Opill, first over-the-counter birth control pill, will go on sale later this month

Kendall Warner/The Virginian-Pilot/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Opill, the first over-the-counter birth control pill that can be purchased without a prescription, will be available later this month online and in pharmacies for $19.99 a month, $49.99 for a three-month supply or $89.99 for a six-month supply, its parent company, Perrigo, said Monday.

Opill has been heralded as a potential game-changer for access to birth control because it eliminates the step of finding a doctor to write a prescription, which can be costly or burdensome depending on where women live and what health insurance coverage they have.

The drug has already been on the market for 50 years as prescription birth control and was determined safe and effective for over-the-counter use by the Food and Drug Administration in July.

It’s is expected to be available at major retailers like CVS and Walgreens nationwide in the coming weeks, as well as available for order directly through Opill’s website. Preorder from select retailers begins this week.

The cost of Opill, however, will play a major role in its accessibility.

Most insurance plans have to cover prescription birth control under the Affordable Care Act, but the laws differ state by state for birth control without a prescription — which is uncharted territory.

Those without insurance or who don’t want to use their insurance for privacy reasons will have to pay the $15-20 cost out of pocket per month, depending on which monthly supply plan they purchase.

Around 39% of women would be willing to pay $1-10 for birth control, but that number drops slightly to 34% for those who would be willing to pay $11-20 per month, according to a November 2022 survey from KFF.

Some 1 in 10 women — 11% — said they were unwilling or unable to pay anything for OTC birth control pills.

Opill said it will have a cost-assistance program available in the coming weeks to help “qualified low-income, uninsured individuals obtain Opill at low or no cost.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Threats to health care sector targets likely to stay ‘elevated’ amid cultural wars: DHS

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(WASHINGTON) — The brew of hot-button socio-medical issues litigated both in the public square and in the courts will “amplify the health care sector’s visibility as a potential target for attack” by domestic extremists, according to a new briefing memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 26.

The confidential analysis, obtained by ABC News, describes a diverse array of dangers these mounting threats could pose: from harm to patients through compromised care, to causing a chilling effect on clinicians through harassment and intimidation, to ideologically motivated cyber attacks targeting health care providers and networks.

“Violent extremist threats against the health care and public health sector have diversified since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, and will likely remain elevated in the post-pandemic era due to the expansion of medical-related ideological grievances,” the DHS bulletin said.

A recent “escalation in threats of violence targeting health care facilities and personnel” has included “hoax bomb threats against hospitals, attempts to incite violence through doxing [public release of personal information like addresses and phone numbers] and calls to execute particular physicians, public officials, or pharmaceutical executives,” the bulletin said.

The “surge” in threats aligns with an increase in public dialogue surrounding medical issues that have been amplified by legislation and debate, according to the bulletin.

Since the pandemic upended life, the threat spectrum has “expanded” to “other ideological grievances, as highlighted by an increase in abortion or gender-affirming care-related threats” that are “explicitly based on narratives and conspiracy theories popular with violent extremists” keying in on those divisive issues, the bulletin said.

“Our society is very angry and very polarized — an increasing number of people in the US have come to believe that those who disagree are the enemy, and, that violence is an acceptable way to express their disagreement,” said John Cohen, the former intelligence chief at DHS and now an ABC News contributor.

For those who would seek to exploit societal fractures in America, an us-versus-them mentality is applied to the most contentious wedge issues and provides a handy crowbar, experts say.

“Violent extremists, terror groups, foreign intelligence services have purposely sought to exploit public policy issues being debated in the U.S. that are the most polarizing, that they believe will inspire a volatile reaction – and hopefully violent acts,” Cohen added.

Threats of violence have not remained hypothetical as real attacks have been directed at perceived epicenters of extremists’ grievances.

Last week, a California man pleaded guilty to firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic with a Molotov cocktail in March 2022. It followed guilty pleas from others involved in the firebombing, which forced the clinic to temporarily close and reschedule roughly 30 patient appointments.

The defendant sought to “scare pregnant women away from obtaining abortions; deter doctors, staff, and employees at the clinic from providing abortions; and intimidate the clinic’s patients,” according to the Department of Justice. Following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June 2022, he and co-conspirators “planned to use a second Molotov cocktail to attack another Planned Parenthood clinic.” A year later, they were arrested two days before an LGBTQ “Pride Night” at Dodger Stadium, which they had planned to attack, the DOJ said.

