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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

This morning, we bring you news of a huge legal settlement. Faced with thousands of lawsuits, chemical company 3M has agreed to pay more than $10 billion to help clean up contaminated drinking water. Cities and towns across the country claim 3M polluted tap water with PFAS, also known as forever chemicals. As they're nearly indestructible, PFAS are found in everything from firefighting foam to cosmetics and also food packaging. They're linked to a range of serious health issues and environmental harm. Now, once the settlement gets court approval, the money will go towards water testing and filtration. 3M did not admit liability, but pledged to stop manufacturing the chemicals by 2025.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

After days of searching the North Atlantic, debris from the missing submersible, the Titan, has been found on the ocean floor.

MARTÍNEZ: The U.S. Coast Guard says all five people aboard the vessel were killed by an apparent implosion.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Jasmine Garsd joins us now with the latest. Good morning.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Good morning.

ELLIOTT: Jasmine, this was a massive search effort, ending now with this tragic news. What do we know so far?

GARSD: Well, according to the Coast Guard, debris from the Titan submersible was found on the ocean floor about 1,600 feet from the bow of the Titanic. And that, they said yesterday, indicates a catastrophic implosion of the vessel. Also, there seems to be no evidence that this was a collision with the Titanic. This was an implosion.

ELLIOTT: So what are the prospects now for potentially recovering the bodies of the people who were on board?

GARSD: Well, rescue teams continue to map the debris field, but they've indicated that it might be quite difficult to recover the bodies. Here's Rear Admiral John Mauger of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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JOHN MAUGER: This is an incredibly unforgiving environment down there on the seafloor. And the debris is consistent with a catastrophic implosion of the vessel. And so we'll continue to work and continue to search the area down there. But I don't have an answer for prospects at this time.

ELLIOTT: It sounds unlikely. Jasmine, this was a risky endeavor from the get-go. What are people saying about that?

GARSD: Well, for years, there was widespread concerns about the safety of this vessel. And one of the concerns was precisely about its ability to withstand pressure. The concern was raised over and over again that the submersible vessel was only built to a certified pressure of 1,300 meters, even though the Titanic shipwreck lies nearly 4,000 meters below sea level. And yet the company boasted its disregard for regulation as part of its identity as a groundbreaking enterprise that offered innovation, a company that wasn't stifled by rules, that offered exhilarating adventures. The Titan's passengers were required to sign a waiver that lists physical injury, disability, emotional trauma or death. So as horrifying as this is, it was something that the company and passengers knew could happen.

ELLIOTT: So how did the company manage to avoid regulation, something you say that they've touted? And do you think that would change in the future for these kinds of endeavors?

GARSD: Well, this expedition happened in international waters, thus skirting regulation, and it is part of an increasing and very lucrative form of high-risk adventure tourism that takes the ultrawealthy into the depths of the sea. And it's very unregulated. As many have pointed out, the rescue efforts for a catastrophic event like this do call on governments from various nations and are very costly. So I'd venture to say, yes, this could lead to more regulation of the industry.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Jasmine Garsd, thanks so much.

GARSD: Thank you.

ELLIOTT: Tomorrow marks one year since the Supreme Court overturned decades of abortion rights precedent.

MARTÍNEZ: The decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization has had significant impact all across the country.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now with more. Good morning, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So it's much harder now to get an abortion in many states than it was a year ago before Dobbs.

MCCAMMON: Right.

ELLIOTT: Give us a lay of the land. How have things shifted? Who's seeing the biggest impact from the landmark decision?

MCCAMMON: Things have shifted dramatically. You know, a year ago today, abortion was, at least to some extent, legal nationwide. Now, Texas and Oklahoma had both pretty recently implemented unique abortion bans designed to get around existing precedent. But it was legal up to about six weeks even in those states. And then, Debbie, after the Dobbs decision, we saw a cascade of states implementing abortion restrictions very quickly, most of those in the Midwest and South. I spoke with Kelly Baden with the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Here's how she summed up the current situation.

KELLY BADEN: And we now have entire swaths of the country where abortion is not legal and really difficult for somebody to get because they're forced to cross multiple state lines to get to a clinic in a state that has maintained legality.

MCCAMMON: And just to look at some of the numbers, more than a dozen states have banned most or all abortions. A few more prohibited after 12 or 15 weeks. And more bans appear to be on the way. Florida, for example, has a six-week ban tied up in court, at least for now. North Carolina has a 12-week ban that's expected to take effect soon.

ELLIOTT: Well, with all these bans in effect, what does patient access actually look like on the ground?

MCCAMMON: Yeah, a lot of people are just traveling a lot farther. A researcher at Middlebury College says Americans on average now have to travel more than three times farther than they did one year ago to get to a facility that provides abortions. The distances are often much greater for people in regions like the Southeast, with so many abortion bans. And as a result, there's been a huge increase in calls to organizations that provide funding and assistance to people who cross state lines. Chelsea Williams-Diggs is with one of them, the New York Abortion Access Fund. And she says her organization has heard from people in 29 states and Washington, D.C.

