Where U.S. Battles Over Abortion Will Play Out In 2019

With Democrats now in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it might appear that the fight over abortion rights has become a standoff.

After all, abortion-rights supporters within the Democratic caucus will be in a position to block the kind of curbs that Republicans advanced over the past two years when they had control of Congress.

But those on both sides of the debate insist that won’t be the case.

Despite the Republicans’ loss of the House, anti-abortion forces gained one of their most sought-after victories in decades with the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Now, with a stronger possibility of a 5-4 majority in favor of more restrictions on abortion, anti-abortion groups are eager to get test cases to the high court.

And that is just the beginning.

“Our agenda is very focused on the executive branch, the coming election and the courts,” says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization Susan B. Anthony List. She says the new judges nominated to lower federal courts by President Trump and confirmed by the Senate, reflect “a legacy win.”
The Trump administration

While Congress is unlikely to agree on reproductive health legislation in the coming two years, the Trump administration is still pursuing an aggressive anti-abortion agenda — using its power of regulation.

A final rule is expected any day that would cut off a significant part of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding — not from Medicaid but from the Title X Family Planning Program. Planned Parenthood annually provides family planning and other health services that don’t involve abortion to about 40 percent of the program’s 4 million patients.

Battles Over

State capitols

Abortion opponents having pushed through more than 400 separate abortion restrictions on the state level since 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights think tank. In 2018 alone, according to Guttmacher, 15 states adopted 27 new limits on abortion and family planning.

Federal courts

The fate of all these policies will be decided eventually by the courts.

In fact, several state-level restrictions are already in the pipeline to the Supreme Court and could serve as a vehicle to curtail or overturn Roe v. Wade.

Among the state laws closest to triggering such a review is an Indiana law banning abortion for gender selection or genetic flaws, among other things. Also awaiting final legal say is an Alabama law banning the most common second-trimester abortion method — dilation and evacuation.

Democrats’ Health Care Ambitions Meet The Reality Of Divided Government

In her first speech as speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi made it clear that she knows that health care is key to why voters sent Democrats to Congress.

“In the past two years the American people have spoken,” Pelosi told members of Congress and their families who were gathered Thursday in the House chamber for the opening day of the session.

“Tens of thousands of public events were held, hundreds of thousands of people turned out, millions of calls were made, countless families, even sick little children — our little lobbyists, our little lobbyists — bravely came forward to tell their stories and they made a big difference,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat.

What is the Democrats’ mandate?

“To lower health care costs and prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions,” she said to applause.

In their campaigns last year, Democrats promised to protect the Affordable Care Act, and the access to coverage that it guarantees for many people. Many Democrats went further, running on the promise of “Medicare-for-all.”

But now that Democrats control the House, their ambitions are meeting up with reality.

With the Senate in Republican hands and President Trump having promised to repeal the ACA, Democrats’ ability to make sweeping health policy changes is limited.

Instead, they’ll likely rely on hearings and turn to the courts to try to influence health policy and shore up the ACA.

Pelosi started on Day 1.

Just hours after her speech, House Democrats voted to intervene in a lawsuit in an effort to protect the Affordable Care Act. The House will join several state attorneys general in appealing the ruling of a federal district judge in Texas that the law is unconstitutional.

Health Care

And Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., head of the Energy and Commerce Committee, announced a hearing on the impact of the ruling. He said he intends to hold lots of hearings to review the Trump administration’s actions around the ACA — actions he calls “sabotage.”

“At a time when the Trump administration is doing all the sabotage of the ACA, I think the focus really has to be on trying to prevent the sabotage and making sure the ACA is strengthened,” he said in an interview in his Capitol Hill office.

That “sabotage” includes Trump’s decision to stop reimbursing insurance companies for discounts they’re required by law to give to their lowest-income clients, Pallone said.

“That energy can now shift to examining what the administration is doing and putting forth other ideas and other proposals, some of which might generate bipartisan agreement,” she said.

Pallone is hopeful that Republicans may support some measure to shore up the ACA. In the last Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., proposed bills that would restore those payments to insurers, and he backed a plan to create a reinsurance program that could help reduce premiums.

Pallone acknowledged Democrats’ plans are much less ambitious than the “Medicare-for-all” proposals that many of his colleagues touted during their campaigns.

“I just think it’s unlikely that we could ever pass it,” he said. “So I don’t want to prioritize that.”

China Becomes First Country To Land On Far Side Of Moon, State Media Announce

That’s one giant leap for China.

China state television announced Thursday that China’s Chang’e 4 lunar explorer, which launched in early December, “became the first ever probe to soft-land on the far side of the moon.” The probe touched down at 10:26 Beijing time, the China Global Television Network said.

The landing “lifted the mysterious veil” from the far side and “opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration,” the broadcaster said, according to Reuters. (A soft landing is where a lander touches down as gently as possible; it is preferable to a hard landing.)

The six-wheeled rover landed in the southern section of the Von Kármán crater, near the moon’s south pole, Chinese media reported. China’s Xinhua News published a photo it says was taken by the probe “on the never-visible side of the moon.” While photos of the normally hidden far side of the moon have been previously taken from space, this would be the first image ever captured from the surface.

China’s lunar lander is loaded with a variety of cameras and sensors, including ground-penetrating radar to peer beneath the lunar surface, reported NPR’s Joe Palca while the probe was en route. “Although Chang’e 4’s mission is largely scientific, it is also a key bit of preparation for sending Chinese astronauts to the lunar surface,” wrote Palca. Only 12 humans have ever set foot on the moon, and all of them were Americans.

First Country To Land

The far side of the moon is “actually much more primitive” than the near side, with “really ancient crust that dates back to the very, very early solar system,” said Briony Horgan, a planetary scientist at Purdue University, previously told NPR.

“There are rocks all over the far side that are over 4 billion years old,” she said. “We’re really excited to see what those look like up close.”

The far side is sometimes erroneously referred to as the “dark side” of the moon, even though it does get sunlight. Traveling to the far side of the moon presents certain technical challenges — namely, it makes communication harder. Whereas Earth-bound scientists can communicate with the near side using direct radio communication, China first had to send a communications relay satellite to orbit above the far side of the moon, according to NASA. That satellite, the Queqiao, launched in May and entered orbit around the moon three weeks later.

“Queqiao means ‘Bridge of Magpies,’ referring to a Chinese folktale about magpies forming a bridge with their wings to allow Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, to reach her husband,” NASA wrote.