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After shift in Supreme Court balance, states like Pennsylvania could become the new abortion rights battleground

The confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court a week before the 2020 election set off waves of alarm for abortion rights advocates — and celebration for abortion opponents. With a firm conservative majority, Barrett’s confirmation could mean the weakening or even overturn of Roe v. Wade, a move that would put more power in the hands of states that have sought to tighten abortion restrictions. Conservative states from Mississippi to North Dakota have already passed laws tightening the rules for abortion providers, which has caused some states to lose nearly all of their providers. West Virginia and Ohio are increasingly dominated by conservative state governments that support heartbeat bills — legislation that prevents a woman from having an abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat. As a result, Pittsburgh abortion providers think that they could soon see an influx of women searching for abortions they can’t get close to home.

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This study hopes to follow Pittsburgh-area children for two decades. How has COVID-19 changed the plan?

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the United States in March, the widespread shutdowns that followed brought research on seemingly everything but a vaccine to a grinding halt. Limitations on in-person interactions meant that interventions, group meetings, and other basic methods for assessing psychological and behavioral research were no longer possible. So the Pittsburgh Study, which was set to officially launch in 2020, had to change plans. In this community-partnered intervention study, researchers plan to follow children in the region from birth to adulthood, putting a microscope on the relationships and resources that influence social outcomes. The study will involve over 20,000 children in a two-decade-long look at factors that contribute to childrens’ physical and mental health and educational outcomes. The several different initiatives will focus on infant mortality, childhood obesity, youth violence, and asthma prevalence, among others.