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Abortion rights advocates used language of personal freedom to win moderates


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Good morning! Congrats everybody, we made it to Friday. Tips, complaints, compliments? Rachel.roubein@washpost.com. 

Today’s edition: On the cusp of 80, President Biden faces renewed questions about his age. Repeat coronavirus infections can still be dangerous. But first … 

Messages about personal freedom resonate with voters – including when it comes to abortion rights

In purple and red states, abortion rights advocates have used a message that in other circumstances might be a Republican slogan: Keep the government out of Americans’ private medical decisions.

Over the summer, activists deployed that argument in Kansas to resoundingly defeat an antiabortion amendment. Michigan and Kentucky took a page out of that same playbook, incorporating it into their own successful campaigns to protect legal abortion during the midterm elections.

The notion of personal freedom is a salient message to more conservative voters. Republicans embraced anti-government messages amid the pandemic, opposing vaccine mandates and lockdowns. A few years earlier, they used language of government overreach in railing against Obamacare. This message is also primed to target those who may personally oppose abortion.

“There are a lot of people that are in that middle group and are like, ‘I don’t think abortion is good, I would never get an abortion myself, but I also don’t think it’s the government’s place to make that decision,’” said Rachel Sweet, who managed the abortion rights campaigns in both Kentucky and Kansas.

In conversations this week, that sentiment was echoed by several Michigan voters who either don’t have a party affiliation or who are personally against abortion. All supported the amendment to enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. But the message frustrates antiabortion advocates, who argue there’s another factor to consider.

“Abortion is not like wisdom teeth removal,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of prominent antiabortion group SBA Pro-Life America. “In every pregnancy there are two patients, mother and child, and at least one of them is not intended to leave the abortion appointment alive.”

The Michigan abortion rights campaign:

Dads, your daughters deserve the right to their own bodies and to health care based on medical expertise, not politicians’ opinions. Help us #RestoreRoe and keep medical decisions private in Michigan—vote #YesOn3 on Nov. 8th! pic.twitter.com/acKyDrS2ak

— Reproductive Freedom for All (@mireprofreedom) November 2, 2022

From canvassing to digital ads, here’s a snapshot of how abortion rights groups deployed the personal freedom message:

  • In Michigan: The Reproductive Freedom for All campaign released an ad where a man looks at the camera and says “let’s keep the government away from our doctors.” Its guidebook for canvassers contained this message as a talking point volunteers can use when knocking on doors. Other talking points included mentioning that the ballot measure is aimed at restoring Roe and would prevent a 1931 near-total ban on abortion from going into effect.
  • In Kentucky: The Protect Kentucky Access campaign’s website leaned into this idea. “The rights of people to control their own personal, private medical decisions are under attack across the country — it’s no different in Kentucky. … Don’t let politicians restrict your freedom,” the webpage about the campaign states.
  • In Kansas: Field organizers for Kansans for Constitutional Freedom said they used messaging strategies that would work regardless of party affiliation, The Post’s Annie Gowen reported in August. A digital ad contains this same message: “Kansans don’t want another government mandate,” a narrator says without mentioning abortion.

Kansans for Constitutional Freedom:

Kansans don’t want another government mandate that puts our personal rights at risk. On August 2nd, vote NO on the constitutional amendment. pic.twitter.com/0Z8pMoZIs2

— Kansans for Constitutional Freedom (@Kansans4Freedom) July 14, 2022

Advocates and those involved in the ballot measure efforts stress that messages are tailored to the individual state — and say extensive research is done on what might work in different areas.

For instance: Vermont voters passed a ballot measure this week to enshrine abortion rights into the state’s constitution, similar to the amendment in Michigan. The message largely focused on restoring Roe v. Wade’s decades-old protections and reproductive freedom.

That’s according to Kelly Hall, executive director of the Fairness Project, which funds and organizes more progressive state ballot measure efforts across the country. The group helped pay for and oversee message testing for Michigan and Vermont as the campaigns were kicking into high gear this summer.

The Vermont campaign was “communicating more broadly to the entire electorate” rather than tailoring messages to different audiences because of “both the size of the state and the media market and the nature of the electorate,” Hall said.

In states like Michigan, there were multiple core messages central to the campaign, such as trusting women and restoring Roe. But the idea of keeping the government out of people’s health care was likely effective at reaching independents and white men, she said. 

There’s another reason abortion rights groups focus on personal rights, says Robert Blendon, a professor emeritus at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. It steers the conversation away from gestational age limits on the procedure, a fiercely divisive topic.

  • “The wrong message to get into is when is an abortion going to be available,” said Blendon, a longtime Harvard pollster. “The issue that appeals is, a woman has the right to make the decision, it’s not the role of federal or state government to make my decision.”

Control of the Senate is down to three states. Officials in Arizona and Nevada are counting outstanding ballots, and don’t expect to wrap up before the weekend. Meanwhile, Georgia’s seat will be decided in a Dec. 6 runoff.