It’s one among a growing list of criminal plots in recent years: from swatting calls and death threats on health officials and hospitals to assaults on clinic escorts, to vandalism and facility damage.

“If abortions aren’t safe th[e]n neither are you” has been graffitied on pregnancy resource centers – and abortion alternative advocacy group headquarters – across multiple states, surrounding the overturn of Roe. In May 2022, an “incendiary device” was used to start a fire at a “pro-life organization’s building” in Oregon.

In September 2023, a Massachusetts woman pleaded guilty to calling in a false bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital – which, among the wide range of health care services it provides, is home to a health care program focused on gender-diverse and transgender adolescents.

“There is a bomb on the way to the hospital, you better evacuate everybody you sickos,” the woman had threatened on the call, according to DOJ – prompting a bomb squad to be dispatched and forcing the hospital and the surrounding area to go into lockdown.

“It was obviously scary. This is not the kind of thing you want to have in a health system,” said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC News contributor – adding that he was on the hospital campus that day.

“Part of the issue is there’s a ton of misinformation,” Brownstein said. “When someone takes it beyond just commentary – and makes an attempt to turn an internet-based conversation into a real-world threat.”

That health care has become a target poses a uniquely troubling concern, experts say: it directly attacks citizens’ well-being – and creates a ripple effect of bodily harm.

These threats have “compromised patient care and medical services across a broader cross-section of health care systems and other medical providers” since the pandemic era, the DHS bulletin said. Those “recurring threats” could “likely reduce the ability of clinicians and facilities to provide care,” the bulletin said.

The worst may be yet to come, the bulletin suggests: In a year of the first presidential election since the pandemic and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, leading candidates are running on some of the most divisive issues – from reproductive rights to gender and culture wars, to immigration at the Southern border, to the multiple wars abroad – which authorities have said could prove to be flashpoints.

“Government action in the health care sector over the coming year, including in response to public health crises, and public discourse involving controversial medical issues may escalate threats of violence to acts of violence,” the DHS bulletin said, adding court decisions on “mail order access to abortion medication and state legislation prohibiting the provision of gender-affirming treatments to minors are especially likely to heighten the potential for violence against the sector.”

And for adversaries seeking to undermine U.S. societal stability – chipping away at a crucial bedrock like health care presents an appealing means.

“It’s the goal of U.S. adversaries to not only destabilize our society but to have people lose confidence in government,” Cohen said. “In the election process, in critical infrastructure – our power grid, financial institutions, and our health care systems – those are the fundamental things that people rely on each and every day to live their lives.”

In the wake of a pandemic that further fueled division, “the environment here in the U.S. has become more fertile for our adversaries,” Cohen said. “We anticipate this high level of threat-related activity is only going to increase as we get closer to the election.”

With the exponential power and pervasiveness of artificial intelligence and the internet – and as society relies more on both – the threat gets even more complex, even as online social media provides a platform for conspiracy theories and extremist thought.

“Ideologically-motivated cyber actors increasingly target health care entities during periods when socio-politically divisive topics are prevalent in public discourse,” the bulletin said.

Even “absent attacks, recurring threats of violence may still have a chilling effect” on providers, “resulting in more acute or widespread barriers to patient care,” the bulletin said.

“If the people engaging in these activities are successful, it will interrupt the ability of people to receive appropriate health care or protect themselves and their community from public health hazards. And when that occurs, people die,” Cohen said.

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CDC releases new guidance ending 5-day isolation period for recovering COVID-19 patients

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(NEW YORK) — People who are recovering from COVID-19 no longer need to remain isolated for five days after symptoms end, according to new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those sick with COVID-19 should stay at home and away from others until at least 24 hours after symptoms get better and they don’t have a fever, without medication, according to updated guidance from the CDC.

“Today’s announcement reflects the progress we have made in protecting against severe illness from COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a statement. “However, we still must use the commonsense solutions we know work to protect ourselves and others from serious illness from respiratory viruses — this includes vaccination, treatment, and staying home when we get sick.”

The CDC said during those five days after you are feeling better and without a fever you should still wear a well-fitting mask, keep distance from others, get tested and use enhanced hygiene practices.

It was also noted that the guidelines were intended for community settings, not health care setting, like hospitals or nursing homes, where the same five-day isolation guidance remains.

“We wanted to provide folks an easy and understandable way to protect themselves,” Cohen told ABC News in regard to the federal agency dropping the 5-day COVID isolation recommendations.