CHELSEA WILLIAMS-DIGGS: When abortion is banned or restricted in one state, the entire country, the entire ecosystem of access and care feels it.

MCCAMMON: So not only are patients feeling the strain. Providers are too. And that's especially in places where neighboring states have abortion bans. Many are struggling to keep up with the demand, and that's for both surgical procedures and abortion pills, which, of course, is the other big fight. Pills are now the dominant way that people get abortions in the U.S. Abortion rights opponents are trying to force the Food and Drug Administration to take the gold-standard abortion pill, mifepristone, off the market through a major case that's playing out in federal court. That case could have massive implications for access potentially in all 50 states.

ELLIOTT: And quickly, before we let you go - there are states, however, that are trying to expand access, right? What does that look like?

MCCAMMON: Right. Illinois and New Mexico, for example, are becoming hubs for abortion access. We've seen some new clinics opening up or moving there. About a dozen states have passed what are known as shield laws to protect patients and providers from out-of-state lawsuits or prosecution. And others are setting aside public funding to expand abortion access.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thanks so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you.

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ELLIOTT: A new NPR poll out this week talked to voters across the country about a wide range of social issues.

MARTÍNEZ: Today, we're going to hear what some independent voters had to say.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Kelsey Snell has been talking with them and joins us now. Let's start with how these independent voters define themselves. Do they align more with one party or the other?

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: The group I talked to was pretty evenly split. The group included everyone from conservatives who don't like the Republican label to Democrats who break from the party on some social issues. Of the voters I talked to, only one said he is already prepared to vote for former President Trump. Here is Cody Blanton. He's a 28-year-old from Ohio.

CODY BLANTON: I still agree that he would do pretty good. It's just that other people, when they hear that I voted for him, usually seem a little hostile to me.

SNELL: He said he doesn't like everything Trump does, but he does think that he would be better for the country than President Biden.

ELLIOTT: I'm curious about voters' opinions of Trump. Did they change it all after he was indicted in New York and Florida?

SNELL: No, that's actually one thing that held solid across all the voters I talked to. Not one of them said they had their minds changed substantially when it comes to Trump.

ELLIOTT: How about other conservative-leaning independent voters? How do they feel about the former president?

SNELL: There was a lot of trepidation. You know, many of them either had negative or neutral feelings about Biden, but none would commit to any of the GOP candidates as a good alternative. One of the people I talked to was Adrian Marshall in Texas. He used to be a consistent Democrat, but he's getting more and more conservative. He says he voted for a Republican Texas governor, Greg Abbott. And I asked how he'd feel about choosing between Biden and Trump.

ADRIAN MARSHALL: I'm not thrilled with either one.

SNELL: Would you sit out the election, or would you make a decision?

MARSHALL: Oh, no, no, I would vote. I would vote for Biden.

SNELL: Yeah, he said he voted for Obama twice, but he would have been fine with either Mitt Romney or John McCain. He can't say that about the Republicans running right now. You know, I heard something similar from Adam Ferguson (ph) in Miami. He would be interested in seeing a candidate who he described as middle of the road.

ADAM FERGUSON: I'm not a culture warrior voter. Like, that - it just doesn't appeal to me at all. It turns me off.

SNELL: And I heard that from several voters.

FERGUSON: Now, what other issues are on the mind of these voters?

SNELL: Abortion is still a major motivator. And that was true for Susan Ghent, who lives outside of Detroit. She used to vote Republican, but she says the party has gone too far in abortion. She's been reading about negative impacts on women's health in Republican states with strict abortion restrictions.

SUSAN GHENT: Stories and stories of these women telling their stories, and it's like nobody wants to listen to them.

SNELL: And she doesn't want to vote for a Republican because of it.

ELLIOTT: Now, we've seen a lot of data lately that people don't really feel good about the direction of the country. Did the voters that you talked with share those concerns?

SNELL: Yes, every single one of them.

ELLIOTT: Wow.

SNELL: Cody Blanton in Ohio literally talked about World War III. Adam Ferguson in Florida put it this way.

FERGUSON: I feel as though we're on a precipice where, you know, depending on how the next couple of elections go, what happened at the end of the last presidential term - sometimes you wonder, was that a dry run? If you don't like an election, what do you need in order to change it?

SNELL: And Adrian Marshall had other concerns.

MARSHALL: I think there's going to be something in this country coming up. I think there's going to be some bad times ahead.

SNELL: He's become more supportive of the Second Amendment because he says he fears domestic terrorism or for his safety as a Black man.

ELLIOTT: Wow. NPR political correspondent Kelsey Snell, thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
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