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News brief: access to abortion, jobless report preview, Northern Ireland election

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Abortion access could become illegal or restricted in about half of all U.S. states if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

At least 25 states are likely to ban abortion immediately if the court's ruling matches the leaked draft opinion. That's because various laws and constitutional amendments already in place for most of the states. Low-income people of color seeking an abortion in the South and the Midwest would be disproportionately affected.

FADEL: Joining us now to explain is NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Hi, Yuki.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So Yuki, tell us what the data shows about who gets abortions right now.

NOGUCHI: Yeah. An estimated 1-in-4 women get an abortion in their lifetime. That includes people of all backgrounds. But more than half those people who access abortion are women in their 20s. Also, low-income people are more likely to get one. And race is a factor. Black and Latino women account for more than half of abortions, according to the most recent estimates. And the reason is the same as for other racial disparities across health care, you know, lack of access to doctors, insurance and to contraception. Plus, they face higher poverty rates.

FADEL: OK. So without Roe v. Wade in these states that will ban or limit access, how would people in those communities get this procedure?

NOGUCHI: Well, for those who still need a medical clinic, they might have to travel further to states where abortion will still be legal. And that's pricey, right? Gas prices are high. Laurie Bertram Roberts co-founded the Yellowhammer Fund in Tuscaloosa, Ala. That group pays for travel and logistics and child care for people seeking abortions. And that's gotten more expensive and more complicated. Those are struggles Roberts knows firsthand. She wasn't able to get an abortion several years ago even after doctors warned her she might die if she gave birth. And she was already in financial straits with three kids and says she felt forced to carry the pregnancy to term. They ended up homeless within a year of that birth. And she sees a connection between abortion access and overall health.

LAURIE BERTRAM ROBERTS: Mississippi and Alabama are both two states that have very high Black maternal mortality rates and Black infant mortality rates. And what does forced birth look like for us?

NOGUCHI: You know, she says having poor health care and then losing access to abortion is a vicious public health cycle.

FADEL: So if you have money, you can get to a state where abortions would be legal. But if you don't, it sounds like you're stuck. Are abortion pills an alternative? They weren't around when Roe was decided.

NOGUCHI: Yeah, that's right. And those pills, whether through health clinic or self-managed at home, now make up a majority of abortions. But many people can't take them because they might have, like, a blood disorder. Or they might be further along in their term. Terri-Ann Thompson says, also, telehealth isn't an option for everyone. She's at the research group Ibis Reproductive Health.

TERRI-ANN THOMPSON: At present, there are 19 states that actually ban telehealth for medication abortion care. And 11 of those states are actually considered part of the South. That's states where Black and Latinx communities are highly represented. Then there really is no access available to those populations.

NOGUCHI: And as a practical matter, access to these pills may still be possible, you know, through the mail or something.

FADEL: Right.

NOGUCHI: But the question is, will women be prosecuted for using them or another means of terminating a pregnancy?

FADEL: Has anyone been prosecuted for using abortion medication?

NOGUCHI: Yes. Yeah.

FADEL: Oh.

NOGUCHI: Just last month, a Latino woman was detained for an alleged self-induced abortion in Texas, which passed new abortion restrictions in September. You know, people will now have to travel further to Minnesota or Colorado to seek abortions. But many people, like I said, won't be able to afford that.

FADEL: NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Thank you, Yuki.

NOGUCHI: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Businesses are looking to hire. So people searching for work see a lot of openings.

MARTINEZ: This morning, we're going to find out how many of those jobs were filled in April. Recent data indicates the labor market is strong and workers are getting better pay. But there's a potential downside for the broader economy.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to discuss. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So just how tight is the job market?

HORSLEY: It's very tight. The unemployment rate in March was 3.6%. And forecasters think it may have dipped even lower in April. According to the Labor Department, there were more than 11.5 million job openings at the beginning of the month. That's an all-time high. Employers are really eager to hire more people because they've got a lot of customers demanding goods and services. This is how Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell described the job market earlier this week.

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JEROME POWELL: For people who are out of work and looking, there are lots of job opportunities. Wages are moving up at rates that haven't been seen in quite a long time. So it's a good time to be a worker looking to either change jobs or get a wage increase in your current job.

HORSLEY: Private sector wages in the first three months of the year were up 5% from a year ago. And that's a good wage gain for workers. It is, however, potentially worrisome for the Federal Reserve.

FADEL: Why? What's the Fed worried about?

