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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last night was a good night for supporters of abortion rights.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah. In a handful of states holding elections, abortion access appeared to be a winning issue more than a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon is with us now for a look at the results. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So let's start with the big one, Ohio. I mean, we're calling it the big one because there was a ballot initiative that people on all sides of the issue have been keeping an eye on. What happened?

MCCAMMON: Well, Ohioans voted to put protections for reproductive rights, including abortion, in their state constitution after a long fight that lasted many months. And Ohio is now the seventh state since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health decision last year from the Supreme Court that's voted to support abortion rights in one way or another through a ballot initiative. So we've seen this in state after state. And it shows that voters, even in red states, can use the ballot box to push back against abortion restrictions they think have gone too far.

I talked to Kelly Hall with The Fairness Project last night. That's a group that advocates for the use of ballot measures to advance progressive policies.

KELLY HALL: Ohio is the first state that I really think we could put in that red column that has said, we can go on offense and we can win, and that is an inspiring example that shines a light on the path for other red states.

MCCAMMON: So again, what we saw there was a red state with a Republican governor and Republican legislature passing abortion protections. And this means a state law banning most abortions after six weeks in Ohio won't be able to take effect.

MARTIN: So let's go to Virginia now. It's often seen as a bellwether state or as a purple state. What...

MCCAMMON: Right.

MARTIN: Talk about the issue there. What was at stake, and what happened?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. Abortion wasn't directly on the ballot in Virginia the way that it was in Ohio, but the issue was really central to the campaign. The entire legislature was up for reelection in Virginia's off-year election. Democrats held on to control of the state Senate, and they flipped the state House, which had been controlled by Republicans. Now, that was important, Michel, for abortion rights supporters because the Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, has supported a proposal to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. As it is right now, Virginia is the only state in the South that has not restricted abortion since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and it looks likely to stay that way, at least for now.

MARTIN: So what other races have you been watching?

MCCAMMON: You know, another important one was Kentucky's governor's race - another red state, but with a Democratic governor. The Democratic incumbent, Andy Beshear, won reelection after facing a challenge from the state's Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron. Cameron had defended Kentucky's near total abortion ban, and Beshear's campaign released an emotional ad in which a young woman talked about her experience being a victim of rape by a family member and pointed out that Kentucky's abortion law doesn't contain rape or incest exceptions. So again, we have a red state here, as we mentioned. Last year, voters rejected an effort to amend Kentucky's constitution in a way that would have been unfavorable to abortion rights. And those voters this year have reelected their Democratic governor.

MARTIN: So, Sarah, before we let you go, what other takeaways do you see from these results? Anything that might offer clues about what to expect next year?

MCCAMMON: Well, all indications are that voters are still being motivated by the abortion rights issue. That's a good sign for Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement celebrating the victory in Ohio and looking ahead to next year, warning that many Republicans still want to pass a national abortion ban if they can. And so expect more of this next year. Also expect more ballot initiatives in states like Arizona and Florida, potentially.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Staying with politics, 2024 Republican presidential hopefuls will face off in a third debate tonight in Miami.

FADEL: Now, it'll be the smallest slate of candidates to take the stage yet. The Republican National Committee says only a handful of candidates qualified.

MARTIN: Here to tell us more about what to expect from tonight's debate is NPR's Ashley Lopez in Miami. Good morning, Ashley.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: First, let's talk about who did qualify to participate in tonight's debate. Who are we going to see?

LOPEZ: Sure. So only five candidates have qualified this time around thanks to stricter qualifying rules from the Republican National Committee. So former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be onstage tonight. North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who was in the first two debates, did not qualify this time around. And former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who appeared in the first debate, hasn't qualified for these last two. And, of course, we won't be seeing former Vice President Mike Pence onstage tonight because he recently dropped out of the 2024 presidential race.

MARTIN: And the front-runner, former President Donald Trump - I hear he's got a place nearby, so getting there shouldn't be a problem. But I take it he's not going to make it.

LOPEZ: No. No, he's not. Donald Trump has not qualified for any of the Republican debates so far. Even though, yeah, he is polling in the lead and has huge fundraising numbers, he has not met all the qualifying standards, specifically one that requires each candidate to pledge that they will support whoever wins the nomination. Trump has flat-out refused to sign that pledge. He has also said that he doesn't want to elevate his opponents by being onstage with them.

But just like the last few debates, he's planning some sort of counterprogramming, if you will. He's holding a rally relatively close by in Hialeah. Hialeah is a predominantly Cuban American part of town, which is a subset of voters Trump has done really well with. In 2020, Trump outperformed expectations specifically among Latino voters in South Florida. So this is an important base of supporters that he is expected to bring out tonight. And as you mentioned, it's close by for him.

