements, including the McKinsey opioid settlement,” that provide money “directly to NAAG.”
He says NAAG received $15 million in the McKinsey settlement, which is nearly double what some states received “and nearly 40% more than Kentucky received.” Yet the residents of these states suffered from the opioid scourge, while NAAG has no electoral constituency. Mr. Cameron says “NAAG boasts more than $164 million in assets” and the number is more than $280 million if you include NAAG’s Mission Foundation.
This issue is about more than dividing the spoils of these settlements. Most states, including Kentucky, vest the power of the purse in their legislatures. Kentucky law requires that state receipts be deposited in state coffers and says they must be used for “public purposes only.” Yet NAAG funds are proceeds from state lawsuits that NAAG can use without the permission of the legislature or even all AGs. If NAAG invests that money in funds to gain a financial return, that could violate state law.
Mr. Cameron adds that NAAG’s “fund committees are now issuing grants that are more like loans than grants.” And loans have to be repaid. So this gives states an incentive to pursue litigation for a financial return no matter the merits of the issue.
“The result is NAAG’s promotion of ‘entrepreneurial litigation’ and ‘suing businesses for profit,’ all of which is ‘more in line with the plaintiffs’ bar’ than making whole those who have been harmed,” writes Mr. Cameron.
In other words, NAAG has become a business in its own right, taking money from lawsuit settlements and redistributing it to finance more lawsuits. It’s a perpetual lawsuit machine. This is very good for the trial lawyers who work the cases and for AGs who can get publicity from those cases.
But no one elected NAAG staff, and this independent lawsuit machine weakens political accountability. This is true regardless of party. But NAAG has been dominated by Democratic AGs, and the current president is Tom Miller of Iowa. “Consumer Protection 2.0: Tech Threats and Tools” is his “presidential initiative,” according to a NAAG press release.
Mr. Cameron raises important questions about governance and accountability that deserve to be answered. His May 24 letter asked for a response by June 6, but as far as we know there have been no detailed written answers and no agreement to reform NAAG’s procedures to create greater transparency over how its cash cache is used.
Al Lama, NAAG’s interim executive director, said in an email that Mr. Miller has “had several productive conversations with AG Cameron about his questions and recommendations.” He added that last week NAAG created a “select committee of NAAG members” to review Mr. Cameron’s recommendations and “consider reforms” in NAAG’s bylaws, structure, and procedures. The committee includes three Democratic and three Republican AGs.
Elizabeth Kuhn, spokeswoman for Mr. Cameron, emailed that “we have had productive conversations with NAAG and await a response from the executive committee.”
Kudos to Mr. Cameron for raising this issue after too many Republican AGs were asleep or complicit. We hope he and other AGs insist on specific policy and practice changes rather than words and promises. NAAG doesn’t deserve the blessing of their membership if it’s an unaccountable litigation shop for spending to enrich trial lawyers.
The Los Angeles Times on the Right to Contraception Act:
This week the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to take up the Right to Contraception Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. Kathy E. Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina, establishes a federal right to contraception — meaning women would have the right to use birth control and medical providers and pharmacies the right to provide it.
This bill would put into law a right that the Supreme Court addressed three times over the past half-century, when it granted married couples the freedom to use birth control in Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965, then in two other cases when the right to contraception was extended to unmarried people and then to minors.
Contraception is recognized internationally as preventive healthcare and an essential tool for women to plan the course of their lives. But as we have learned in the last month, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court has no problem overturning precedents. Alarmingly, Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurrence in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, urged the court to reexamine Griswold as well as the 2015 Obergefell decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry and the 2003 Lawrence decision that overturned laws prohibiting gay sex. Given that the court just overturned Roe vs. Wade, it’s impossible to disregard the possibility that these other essential freedoms are now at risk.
Every single member of Congress should vote for the Right to Contraception Act. But if the squabbling over the bill in the Rules Committee on Monday is any indication, that won’t be the case. And that’s an outrage.
After Rep. Kim Schrier, a Democrat from Washington state and a physician, laid out the basics of the bill, she was met with a cavalcade of criticism and an attempt to slow-walk it by Republicans who complained they hadn’t been asked to work on the bill with Democrats or given a chance to air their concerns. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a Republican, also from Washington state, insisted she supported access to contraception but said the bill was “vague and unclear,” didn’t protect women from forced sterilizations and was “a Trojan horse for more abortions,” among other things. Why, she asked, did the Democrats not come to her and say, “Let’s work on a bill together.”
Rep. Michael C. Burgess, a Republican from Texas and a doctor, echoed her. “Why haven’t we discussed this more?” he asked plaintively.
Maybe because the Democrats suspected the Republicans would try to slow the bill and drag it through half a dozen committee sessions where they could bicker over words until the bill was completely watered down.
Over and over, Schrier explained that the bill was simple and straightforward. “It is not about abortion. It’s about contraception,” she said, stating the obvious and adding that medication abortion pills are not prescribed as contraceptives. “It has nothing to do with sterilization. These are all red herrings. There is nothing confusing in the bill. It is a straightforward bill that says women, people, have a right to contraception, and doctors, healthcare providers, have a right to prescribe it. It doesn’t make anybody do anything,” Schrier said.
