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Dec 12, 2021

Axios AM

🥞 Hello, Sunday. Smart Brevity™ count: 1,174 words ... 4½ minutes. Edited by Fadel Allassan.

🚨Bulletin: Chris Wallace announces on "Fox News Sunday" he's leaving Fox News after 18 years “to try something new." Watch the video.

🎬 Tonight on "Axios on HBO" season finale (6 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max) ... House Majority Whip James Clyburn tells Alexi McCammond when asked about the next generation: "If you want my seat, come get it!" Watch the clip.

  • Also in this episode: Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, incoming CTO of Meta (formerly Facebook), previews the metaverse for Ina Fried (Watch a clip) .... Joann Muller talks about the future of affordable electric vehicles with Lucid Motors CEO Peter Rawlinson ... and Russ Contreras visits Cherokee Nation leaders in Oklahoma.
1 big thing: Red states crack down on abortion pills
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Data: Guttmacher Institute, Axios research. Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios

As the Supreme Court signals a potential end to Roe v. Wade, abortion rights activists are heralding abortion pills as a potential option in places where clinics may have to close.

  • But several red states are already cracking down on the pills, Axios' Oriana Gonzalez, Ashley Gold and Jacque Schrag report.

Zoom out: Almost half of U.S. states have banned or tightly restricted abortion pills — two medicines named Mifepristone and Misoprostol — and more could soon follow.

  • Prior to the pandemic, the FDA said patients seeking abortion pills had to get the drug from hospitals or medical facilities in person.
  • In April, the Biden administration lifted that requirement, opening up access through telemedicine. The FDA is expected to decide next week whether that option will remain in place.

Zoom in: A new Texas law went into effect last week that completely bans the use of abortion pills after seven weeks of pregnancy.

  • Indiana bans the pills after 10 weeks.

What's next: Some activists have been pointing to newer options that skirt certain telemedicine restrictions and operate in a legal gray area.

  • An online provider, Aid Access, founded by a Dutch physician in 2018, will mail abortion pills internationally.

The other side: "Pro-life groups are encouraging states to ... install safeguards for women that will ensure they are aware of the risks when undergoing a chemical abortion," said Prudence Robinson, of Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group.

  • South Dakota is the only state that prohibited the mailing of abortion pills via executive order instead of legislation. Gov. Kristi Noem (R) directed the state's health department to set up a rule banning telemedicine for the pills.

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2. Twister history
Mayfield, Kentucky. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The six-state tornado outbreak, which began Friday night and ran into Saturday morning, is unprecedented, Axios extreme weather expert Andrew Freedman tells me:

  • It was the worst twister outbreak on record for the U.S. during the month of December.
  • It occurred as climate change continues to alter the environment in which these fierce storms erupt. Atmospheric instability is gradually increasing, allowing storms to take advantage of warm, humid days even in the winter, creating conditions for bigger outbreaks.
Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mayfield, Kentucky. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

What happened: One rotating thunderstorm, which spawned the twister that devastated Mayfield, Kentucky, traveled about 250 miles from Arkansas into Kentucky.

  • That's unheard of for December, and a rarity at any time of the year.
An Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois. Photo: Drone Base via Reuters

The toll so far: In Kentucky, 22 are confirmed dead, including 11 in and around Bowling Green. Gov. Andy Beshear said over 80 people may have been killed when a twister touched down for more than 200 miles, and that deaths could eventually exceed 100 across 10 or more counties. (AP)

  • The death toll of 36 across five states includes 6 in Illinois, where an Amazon warehouse was hit ... 4 in Tennessee ... 2 in Arkansas, where a nursing home was destroyed ... and 2 in Missouri.
  • No deaths were reported in Mississippi, the sixth state hit.

Get the latest.

3. Winter Omicron wave

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Data flooding in from South Africa and Europe is clear: The Omicron variant is spreading extremely quickly, including among vaccinated people, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • Why it matters: If this trend holds up, that means a lot of people — around the world and in the U.S. — are about to get sick, even if only mildly so.

U.K. researchers are estimating it's taking only between two and three days for the number of Omicron cases to double — meaning it's spreading incredibly fast.

  • But there are no U.K. hospitalizations or deaths associated with Omicron so far.
  • Among 43 U.S. cases, only one resulted in hospitalization, the CDC said.

What we're watching: Only about 26% of vaccinated Americans have received a booster shot, and only 61% of the overall U.S. population is vaccinated, per the CDC.

4. Pic du jour: Another Shepard in space
Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

"Good Morning America" co-anchor and former NFL star Michael Strahan, 50, celebrates with Laura Shepard Churchley, 74 — daughter of the late Alan Shepard, the first American in space — on a Blue Origin landing pad near Van Horn, Texas, yesterday.

  • They and four paying guests flew into space aboard the automated New Shepard rocket — the company's third passenger flight.
Photo: Julie Nimoy via Blue Origin

Blue Origin said the flight carried this pendant, paying tribute to the late "Star Trek" legend Leonard Nimoy — showing Spock's Vulcan salute, and the initials for "Live Long and Prosper."

5. Axios on the road: Dems desperate to ditch Trump
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a Charlotte Area Transit System tour on Dec. 2. Photo: Chris Keane/Reuters

Axios' Alexi McCammond reports from New Orleans: The incoming chairman of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) says the party's 2022 gubernatorial candidates should talk more about health care, infrastructure, and education — and less about Donald Trump.

  • "I just don't think [Trump] needs to be the central focus," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, who began his term as DGA chair yesterday, told reporters at the group's winter meeting.
  • Democrats are smarting from their loss last month in Virginia, where Terry McAuliffe made Trump a centerpiece of his argument against Republican Glenn Youngkin — now Gov.-elect Youngkin.

There are 36 gubernatorial races next year, with Republicans defending 20 seats and Democrats defending 16.

  • Trump has endorsed 10 gubernatorial candidates for 2022 so far, including at least three challengers to sitting Republican governors — in Massachusetts, Idaho, and Georgia.
  • Cooper said: "Democratic governors believe that we should count every legal vote, and that the results should be the results."

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6. 🌊 1 winning thing: "I've always been ruled out"
Photo: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Above: Bryce Young, Alabama QB, does the Heisman with his parents, Julie and Craig Young, after winning the Heisman Trophy in New York last night.

Young thanked his high-school coaches by name and his hometown — Pasadena, Calif. — "for molding me into the young man that I am."

  • "I've always been someone who's been labeled as not the prototype," Young concluded. "Being an African American quarterback, being quote-unquote undersized and not being that prototype, I've always been ruled out and counted out. And people, a lot of times, have told me that I wasn't going to be able to make it."
  • "For me, it's always been about not really proving them wrong, but proving to myself what I can accomplish."
Photo: John Minchillo/AP

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