Health Highlights: Oct. 4, 2017

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

House Passes Near-Total Ban on Abortion After 20 Weeks of Pregnancy

The U.S. House of Representatives late on Tuesday passed a new bill that would render abortions criminal if conducted after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The only exceptions would be cases where the mother’s life is at risk or cases involving rape or incest.

The bill passed largely along party lines, with 237 votes for and 189 against, CNN reported.

The bill, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, had been attempted in the House in both 2013 and 2015, but this time it has the support of the President behind it. In a statement issued Monday, the White House said it “strongly supports” the bill, “and applauds the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.”

In his own statement, House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said the new bill “will protect those children who science has proven can feel pain, and give them a chance to grow and live full and happy lives.”

But opponents took a different view.

“This dangerous, out-of-touch legislation is nothing more than yet another attempt to restrict women’s access to safe, legal abortion,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund said in an online statement. “20-week bans are unconstitutional. 20-week bans are a clear attempt to erode Roe v. Wade.”

The bill must now make its way through the Senate, but that may not happen anytime soon, CNN said. Speaking Monday, Republican Senate Whip Sen. John Comyn said a vote on the bill is “not a near-term priority.”


Tobacco Companies to Issue New Statements Acknowledging Health Risks of Smoking

Prompted by a court order tied to a 1999 lawsuit, major U.S. tobacco companies will soon be publishing blunt statements on the harms to health of their products.

These “corrective statements” — such as “Smoking kills, on average, 1,200 Americans every day,” or “Smoking is highly addictive” — are slated to begin running in television and print ads in November, the Associated Press said. Five such statements are mandated for publication, in 30-second TV spots aired during prime time or full-page ads in major newspapers.

Besides listing the numerous diseases tied to smoking, companies will also be required to say that they had “intentionally designed cigarettes with enough nicotine to create and sustain addiction.”

Altria Group Inc. (which owns Philip Morris USA), Reynolds American Inc. and other tobacco companies will jointly run the ads. In a news release, Murray Garnick, Altria’s executive vice president and general counsel, said the company is “focused on … working to develop less-risky tobacco products.”


ACLU Sues Over Government Limits on Access to ‘Abortion Pill’

The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the federal government over restrictions that limit access to the so-called “abortion pill.”

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hawaii, claims that the pill should be made available by prescription in pharmacies, the Associated Press reported. Mifeprix is sold in the United States for abortions up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

Right now, U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules state that the pill can only be dispensed in clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices, according to the wire service.

“The abortion pill is safe, effective and legal. So why is the FDA keeping it locked away from women who need it?” Julia Kaye, an attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told the wire service. “The FDA’s unique restrictions on medication abortion are not grounded in science — this is just abortion stigma made law.”

The restrictions, in place since the pill became available in 2000, also state that all providers of the drug must go through a special certification process, the AP said.

Women using the abortion pill generally take it in the privacy of their home. Kaye told the wire service that the legal case “is primarily about where a woman must be standing when she’s handed the abortion pill that’s been prescribed to her.”

“The FDA restriction defies common sense,” she said. “There’s no medical issue in whether she’s handed the pill at a pharmacy or at a clinic.”

The FDA did issue new guidelines for the use of Mifeprex last year, but the FDA confirmed this week that the agency still feels the restrictions are necessary, the AP reported. The FDA added that it does not comment on pending lawsuits.

A commentary published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine said that 19 deaths have been reported to the FDA among the more than 3 million women who have used Mifeprex. That rate is lower than it is for pregnancy-related deaths among women, the wire service said.