“I feel like this debate might be more appropriate to 1870 than it is to 2022,” said committee member Joe Morelle, a Democrat from New York. “I think most Americans would be aghast if they heard this conversation and thought there was a real chance this wouldn’t pass unanimously in the House of Representatives.”
Americans should be aghast. For more than half a century, they have enjoyed the right to buy and use birth control, and the freedom that contraceptives give women — and men — to decide if and when they want to become parents. But the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has demonstrated its willingness to upend precedent and roll back freedoms, and now nothing — not even birth control — can be taken for granted. Americans should take note of the Republicans who balked at supporting the bill and voted against it.
The Guardian on images from the James Webb telescope:
The first images from NASA’s James Webb telescope, released this week, offer wondrous glimpses into stars and planets billions of light years away: in what is truly a space opera, the telescope shows them being born and dying, and cosmic material being sucked into black holes.
The telescope is the most powerful space-based observatory ever built. It does not circle the Earth, like its predecessor, the Hubble space telescope, but is in orbit around the sun. Apart from offering stunningly beautiful images, it is a new milestone in the human understanding of the cosmos, a technological marvel that it is hoped will continue to beam down new insights for decades to come.
However, it is in the nature of deep space exploration that it is also a milestone in what is not yet known or understood. On the very simplest level, the human mind has been conditioned to assume that photographs are images of what exists, or at least did exist at the moment at which they were captured.
In this case, we are looking at scenarios – galaxies, nebulae – that may no longer have existed millions of years before a little planet called Earth began to form. One “deep field” image of the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster, nearly five billion light years away, brought galaxies into focus as they were more than 13 billion years ago. “We see structures that we don’t even know what they are,” said the Nasa astrophysicist Dr. Amber Straughn. In this, astronomy shares a common ground with that other frontier science, the study of the brain. For all the progress that brain scanning technologies have made over the last 70 years, the central mystery of consciousness remains as elusive as it has ever been. In his radical book Being You, the neuroscientist Professor Anil Seth proposes a bold new vision of what it may be, and how it may interact with – and even control – what we regard as reality.
The holy grail in astronomy is not consciousness but how the cosmos came into being, and in so doing created life itself. One of the images analyzed starlight as it passed through the atmosphere of a sweltering Jupiter-like planet a mere 1,150 light years away. Though the planet is too hot to contain liquid water, the images revealed the presence of water vapor, once more raising the possibility that life may indeed exist, or have existed, elsewhere. It’s a possibility that is tantalizingly thrown up by many space adventures, not least by a previous NASA pioneer, the Cassini spacecraft; its 13-year exploration of Saturn found oceans of liquid water, deep beneath the icy crusts of three of the planet’s moons.
However, while such discoveries reveal the existence of conditions capable of sustaining life, they have yet to report back any evidence of life itself. So the issue remains in the realm of philosophy, posing a binary in which each alternative is truly mind-boggling: either life exists elsewhere, raising whole new questions of what forms that life may take; or it doesn’t, leaving the astonishing mystery of how it ever could have happened once. The only reasonable response is awe.
China Daily on U.S. interventionism:
Washington’s interference in the domestic affairs of other countries, those in Latin America in particular, was no secret even before the revelations of the diplomatic cables in 2010 by the WikiLeaks website founded by Julian Assange.
But John Bolton, the former security advisor to the previous U.S. president Donald Trump, has given firsthand verification of Washington’s black-handed work.
In an interview with CNN last week, Bolton admitted that he helped plot coups abroad.
Bolton said he wouldn’t get into the specifics, but he referred to his book in which he had written about the U.S.-backed failed coup attempt against Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro in 2018.
Washington likes to push the notion that the U.S. stands on the side of democracy and freedom around the world, but Bolton’s admission pulls the cover from its undemocratic deeds in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East… and Europe.
One U.S.-backed uprising that did succeed was the one in Ukraine. Washington funneled billions of dollars to the far right opposition which ultimately led to the ousting of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the installing of the pro-U.S. regime led by Volodymyr Zelensky.
The consequences of that are visible for all to see, and highlight how hypocritical U.S. politicians are when they point fingers at other countries in the name of human rights and democracy.
What Bolton said shows the shamelessness of U.S. politicians who repeatedly badmouth other countries in the name of human rights and democracy.
It seems that they can turn a blind eye to Washington’s acts while turning a supposedly scrutinizing eye on other countries.
The U.S. has never abided by the norms of international law, as it sees itself as being above the law. All the rules, principles and codes of conduct are for other countries to abide by and have nothing to do with Washington, except in its overseeing of how the rules are followed by the rest of the world.
It is no exaggeration to list the U.S. as the most serious obstacle to the development of global human rights and democracy.
And with the rise of emerging economies and the louder voice of the developing countries calling for a greater say in global governance, Washington has no scruples about trying to hobble their rise by any means it deems fit.
It is high time Washington came to terms with the reality that the world is not what it was. As the largest economy and strongest military power, the U.S. needs to change its view on how the world should be governed. What it is doing is an anachronism. One that causes untold harm.
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