“Folks who are more vulnerable to these viruses were top of mind as we put this guidance together. We all know someone who is vulnerable, it’s in my own family. So, it was very top of mind for me,” Cohen said.

“Hand hygiene, ventilation masking, using tests…those are the things we want to use as additional strategies in those five days after your fever is gone, and after your symptoms are improving,” Cohen added.

Cohen also said the CDC found a way to have both guidance that is simple and also protect those that are vulnerable.

“We know if things are simple, and that people remember it and use it, that it actually means that we will have less virus spread overall,” Cohen said.

The newer guidelines are in line with what the CDC has recommended for the flu “for decades,” the agency said.

“The bottom line is that when people follow these actionable recommendations to avoid getting sick, and to protect themselves and others if they do get sick, it will help limit the spread of respiratory viruses, and that will mean fewer people who experience severe illness,” Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a statement. “That includes taking enhanced precautions that can help protect people who are at higher risk for getting seriously ill.”

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations declined slightly in the most recent week, according to numbers released Friday. COVID-19 hospitalizations remain lower than at the same time last year, while adults over 65 continue to have the highest rates of hospitalization.

Still, there were 17,310 weekly hospitalizations for COVID-19 and 2.1% of deaths in hospitals could be attributed to COVID-19, according to the CDC.

ABC News’ Mark Osborne contributed to this report.

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Ozempic, Mounjaro users talk about changes to family life after weight loss

Heather Gay speaks with “Impact x Nightline’s” Deborah Roberts. — ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City star Heather Gay made headlines recently after she lost more than 20 pounds using semaglutide, the active ingredient found in popular drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro.

Gay says she’s noticed a change outside of the scale when it comes to her self-confidence and how others perceive her.

“I have transitioned from accepting myself, to feeling powerless against food and weight, and to accepting myself as someone that needs medical intervention in order to maintain a weight that feels healthy and positive for me,” she told Impact x Nightline.

Gay isn’t the only user of these new weight loss drugs who has experienced those personal changes, with some users claiming that the drug and the resulting weight loss have changed their relationships and lives. Others say that weight loss has led to newfound self-confidence, inspiring them to step outside of their comfort zones in their personal lives — and even causing friction with loved ones.

For some, the societal pressure to be thin can also come with measurable health risks, including mental health problems such as eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and relationship problems, according to research.

An Impact x Nightline episode now streaming on Hulu examines the ever-growing popularity of weight loss drugs and their effect on user’s mental health and personal relationships.

Semaglutide mimics the GLP-1 hormone that prompts insulin production in the body, which in turn makes you feel full, according to medical experts.

Ozempic and Mounjaro were approved by the FDA in 2017 and 2022, respectively, as treatments for Type 2 diabetes. In some cases, people are using the drugs off-label to lose weight.

In the fall, Zepbound, was approved by the agency for weight loss specifically, as opposed to for type 2 diabetes.

There has been a more than 930% increase in patients getting prescription semaglutide in the past four years, according to data from Epic Research.

Some experts say that the rising popularity of drugs like these when used for weight loss is undoing years of progress in the body positivity and fat acceptance movements.

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford is an obesity medicine physician-scientist and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. She has been treating patients for obesity using these drugs for years.

“A lot of people have thought about obesity as just a matter of lifestyle, a matter of calories in and calories out, and this has really failed us,” she told Impact. “We all respond to different things in different ways. We store Adipose or fat in different ways. Sometimes we need to go beyond just those lifestyle modifications.”

Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington, told Impact that sometimes when people lose weight it isn’t just how others treat you that changes.

“I think it is important to recognize that looks and identity can be interwoven. And if you change your look so much that you feel like a different person, then your identity is changing,” Schwartz, who lost 30 pounds herself after using Ozempic, said. “And then the question is, how is this affecting you? How are you feeling? What are the things you need to express?”

Stephanie Smith, a nurse practitioner from Utah, told Impact that she started seeing a change in herself and her marriage after she started to take Mounjaro for weight loss.

“I have a lot more self-confidence and I feel like that is more attractive in general,” she said.

After seeing his wife’s weight loss success, Ethan Smith told Impact that he wanted to follow in her footsteps and improve his health.

“I wanted to be a good example for my kids. I want to be attractive for my wife. I know that my weight is affecting my health, with sleep apnea, and not being able to be very physically active,” he said.

The couple says their intimacy has improved since losing weight.

However, not everyone who has lost weight has had the same outcome.