MARTIN: So of the people who are on the stage - who are going to be on the stage, Nikki Haley...

LOPEZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Former South Carolina governor, former U.N. ambassador, actually, you know, appointed by Trump - she's been getting a lot of buzz in the media. First of all, why is that? And how big of a deal is this debate for her?

LOPEZ: Well, Haley's definitely the candidate to watch tonight, right? She has been steadily gaining support in the polls. Importantly, she's been doing really well in matchups with President Biden in swing states. And, you know, what's done it is a lot of her momentum started with strong debate performance. Often, you will see in crowded primaries that candidates will get a lot of momentum with something like a good debate performance and then just sort of flame out. But Haley has been a bit of an anomaly in that she has been consistently gaining ground in this race.

Right now, I think she is perhaps the lead alternative to Trump among the slate of candidates that are left. And there were high expectations that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis would probably fill that role, but his campaign has had a lot of pitfalls, and he's had some pretty lackluster performances in the last few debates. For that reason, I actually fully expect that Haley will set her sights on Ron DeSantis. In fact, her campaign has already released an ad taking aim at him.

MARTIN: So what do we expect the candidates to talk about tonight? What do you think is going to be the focus?

LOPEZ: Well, you know, this is the first debate since Israel was attacked, right? And I'm sure what is happening in the Middle East, as well as how President Biden is handling the crisis, will come up. While there are factions of the Democratic Party that have been split on how to deal with Israel as it continues to bomb Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there, Republicans have been pretty uniform in their response, and this is one of those issues where there isn't a lot of infighting in the Republican Party, which gives them an opportunity to set a contrast between themselves and the Democrats and not necessarily a contrast between each other.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ashley Lopez. Ashley, thank you.

LOPEZ: Yeah. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: The U.S. has struggled to contain the spread of many common sexually transmitted infections, and a new report drives home one of the most devastating consequences.

FADEL: The number of babies born with syphilis is 10 times what it was a decade ago. Congenital syphilis can cause stillbirths and miscarriages, or it can lead to long-term health problems for the child, like deformed bones, blindness, deafness and developmental delays.

MARTIN: NPR's Will Stone is with us now to talk more about these numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Will, good morning.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: This trend is really troubling. Just tell us about what's going on here.

STONE: Yeah. I mean, the first thing to know is that sexually transmitted infections in general are on the rise, and that's especially true for syphilis. I was actually looking at CDC data that show cases have just been climbing for years among adults. And when it comes to congenital syphilis, this new report shows there were more than 3,700 cases last year. About 230 of those resulted in stillbirths.

I called up Dr. Edward Hook. He's an expert on STIs and a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

EDWARD HOOK: This is the most tragic example because these are innocent bystanders, but it's emblematic of a much broader problem regarding our challenges in controlling syphilis.

STONE: Right now, rates of syphilis are the highest they've been since the '60s, and the result is that some cases don't get caught during pregnancy because there are also big gaps in maternal care in this country.

MARTIN: Yeah. Talk more about that, if you would. Do we - like, why weren't these cases caught before they could do this kind of harm?

STONE: Yeah. I mean, we have a few ideas. It appears about 40% of the cases last year were among people who did not have prenatal care. And this reflects what I heard from health officials on the ground, like Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian. She's the chief medical executive for the state of Michigan. Congenital syphilis is entirely preventable if it's treated during pregnancy. And Bagdasarian says they make sure to review each case to understand why a mother was not treated.

NATASHA BAGDASARIAN: So they may not have an OB-GYN or a midwife. They may be women who get their care intermittently in urgent cares or emergency departments, and many of them did not have syphilis testing done during pregnancy.

STONE: So clearly, testing is one problem, and the CDC is responding to this by encouraging broader screening of sexually active women and their partners and using rapid tests and treatments in settings like emergency departments or even prisons and jails. But another disturbing finding in this report is that about half of the cases did get picked up. There was a positive test, but for whatever reason, there was just not adequate or timely treatment.

MARTIN: Well, this is obviously a big challenge, but what else needs to be done?

STONE: Yeah. It's a tough time right now. STI prevention fell by the wayside during the pandemic. Here's David Harvey. He directs the National Coalition of STD Directors.

DAVID HARVEY: The numbers are going up every year, and we have yet to see the willpower exercised by our political leaders to do what it takes to turn this situation around.

STONE: He says this new report just underscores the complacency on the federal level around controlling STIs. For example, there were hundreds of millions of dollars for public health that were siphoned away earlier this year during debt ceiling negotiations. And on top of all of this, Michel, there's currently a shortage of the only antibiotic that's used to treat syphilis during pregnancy. The CDC says it's not aware of anyone who's pregnant not getting the medication because of the shortage, but the supply isn't expected to be fully restored until next year.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Will Stone. Will, thank you.

STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.