Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Cameron Hood, Newsletter EditorJonathan Lambert
Public Health Reporter
Welcome to Grid Health, bringing you stories on the intersections of health and politics, technology, climate change, misinformation and more. In today’s issue:  
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For the past couple of weeks, I’ve put out a lot of calls to pharmacies, trying to learn how many chains plan to stock abortion pills. A few weeks ago, the Food and Drug Administration gave pharmacies the go-ahead to dispense the abortion medication mifepristone if they opt into a new certification process.  

In theory, allowing pharmacies to distribute these pills could expand access to medication abortion at a time when clinics are strapped and the pills are in high demand. But since the news broke, only three major chains — Walgreen, CVS and Rite Aid — have said publicly that they planned to apply for certification, and only at select locations states where abortion is currently legal, suggesting the rule change
may have limited impact

I wanted to see whether other pharmacy chains, like those run out of grocery stores, were planning on applying. I put out over a dozen requests and heard back from precisely no one.  

In reporting out why,
experts told me that many pharmacies might be reluctant to enter such a complicated legal landscape, where such pills are explicitly outlawed in many states. States have never tried to outright ban an FDA-approved drug before, setting the stage for lengthy legal battles over whether federal law should trump state law when it comes to abortion pills. Many pharmacies may just be waiting for that legal dust to settle, which could take months or years. 

Pharmacies may also be staying mum to avoid attracting controversy. Abortion opponents are already planning to picket outside of CVS and Walgreens stores in protest of their decisions, while abortion rights advocates are
gearing up efforts to cement and expand access at the state level, as my colleague Sophie Tatum reported this week.  

I’ll be keeping tabs on this in the coming months to see if more pharmacies announce plans. In the words of
one of my sources for this story, whatever happens on this particular front, it’s clear that “the fight around abortion in this country will revolve around abortion pills.” 

Read my full story here


💠 The Freedom Caucus ascendant: Members of the Freedom Caucus — the far-right House Republicans setting themselves up as a de facto third party — won’t get what they want from this Congress; there just aren’t enough of them. But the policy debates and political messaging they are a part of are key parts of the historical record to understand before the 2024 election season begins in earnest — as well as the coming debates over government spending. Grid’s news staff dives into the implications for abortion, covid, climate change, education and the Ukraine-Russia war in a new 360 briefing

New year, same virus: Shanghai’s main train station was jammed with travelers on Friday, headed off to destinations across the country for the Lunar New Year holiday. With China’s “zero-covid” era now over, many people were heading to their hometowns for the first time since the covid-19 pandemic began – and potentially bringing an unwelcome guest: the virus, China Reporter Lili Pike writes. 

Solving homelessness: Most Americans believe it’s up to local governments to fix the homelessness epidemic, according to a recent Grid/Harris Poll. While local governments are far from the only entities that have the power to reduce homelessness, there’s actually quite a bit they can do — especially when it comes to setting priorities, write Senior Editor Leah Askarinam and Data Visualization Reporter Anna Deen.


State marijuana laws have been changing dramatically over the past decade — but they’re also inconsistent across state borders. The result is a dizzying patchwork of rules, regulations and exceptions made even worse by the federal government’s complete ban of the substance, Anna writes. 

As of this year,
nearly half of U.S. states have fully legalized marijuana, and many more have public programs in place for using medical cannabis. Maryland, Missouri and Rhode Island were the most recent to jump on the legalization bandwagon — making recreational marijuana use for adults lawful just this past year. By the end of 2023, a few more states may come into the fold: In Oklahoma, the issue will be on the ballot in March, Ohio’s state legislature is now considering a bill, and debates are underway in Minnesota.

Read the full story.


👋 Thanks for reading. Until next week, take care. –Jon

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Cameron Hood and Lillian Barkley also contributed to this edition.
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