Jason Wnuk told Impact that he struggled with weight issues since he was a child. After Trying traditional methods like dieting and exercise in the past, and even gastric sleeve surgery, he struggled to keep the weight off. He said his weight issues caused his wife to worry about his health, causing tension and ultimately affecting their marriage.

Last February, Wnuk started taking Mounjaro and he has since lost 80 pounds. Four months after he began his drug regimen, and after years of tension in his marriage, Wnuk filed for divorce.

“Forty-five-year-old Jason is a lot different than the Jason that met his wife at 20. So, when you realize you’re just at different points and that’s when you decide it’s just…it’s time,” he said.

Wnuk’s estranged wife said in a statement to Impact, “Yes, his weight was a point of contention… I also tried to encourage him for fear he would not be around for me or our daughters.”

Wnuk said that he is continuing on his personal growth journey and starting a new chapter in his life.

“I’m just amazed at not only the outer appearance, but how I also feel. Just simple things that I couldn’t do a few years ago like, you know, taking the dog for an extended walk,” he said.

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‘Bachelor’ star Joey Graziadei says the reason behind yellow eyes is due to Gilbert syndrome

In this Jan 19, 2024, file photo, Joey Graziadei hosts an event in New York. — Stephanie Augello/ABC via Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) — Bachelor star Joey Graziadei is opening up about the reason behind his yellow-tinted eyes.

In a video he shared on Instagram, Graziadei addressed some of the comments he’s received recently about them, saying it was due to a liver condition called Gilbert Syndrome.

“Hi everyone, I hope you are having a beautiful day,” he began in the video. “I want to jump on here really quick and talk about something that I’m seeing a lot of comments about, which is Joey’s yellow eyes.”

“So to give some context on that I have to go all the way back to when I was in high school,” he continued. “I was sick for about a week and a half, and my mom thought it’d be a good idea to go to the doctor. When I went to the doctor, I had bloodwork done, and the bloodwork showed that my bilirubin count was very high. That means that there could be something wrong with my liver.”

“So we went and I got a liver ultrasound, I went to the doctors, they found out there was nothing that was necessarily wrong like hepatitis, but they diagnosed me with something called Gilbert syndrome,” Graziadei said.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Gilbert syndrome is an “autosomal recessive disorder of bilirubin metabolism within the liver.” This means that the liver does not process bilirubin properly, and this can cause your skin to turn yellow.

It’s a condition that can be discovered by accident, for instance when one gets a blood test done. Those who have Gilbert syndrome do not require specific treatment, according to NIH.

Graziadei said that at the end of the day, he’s healthy, but the condition does affect the whites in his eyes.

“It makes it have those jaundice levels, which is why they look a little bit more yellow,” he said.

He ended the video by saying that he wants to keep an eye on his health this year.

“It’s something I want to pay attention to more,” Graziadei said. “I want to get my health right and make sure that I’m all good. But I at least wanted to give some background that you know that to my knowledge, I am healthy.”

“It’s just something that I have to pay attention to drinking more fluids. It is worse when I have stress or lack of sleep, which happens on a TV show,” he continued. “And I do appreciate everyone looking out for me and wondering if I’m okay, but to my knowledge, I’m as okay as that can be and I will continue to look at it.”

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What are Alabama lawmakers proposing to protect IVF?

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(MONTGOMERY, AL.) — Alabama state lawmakers introduced three new bills that aim to protect IVF treatments amid intense backlash over a state Supreme Court decision that caused several providers to halt IVF treatment last week. The bills would allow providers who have halted care to resume treatments as soon as the bills become law.

The high court issued a ruling that embryos are children earlier this month, raising questions about potential civil and criminal liability over the mishandling of embryos outside the womb, even if unintentional. The decision has prompted outrage from physicians and patients whose care was halted or delayed until providers receive clarity.

Since the decision was issued, three of the state’s seven IVF providers have stopped providing the treatment, including University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, the biggest hospital system in the state. The hospital also announced that it would suspend the transfer of embryos after it was unable to identify shipping companies that are “able and willing” to transport embryos.

The new bills come as Resolve, a national fertility association, announced that “hundreds” of Alabamians are expected to head to the State House on Wednesday, calling action that would protect IVF treatment, according to a statement from the group.

Proposed bills

One of the bills would provide “civil and criminal immunity” to anyone providing goods and services related to in vitro fertilization.

“No action, suit, or criminal prosecution shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity providing goods or services related to in vitro fertilization except for an act or omission that is both intentional and not arising from or related to IVF services,” the bill says.

