By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) has introduced legislation HB405, “The Fetal Heartbeat Bill.” This would most likely, once again bring the transvaginal probe back into the picture, but with a different objective.
During the 2012 Session, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) introduced SB12, the “Right to Know and See Act.” This would have mandated the use of transvaginal ultrasounds. It was a follow up to the 2002 legislation requiring abdominal ultrasound to be performed so that the mother could see the embryo before making the final decision to have an abortion. After a major backlash, that legislation died.
Last session, a similar bill addressing fetal heartbeat passed the Alabama House by a vote of 73-29, but later languished in Senate committee.
The traditional Doppler ultrasound picks up the fetal heartbeat as late as twelve weeks. The new transvaginal ultrasound can hear it as early as four to six weeks.
The transvaginal ultrasound is performed by inserting a 2cm diameter wand-like device into the women’s vaginal wall and resting it against the cervix. The probe is first covered in a probe condom and ultrasound gel is added. “The probe sends out sound waves which reflect off body structures,” according to the US National Library of Medicine.
Research results show that since most women seek abortions within the first trimester, the transvaginal ultrasound is the best option for detecting a fetal heartbeat in that early stage.
The bill states, “The procedure for detecting the heartbeat shall be pursuant to the applicable medical standard of care.” While the bill, like those in other states, does not specify this test, it is the only one available in which a physician can be certain.
“Transvaginal auscultation outperformed transabdominal auscultation in every gestational age range,” according to the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
The bill reads, “Section 4. A physician shall not perform an abortion on a pregnant woman whose unborn child’s heartbeat has been detected according to the requirements of this act.”
Should a physician fail to perform the test or continue with the procedure after detecting a heartbeat, they would be charged with a Class C felony and have their license revoked. According to the language of the bill, the patient would not be held liable.
Nationally, “informed consent” bills are in varying degrees of legislation and court litigation. Most states, including Alabama, have a law requiring a physician to perform an abdominal ultrasound giving the patient an opportunity to see the fetus. The bills also vary as to the method used to determine the heartbeat. Where North Dakota requires transvaginal ultrasound, Arkansas only requires abdominal ultrasound.
Proponents of these bills claim it increases the likelihood that a woman would choose not to go forward with an abortion after hearing the heartbeat. Opponents claim the procedure is “unnecessarily invasive.”
Many states are attempting to pass similar laws, but have been met with opposition. Some are listed below:
Arkansas — Banned abortions after 12 weeks in January 2013. Governor Mike Beebe vetoed it only to be overridden by the Arkansas House of Representatives. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction in May 2013. By March 2014, Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down the portion that prevented abortions, describing the law as unconstitutional.
Kansas — As of January 2015 debates are still expected by the Legislature regarding fetal heartbeat, but a bill is yet to be introduced.
Kentucky — Introduced by Rep. Joseph Fischer in January 2014. HB 132 was sent to the Health and Welfare Committee where it died.
Michigan — Introduced by Rep. Tom Hooker in the House in June 2014 and was then referred to the Committee on Health Policy
Mississippi — Sponsored by Rep. Andy Gipson in January and died in committee in February 2013.
North Carolina — In July 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed their bill. In December 2014 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down.
North Dakota — Signed into law in March 2013 by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Before it could go in effect, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction. Then, US District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled the law unconstitutional in April 2014.
Ohio — In March 2015, the House passed the legislation 55-40 but faces opposition in the Senate and from Gov. John Kasich.
Rhode Island — Introduced by Rep. James N. McLaughlin in January 2015.
South Carolina — In January 2015, introduced by Sen. Lee Bright in the Senate and referred back to committee.
Texas — Introduced in 2013 by Rep. Phil King.
Wyoming — Introduced Jan. 2013 by Rep. Kendel Kroeker. Struck down by House committee by a vote of 4-5 in Feb. 2013.
States like Missouri, New York, Kansas, and North Carolina are requiring that the woman hear the heartbeat, but are requiring a waiting period between 24 and 72 hours before the abortion can proceed.
So far, the heartbeat issue has not made it to the US Supreme Court. Many predict that it will be struck down as unconstitutional, based on the language in Roe v. Wade establishing that an abortion is legal until the point of viability, (between 24 and 28 weeks).
Likewise, Paul Linton, former general counselor for Americans United for Life, has argued that fetal heartbeat laws “have no chance in the courts.” He, like most Pro-Life advocates prefer, instead, a legislative strategy that chips away at Roe v. Wade.
USDA is seeking rural energy grant applications
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand on Wednesday invited applications for loan guarantees and grants for renewable energy systems, and to make energy efficiency improvements, conduct energy audits and provide development assistance.
The funding is being provided through the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which was created under the 2008 Farm Bill and reauthorized under the 2018 Farm Bill. This notice seeks applications for Fiscal Year 2021 funding.
The deadlines to apply for grants is Feb. 1, 2021, and March 31, 2021. Applications for loan guarantees are accepted year-round.
REAP helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses reduce energy costs and consumption by purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements in their operations.
Eligible systems may derive energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, ocean, hydrogen, geothermal or renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters).
USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to help improve life in rural America.
Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments.
Key strategies include achieving e-Connectivity for rural America, developing the rural economy, harnessing technological innovation, supporting a rural workforce and improving quality of life. For additional information, see the notice in the Federal Register.
Trump says that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin within two weeks
Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that coronavirus vaccine deliveries will begin as early as next week.
“The whole world is suffering, and we are rounding the curve,” Trump said. “And the vaccines are being delivered next week or the week after.”
Trump made the announcement during a special Thanksgiving holiday message to U.S. troops overseas via teleconference. Trump said that front-line workers, medical personnel and senior citizens would be the vaccine’s first recipients. He also argued that his election opponent, President-elect Joe Biden, should not be given credit for the vaccines, which were developed during the Trump administration.