In the House, the Republicans remain the favorites. But not huge ones, writes The Post’s Aaron Blake.

Voter turnout this week was the second highest of any midterm election since 1970.

An estimated 112.5 million voters cast ballots this year, equating to about 47 percent of eligible voters nationally. In 2018, roughly 50 percent cast ballots, the highest share since 1970, The Post’s Amy Wang and Scott Clement report.

White House prescriptions

Biden, turning 80, faces questions about his age as he weighs reelection

Amid economic and global crises last year, President Biden’s aides began to grapple with an issue that’s more personal: the notion of the first octogenarian in the Oval Office.

Biden turns 80 on Nov. 20, just as he prepares to potentially run for reelection. White House officials have been searching urgently and quietly for the best ways to fend off attacks and neutralize the issue of his age in voters’ minds, The Post’s Toluse Olorunnipa and Yasmeen Abutaleb report.

The nascent strategy consists of showcasing Biden’s ability to be quick on his feet, upping his travel and pointing to his accomplishments as evidence he can do the job. Some allies are pushing the White House to do more, such as showing clips of Biden running meetings behind the scenes, where they say his sharpness is more apparent. 

Biden is aware of, and sometimes irritated by, the issue, several aides told Toluse and Yasmeen. He has said it’s fair game for people to ask about his age, but he seeks to downplay any concerns by pointing to legislative wins and asking voters to “watch me.” 

Broad statistics can’t shed light on particular individuals. Yet health experts have said age generally makes people more vulnerable to diseases and it often takes longer for a person to recover from hospitalization.

Repeat coronavirus infections can still be dangerous, study suggests

An article published yesterday in the journal Nature Medicine found that patients with coronavirus reinfections tended to have more complications in various organ systems both during their initial illness and longer term, and they were more likely to be diagnosed with long covid than people who did not get another infection, our colleague Ariana Eunjung Cha reports. The findings applied regardless of people’s vaccination status or whether they were boosted.

The study included a review of the medical records of 5.8 million patients. A few notable findings:

  • Compared with people who experienced only one infection, those who were reinfected had a twofold increased risk of death.
  • They had a threefold increased risk of hospitalization, twofold increased risk of long covid, threefold increase in risk of heart problems and blood clotting disorders, and twofold increased risk of fatigue.

But: Monica Gandhi, an infectious-diseases specialist at the University of California at San Francisco, said it is important to keep in mind that research using electronic medical records “does not reliably predict a causal relationship.”

“Gandhi pointed to other studies, including one that took a look at 26 studies of reinfections that show they become less severe over time,” Ariana writes. “Another study from Qatar examined patients with different vaccination histories in more comprehensive ways and found that reinfections tend not to progress to severe, critical or fatal outcomes.”

Justice Sotomayor declines to grant emergency relief in NYC lawsuit over vaccine mandate

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor declined an emergency request from a group of public sector workers asking for relief from a coronavirus vaccine mandate in New York City, the Hill reports.

The group, called New Yorkers for Religious Liberty, includes firefighters, teachers, police officers and sanitation officers. It argued that religious exemptions provided in the city’s vaccine mandate for workers are granted on an arbitrary basis and have forced them to choose between their jobs or taking the vaccine. They’re being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom.

Sotomayor, who oversees appeals from New York and certain other states, didn’t explain her reasoning nor did she refer the case to the full court. The Supreme Court has recently stayed away from vaccine mandate cases, but it did block the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers while greenlighting a vaccine mandate for health providers at facilities that get federal funds.

Home dialysis machines are available, but there are barriers to widespread use

New York Times reporter Dawn MacKeen took a deep dive into the Tablo Hemodialysis System, a home dialysis product made by Outset Medical, which is the size of a college-dorm refrigerator. Unlike the massive machines first used in homes in the 1960s, this version features a touch-screen and 3D animation. The FDA cleared Tablo for home use in March 2020.

Because kidney dialysis is so costly — and hundreds of thousands of Americans need it on a weekly basis — the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is hoping to increase home dialysis. About 14 percent of dialysis patients treat at home and that number is growing, Dawn reports.

“The research on Tablo is promising, doctors say, but limited because of its small sample size and relatively short-term follow up,” she writes, adding that a trial testing Tablo’s home safety and efficacy “found that 28 patients with end-stage kidney failure who completed the study had adequate removal of toxins on Tablo, and the device was deemed to be safe both at home and in clinic.”

Where does Dr. Oz — and his reputation — go from here? (By Karen Heller l The Washington Post)

Biogen’s new CEO, clear-eyed about company’s challenges, prepares to take the reins (By Matthew Herper, Adam Feuerstein and Jason Mast l Stat)

‘Impending Intergenerational Crisis’: Americans With Disabilities Lack Long-Term Care Plans (By Sam Whitehead l Kaiser Health News)

Thanks for reading! See y’all Monday.


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