The legislation has received support from Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

“As I said last week, in Alabama, we work to foster a culture of life, and that certainly includes IVF. The Alabama Legislature is working diligently to address this so we can ensure we are protecting IVF and life itself. I look forward to following the legislative process and anticipate I will have a bill at my desk to sign as quickly as the Legislature can get it to me, while also ensuring they have enough time to get it done right,” Ivey said in a statement to ABC News Tuesday.

Last week, state Democrats introduced another bill that says, “Any fertilized human egg or human embryo that exists outside of a human uterus is not considered an unborn child or human being,” according to the bill.

“Any fertilized human egg or human embryo that exists in any form outside of the uterus of a human body shall not, under any circumstances, be considered an unborn child, a minor child, a natural person, or any other term that connotes a human being,” the bill states.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling came as part of a civil lawsuit filed by couples whose embryos were destroyed when someone walked into an IVF clinic and dropped them. The couples filed a wrongful death suit — under a state statute called the Wrongful Death of a Minor — against the clinic, but a lower court threw out the case.

The state Supreme Court then reversed that decision earlier this month.

Could legislation allow IVF treatment to resume?

The Democrat’s proposed bill, HB225, aims to turn back the clock to before the Alabama Supreme Court issued its decision, Joanne Rosen, an attorney and professor at Johns Hopkins University who focuses on reproductive health laws, told ABC News.

With clinics signaling their eagerness to resume care for their patients, Rosen says it is likely providers could resume IVF treatments if either of the proposed bills are passed into law. However, Rosen foresees a potential complication in enacting legislation to protect IVF due to how the state Supreme Court interpreted and expanded the reach of Alabama’s Wrongful Death of a Minor statute.

The court’s decision had drawn on a 2018 state constitution amendment called the Sanctity of Unborn Life Amendment. The constitutional amendment added “a provision that says it’s the state policy to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children,” according to Rosen.

“Nothing in that constitutional amendment specifically says that the sanctity of life and the rights of unborn children extends to in vitro embryos, but the Alabama Supreme Court interpreted that constitutional amendment as protecting the sanctity of unborn life, whether it is in utero or whether it is in vitro,” Rosen said.

“I think that it is a very far-fetched argument because the Constitution itself does not define what was meant by the ‘sanctity of unborn life’ for the rights of unborn children, and that would be really an unprecedented interpretation of that sanctity of life amendment,” Rosen said.

In relying on the state constitution in its decision, the court could potentially throw out new laws that are not in line with that interpretation, making it difficult for lawmakers to pass a new bill that would protect IVF. Any new legislation to protect IVF could likely end up before the courts again, since new laws don’t put an end to potential lawsuits, Rosen said.

“If that interpretation of the Alabama constitution is correct, then it would supersede any Alabama statute that attempts to say we are not providing this protection to in vitro embryos,” Rosen said.

“If it were to be that meaning, then state-level legislation wouldn’t be able to override it, because the Constitution is the supreme law that is used — laws have to comply with the Constitution,” Rosen said.

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7th measles case confirmed in outbreak linked to Florida elementary school

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(WESTON, Fla.) — The seventh case of measles linked to an outbreak at a Florida elementary school was confirmed by Health officials Tuesday.

Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) said it was informed by the Florida Department of Health – Broward of the additional case at Mantatee Bay Elementary in Weston, which is 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale.

The infected patient has not physically been on campus since Feb. 15, and the district and school are continuing to work with the health department regarding the confirmed cases, according to a statement from the school district.

Dr. Peter Licata, superintendent for BCPS, said in an update on Tuesday that no other schools in the district have been impacted by measles cases.

“We are continuing to do daily cleaning on school busses and the facility above and beyond our normal cleaning,” he said. “We do have additional vaccination opportunities, which are available online, and we want to thank the administration and the teachers and all the staff at Manatee Bay for their continued dedication to the school whereas we had, as of this morning, only 82 students absent. Form a week ago, we were up to 220, I believe, 219.”

The initial case was confirmed earlier this month in a third-grade student with no travel history. However, it is unclear which grades the other infected students are in as well as other identifying information about them, including age, sex and race/ethnicity.

BCPS did not immediately reply to ABC News’ request for comment.

Currently, Florida has a total of 10 confirmed measles cases with nine confirmed in Broward County and one confirmed in Polk County, according to the Florida Department of Health.