Trump referred to the vaccines, which were developed and tested in less than ten months as a “medical miracle.”
Regulators at the FDA will review Pfizer’s request for an emergency use authorization for its vaccine developed with BioNTech during a meeting on Dec. 10. The director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research says a decision is expected within weeks, possibly days after that key meeting.
The latest trial data for Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine showed that it was 90 percent effective.
The CDC plans to vote next week on where the distribution of approved vaccines will begin and who will be allowed to get the first vaccines when they become available.
Dr. Celene Gounder, a member of Biden’s COVID Advisory Board, warned against rushing a vaccine to market.
“The single biggest risk of rushing an approval would be Americans’ distrust the vaccine,” Grounder said. “It’s essential people feel confident this is a safe and effective vaccine.”
Moderna said that its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
AstraZeneca says its preliminary results showed its vaccine ranged from 62 percent to 90 percent effective depending on the dosage amount given to participants. AstraZeneca is having to launch a second round of global trials to clear up the discrepancies.
Many Americans appear to have ignored CDC warnings to scale back Thanksgiving holiday plans. More than six million Americans flew over the holiday week, raising fears by public health officials that the surge in coronavirus cases we are experiencing now will be followed by a bigger surge in the next three weeks.
As of press time, there have been 62 million diagnosed cases of coronavirus cases in the world, including nearly 13.5 million in the United States, but many cases are mild and go undiagnosed.
A CDC researcher estimates that the real number of infections in the U.S. has topped 53 million since February. More than 1.4 million people have died around the world since the virus first appeared in China late last year. The death toll includes 271,029 Americans and 3,572 Alabamians.
The Iron Bowl is today
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The Auburn University college football team will play the University of Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa on Saturday with the game kicking off at 2:30 p.m. Attendance is strictly limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. The game will be televised on CBS stations.
Alabama will have to play without head football coach Nick Saban who has tested positive for the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will coach the Crimson Tide in Saban’s absence. He has a 46-35 record as a head coach at USC and Washington.
Auburn will be coached by Gus Malzahn, who has a 67-33 record as a head coach. He is the fifth winningest coach in Auburn history, trailing only Shug Jordan, Mike Donahue, Pat Dye and now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Alabama has a 7-0 record and is currently the No. 1 team in the country in the college football rankings. Auburn is 5-2 but with a win could still win the SEC West with wins in its remaining two games, and if Alabama were to lose another game down the stretch. Alabama is just one game ahead of Texas A&M for first place in the SEC West, but the Tide has the tiebreaker by virtue of having defeated the Aggies in head-to-head competition.
In addition to team honors, there is a lot riding for individual players in today’s game. Alabama redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones has thrown for 2,426 yards and 18 touchdowns in Alabama’s first seven games. Jones’s strong performance has made him a Heisman contender and has earned him consideration as a possible first-round or high second-round draft pick by the NFL if he were to leave Alabama early.
Auburn quarterback Bo Nix has thrown for 1,627 yards and ten touchdowns over seven games.
Alabama and Auburn played their first football game against each other in Lakeview Park in Birmingham on Feb. 22, 1893. The game is called the Iron Bowl because historically the game was played on a neutral site: Birmingham’s historic Legion Field. Birmingham at the time was best known for the iron that was mined there and then made into steel and other metal products.
The game is now played as a home and home series, but the Iron Bowl name has stuck with the rivalry.
Alabama leads the series with 46 wins to Auburn’s 37. There has been one tie. Auburn defeated Alabama 48 to 45 in last year’s high scoring contest.
Vaccines should protect against mutated strains of coronavirus
Public health experts say it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public.
Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are in clinical trials, and one has already applied for emergency use authorization, but how good will those vaccines be against a mutating coronavirus? A UAB doctor says they’ll do just fine.
Dr. Rachael Lee, UAB’s hospital epidemiologist, told reporters earlier this week that there have been small genetic mutations in COVID-19. What researchers are seeing in the virus here is slightly different than what’s seen in the virus in China, she said.
“But luckily the way that these vaccines have been created, specifically the mRNA vaccines, is an area that is the same for all of these viruses,” Lee said, referring to the new type of vaccine known as mRNA, which uses genetic material, rather than a weakened or inactive germ, to trigger an immune response.
The U.S. Food And Drug Administration is to review the drug company Pfizer’s vaccine on Dec. 10. Pfizer’s vaccine is an mRNA vaccine, as is a vaccine produced by the drug maker Moderna, which is expected to also soon apply for emergency use approval.
“I think that is incredibly good news, that even though we may see some slight mutations, we should have a vaccine that should cover all of those different mutations,” Lee said.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found in a recent study, published in the journal Science, that COVID-19 has mutated in ways that make it spread much more easily, but the mutation may also make it more susceptible to vaccines.
In a separate study, researchers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation found that while most vaccines were modeled after an earlier strain of COVID-19, they found no evidence that the vaccines wouldn’t provide the same immunity response for the new, more dominant strain.
“This brings the world one step closer to a safe and effective vaccine to protect people and save lives,” said CSIRO chief executive Dr. Larry Marshall, according to Science Daily.
While it may not be long before vaccines begin to be shipped to states, public health experts warn it will be some time before vaccines are available to the wider public. Scarce supplies at first will be allocated for those at greatest risk, including health care workers who are regularly exposed to coronavirus patients, and the elderly and ill.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking to APR last week, urged the public to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing for many more months, as the department works to make the vaccines more widely available.
“Just because the first shots are rolling out doesn’t mean it’s time to stop doing everything we’ve been trying to get people to do for months. It’s not going to be widely available for a little while,” Harris said.