HORSLEY: The central bank is worried that employers may try to offset the cost of these higher wages by raising prices. And that could make inflation, which is already at a four-decade high, even worse. That's why the Fed is trying to pour a little cold water on the sizzling job market by raising interest rates. They're trying to cool off demand. Ideally, the central bank would like to see the job market cool down gradually, without a sharp jump in unemployment or a recession. But there are some economists who are doubtful that Powell and his colleagues can pull off that delicate balancing act. And uncertainty about which way the economy's headed is behind the wild swings we've seen this week in the stock market, you know? The Dow soared more than 900 points on Wednesday, only to sink more than 1,000 points 24 hours later.

FADEL: So how close is the economy to replacing all the jobs that were lost during the pandemic?

HORSLEY: It's getting there. The economy lost 22 million jobs in the spring of 2020 when the coronavirus first struck here in the U.S. In the two years that followed, the economy has managed to replace about 93% of that total. It has been an uneven recovery at times. But now we've had 11 months in a row with at least 400,000 jobs added. We will find out today if April makes it 12 months in a row. Some forecasters think hiring fell short of the 400,000 mark last month. Economist Nela Richardson of the payroll processing company ADP says that would not be terribly surprising at this relatively late stage in the recovery.

NELA RICHARDSON: Given that the labor market is - made such tremendous progress back towards 2019 levels, I think what we're going to see going forward is more of a normal pacing.

HORSLEY: For context, in the 12 months before the pandemic, the U.S. averaged about 200,000 new jobs a month.

FADEL: OK. What else should we be watching for in today's jobs report?

HORSLEY: I'm going to be watching to see what happens to the size of the workforce. It would give the tight job market some additional breathing room if more people who've been on the sidelines come into the workforce and start working or looking for work. More than 300,000 people joined the workforce in February, another 400,000 in March. Some of that reflects improvements in the health outlook. Some of it's the strong wages. And, frankly, some of it may be people feeling increased pressure to go to work because their cost of living has gone up.

FADEL: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

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FADEL: We're turning overseas now to Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein is poised to become the first Irish Nationalist Party to lead the government.

MARTINEZ: The votes are still being counted. But if they win, it would mark a major milestone that could pave the way for Northern Ireland to leave the U.K. Sinn Fein focused its campaign on bread-and-butter issues. The party was long linked to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary group that fought British and loyalist forces for three decades to achieve a unified Ireland. A peace deal in 1998 largely ended the conflict.

FADEL: Joining us with the latest is London-based reporter Willem Marx. Thanks for being here.

WILLEM MARX: Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So what reactions are you hearing this morning? And what could this mean politically in Northern Ireland and in the U.K.?

MARX: Well, the vote certification in Belfast and across Northern Ireland was just concluded nearly a couple of hours ago. Now the actual count is underway for the next few hours. There has not been any public statements from politicians in the U.K. while they wait for more clarity on those results. But it's clear that turnout has been relatively high, 54%. And it's been a slightly unsettled few months in Northern Ireland's own politics. The carefully constructed power-sharing government collapsed in February when one of the major parties withdrew. And if Sinn Fein were to emerge from this election with a majority in that local legislature, known as the Northern Ireland Assembly, it might be hard for the local executive power sharing to be reestablished. And without that in place, theoretically, U.K. authorities in Westminster in London could take charge of day-to-day governing. But that would not be a popular move in Northern Ireland. It's something Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government has been unwilling to do.

FADEL: Sinn Fein was long linked to the IRA. How did it gain so much popular support?

MARX: Well, partly, it's focusing on what you guys just called those bread-and-butter issues.

FADEL: Right.

MARX: But it's also partly a consequence of birth rates, changing demographics. For the past couple of decades, parties in favor of Northern Ireland remaining inside the rest of the U.K., known as unionists or loyalists, have held a majority in that Northern Ireland executive because their supporters, largely Protestant, were a bigger proportion of the population. But that's shifting. And that means that the largely Catholic segment of the population that supports Sinn Fein has continued to expand. It's worth noting as well, the leading unionist party - or the Democratic Unionist Party - has taken a very unpopular series of decisions over things like Brexit. And that's helped to erode its popular support as well.

FADEL: Could this actually lead to the island of Ireland becoming one country?

MARX: Well, under that peace deal you guys mentioned - known as the Good Friday Agreement, signed back in '98 - a referendum would need to be held among residents of Northern Ireland, with another separate one held next door to the south in the Republic of Ireland. And that would likely require Sinn Fein to control the levers of government both north and south of that border. And they're not yet the party of government to the south in the Republic of Ireland. Now, if a majority of people in both north and south said they would like to see Ireland reunited, it's not, of course, beyond the realms of possibility one day. And in fact, just coming out of these elections, the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland told voters that they think a Sinn Fein win would accelerate that process.

FADEL: Reporter Willem Marx joining us on Skype from London. Thank you so much.

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