This year, there have been at least 35 measles cases reported in 15 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, meaning the disease “is no longer constantly present in this country.” The dip in routine childhood vaccinations in recent years — as well as travelers bringing measles into the country — has resulted in outbreaks.

The first measles vaccine, a single-dose vaccine, was introduced in the U.S. in 1963. In the decade prior, there were three to four million cases annually, which led to 48,000 hospitalizations and 400 to 500 deaths.

The current two-dose measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine recommended by the CDC is 93% effective after one dose and 97% effective after two doses.

ABC News’ Youri Benadjaoud contributed to this report.

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West Virginia lawmakers pass bill allowing religious exemptions for school vaccine requirements

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(NEW YORK) — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Monday that will eliminate school vaccine requirements for those who claim religious exemptions, but only for some schools.

Last week, the House began considering the bill, known as HB 5105, which proposed eliminating vaccine requirements for public virtual schools that do not take part in extracurricular activities or sports in public school settings. The bill was then expanded to propose “eliminating the vaccine requirements for students of public virtual schools, private schools, or parochial schools unless the student participates in sanctioned athletic events, and creating a religious exemption from vaccine requirements,” and then further amended to specifically allow vaccine exemptions “any child whose parents or guardians present a letter stating that a child cannot be vaccinated for religious reasons.”

It’s unclear if the religious exemption will apply to students attending in-person public schools.

The bill will now head to the Senate for debate and, if it passes in that chamber, to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice for signing into law.

Prior to this bill, West Virginia had no non-medical vaccine exemptions from school vaccine requirements, either for religious or philosophical beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Currently, children in West Virginia are required to receive at least one dose of vaccine for chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough before entering school for the first time in grades K-12. The COVID-19 vaccine is not required to attend school in West Virginia.

If child’s parents or guardian cannot afford or cannot access vaccines, county health departments will provide vaccines for the child, according to West Virginia law.

To receive a medical exemption from vaccination, a physician must have treated or examined the child, and an exemption request from the physician must be submitted to the state Immunization Officer of the Bureau for Public Health.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fewer than 0.1% of kindergarten-age students in West Virginia were exempted from vaccines, including measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP); poliovirus (polio); and varicella (chickenpox) for the 2022-23 school year, the lowest exemption rate in the nation.

West Virginia’s strict vaccination laws have also helped improve attendance rates for students and staff, according to the state’s Department of Education.

Delegate Chris Pritt, a sponsor of the bill and a Republican representing Kanawha County, which includes the state capital of Charleston, said the bill allows medical freedom for West Virginians.

“I spoke in favor of a bill to allow more parents to choose whether to vaccinate. [West Virginia] is at the bottom with medical freedom,” he wrote in a post on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter. “Mountaineers will never be free until families are able to make decisions on whether to vaccinate!”

Over the weekend, health officer Dr. Steven Eshenaur of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department wrote an opinion in which he criticized the bill.

“Our forefathers and their families experienced the ravages of measles, mumps, tetanus, polio, and meningitis,” he wrote. “Modern medicine has worked diligently to protect our communities through the development and testing of vaccines that have been proven to be safe and effective.”

“Now, legislators want to turn the clock back nearly 100 years and remove some of the safeguards in our vaccination policies,” Eshenaur continued. “If you are anti-vaccination, you are pro-disease. It’s as simple as that.”

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What’s next for IVF patients in Alabama?

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(MONTGOMERY, Al.) — More than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court upended in vitro fertilization access in the state with its ruling that frozen embryos are considered children, increasing public outcry has spurred hope for legislative movement in the Statehouse.

Last week, the court ruled that “unborn children are ‘children,'” which led several facilities in the state to halt IVF treatments amid concerns that their practices could run into legal troubles.

There are multiple proposals in the Alabama House and Senate that could restore IVF access in the state, authored by both Democrats and Republicans. But the clearest path is for a Republican-led bill that is set to be introduced by State Sen. Tim Melson in the Senate this week. The bill is expected to describe an embryo as a “potential” life, but clarify that it is not a human life under law until it’s transferred to a uterus and determined to be a viable pregnancy.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey threw her support behind that measure on Friday.

To turn up the pressure on lawmakers, advocates have planned a large gathering at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Organizers say there could be hundreds of people — including doctors and IVF patients — who will travel to Montgomery to protest the state Supreme Court decision and make their voices heard in the state legislature.

The “day of action” is planned to coincide with a hearing about Melson’s bill before the Senate Health Committee. It’s expected to be a public hearing, and people will testify with personal stories about their IVF journeys. Advocates say they have more than 50 people willing to testify so far.

Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Daniels told ABC News that he hopes legislation will pass both chambers within two weeks — if not sooner — to restore IVF treatments in the state.

Doctors at the three Alabama clinics that have paused IVF tell ABC News it’s unlikely they will restart treatments until legislation is passed to protect IVF, or until the Alabama Supreme Court reconsiders its opinion.

In the ruling issued over a week ago, the court set a new precedent by determining that embryos are children, opening the door to civil and potentially criminal lawsuits for people who handle them. Within a few days, roughly half of the state’s IVF clinics paused treatment for fear that they could face wrongful death lawsuits — or potentially criminal charges — for discarding unused embryos, a routine part of IVF.

At the federal level, Biden administration officials have yet to announce significant policy options to protect IVF access in Alabama, insisting that their options to use executive action to protect abortion rights, including in ways that would keep IVF intact, are limited.

While there have been preliminary conversations over the past week about potential guidance, nothing has been finalized or decided, an administration official told ABC News.

White House Gender Policy Council Director Jen Klein, in an interview Sunday on MSNBC, suggested examples of the kinds of actions the administration could be exploring.

“Absolutely, there are things that the administration can and has done already. The president has issued three executive orders and a presidential memorandum to protect access to abortion and contraception, to protect patients’ privacy, protect the right to travel, and … the right to medication abortion, which as you know is more than 50% of abortions in this country,” she said.

Klein also said that the White House would likely hold meetings with impacted doctors and patients from Alabama “soon” in Washington, similar to how they held meetings with abortion-rights advocates from Mississippi after the Dobbs ruling.

Fundamentally, however, the White House insists — as they have for over a year — that Congress would need to pass a bill to put a nationwide right to reproductive care back on the books.

Without more Democratic support, though, that’s not likely.

Two years ago, 195 Republicans voted against a bill to protect access to birth control and right now, 125 Republicans — including Speaker Mike Johnson — are signed on to a bill called the Life at Conception Act, which would define life as the moment of fertilization. The bill would imperil IVF access in a similar way to the Alabama court ruling.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who has introduced a bill to protect IVF nationwide, told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s “This Week” that “it’s been crickets” from her Republican colleagues since the Alabama ruling.

For now, that’s left the White House to wield the Alabama ruling for political currency, rather than stepping in with any significant policy.

In a memo sent on Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called out Republicans for publicly supporting IVF access while also backing legislation that would restrict it.

“Republican officials think they can obfuscate their way out of their support for these extreme policies,” Jean-Pierre said.

“No attempt to ‘rebrand’ can change the fact that their true colors are on the record. They have spent decades trying to eliminate the constitutional right to choose, and undermine reproductive freedom everywhere. Their agenda is clear, they’re just worried it’s not popular,” she said.

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Physicians share concerns over IVF treatments pausing after Alabama court ruling

ABC News

(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — Dr. Beth Malizia, an Alabama physician, went through 12 years of training to provide patients with fertility care. But the doctor and co-owner of Alabama Fertility says her hands are tied after the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision that frozen embryos are considered children.

The clinic is one of three facilities in the state that have halted in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments amid concerns that their practices could run into legal troubles.

“Patients come first. That’s what we’re taught all the way through from the time we decide to go into medicine, and this is a decision that sort of takes that away from us,” Malizia said.

“The counsel, our lab director and all the physicians at Alabama Fertility have struggled with this for many hours and some made some really, really hard phone calls over the last couple of days,” said Malizia.

The clinic has paused all frozen embryo transfers, but will continue new patient visits, other standard fertility care, surgeries and continue care for patients currently on medications who are in the middle of a cycle, Malizia said.

Making calls to patients whose treatment the clinic paused has been “absolutely horrible” and “heart-wrenching,” she said.

In the ruling, the court said it would open door to civil and potentially criminal lawsuits over the mishandling of embryos. Physicians like Malizia say they are now fearful they could face wrongful death lawsuits — or potentially criminal charges — for discarding unused embryos, a routine part of IVF, or unintentionally mishandling embryos.

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by couples whose embryos were destroyed after a patient wandered into a fertility clinic and dropped them. The couples tried to file a wrongful death suit, but a lower court had thrown out the case. The state Supreme Court then reversed that decision and set a new precedent that embryos are children.

In a concurring opinion, Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker – who has a long record of issuing anti-abortion opinions – cited Scripture, writing that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Among the three fertility providers that suspended IVF treatment is the state’s largest healthcare system, UAB Hospital. Four remaining providers have not suspended IVF treatment.

“We are in a position where we just don’t know what the legal ramifications are of an embryo that gets thawed. Embryos don’t always survive [transfer],” Malizia said.

Signs of more clarity began to surface on Friday, after a week of pushback on the ruling from families trying to conceive through IVF and an outpouring of criticism, particularly from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the state’s top law enforcement official, said he has no intention of “using the recent Alabama Supreme Court decision as a basis for prosecuting IVF families or providers,” the office’s Chief Counsel Katherin Robertson said in a statement Friday.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also said Friday that she’s “working on a solution” with Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to pass legislation that would guard IVF treatments in the state.

“Following the ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court, I said that in our state, we work to foster a culture of life. This certainly includes some couples hoping and praying to be parents who utilize IVF,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement to ABC News.

But the legal ruling has shown the fragility of IVF treatment in a post-Roe vs. Wade America, where the debate over when life begins has led many abortion rights advocates to speculate that IVF could become collateral damage.

Some physicians could be deterred from working in fertility in Alabama, said Sean Tipton, chief advocacy and policy officer at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Tipon said physicians in the state are scared. “They are also angry, which is understandable, and they are also tremendously sad for their patients, in part because they don’t know what to tell their patients,” said Tipton.

“Just imagine being a physician who you’ve built your career on being able to help these people have babies, and you spend a lot of time reassuring, explaining, helping them understand and feel better about the process they’re going through — and now you can offer none of that,” Tipton said of physicians.

The fallout from the court ruling could spread beyond IVF treatment, Tipton said.

“I think the first impact with physicians is going to be young physicians choosing not to go there for their training. [And] University of Alabama Birmingham is one of the top public medical schools in the country,” Tipton said.

Tipton said the decision and risk of being sued could also discourage other medical workers, including nurses, from working in fertility clinics in the state; they would likely consider working in other specialties or even leaving the state.

Tipton heavily criticized the decision and its consequences.

“It absolutely makes no sense that people who loudly proclaim themselves to be ‘pro-life’ somehow oppose the use of what is the most ‘pro-life’ medical procedure there is out there. The only thing that in vitro fertilization does is help people have children,” Tipton said.

Patients struggle with news IVF has been paused

Patients interviewed by ABC News shared their heartbreak and concerns over not being able to continue their IVF treatments. For fertility patients in Alabama looking to start or expand their families, the past week has brought a lot of sudden changes to the carefully laid plans often required by the IVF process.

Gabbie Price, 26, and her husband have been financially planning to begin IVF for over a year, downsizing from a house to a camper van to cut costs and getting a new job because of the fertility benefits.

But their plan to start treatment in March has been halted by the ruling. Price said they’re now exploring options out-of-state because even if they found a clinic in Alabama to handle her care, she would be concerned about the potential liabilities.

“I’m terrified to have embryos here,” Price said at her home in Leeds, Alabama.

“I don’t know what that’s gonna look like, I don’t know what sort of rights we’re going to have over the embryos that we create,” she said.

Tucker Legerski and his wife, who live in nearby Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have been trying to have children since they got married in 2021. They began IVF about a year ago.

Their first embryo transfer ended with a miscarriage at eight weeks.

They were planning their second embryo transfer for some time in April, but the court decision upended their plans.

“Those embryos are our best hope for making kids right now. So that’s what hurts the most, I think,” Legerski said.

“If we aren’t able to use those embryos, then we have a much lower chance of having children,” Legerski said.

Angela Granger, 41, a Georgia resident who traveled to Alabama for IVF treatment to conceive her son, told ABC News she turned to the procedure after an ectopic pregnancy almost cost her one of her fallopian tubes.

Granger, who delivered her son in May 2021, and has been hoping to add another child to her family, decided after the state Supreme Court ruling that she wouldn’t pursue IVF in Alabama. While encouraged by lawmakers who say they will take action to protect the procedure, Granger said she needs to see legislation “in writing” before she is comfortable enough to undergo treatment or even store embryos there.

On Thursday, she was offered a job nearly 2,000 miles west, in Las Vegas, Nevada. She accepted.

“A big part of that is to get out of the south. If I wanted to really push and wait, I’m sure I could find a job down here. But this is just too much. I take it as a sign,” Granger said.

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