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We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Illinois makes hormonal birth control available over the counter

Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois has signed a new law that makes powerful hormonal birth control drugs available without physician oversight.

The bill allows pharmacists in the state to dispense up to a year’s worth of birth control pills, rings, and patches without a prescription, starting in January 2022. Reportedly, patients will have to complete screening paperwork before getting the drugs, but no follow-up care will be required. Critics of the new law point out that there’s no minimum age included in the law’s language to prevent children from accessing the medication.

“Right now, in Illinois and in most states, a woman looking to access birth control has to navigate a maze of requirements, hunting down a doctor or a clinic, finding an appointment time that works for them,” Pritzker claimed in justifying his decision.

But there are reasons doctors should be involved with significantly hormone-influencing drugs. Hormonal birth control is associated with an array of serious risks and side effects, including depression, anxiety, migraines, blood clots, stroke, and even cancer. About 1 of every 10 women and girls will get pregnant over the course of a year of taking the Pill. —Margaret Brady

Gymnast Simone Biles withdraws from some Olympics competitions, citing mental health

Record-shattering gymnast Simone Biles is the subject of controversy following her decision to withdraw from several gymnastics events at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games. An Instagram post shared days before her withdrawal offers some context; Biles confessed: “I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn’t affect me but damn sometimes it’s hard.”

Her decision to prioritize her mental health comes after a potentially dangerous stumble on the vault as well as her personal disagreement with a controversial decision by the International Gymnastic Federation’s Women’s Technical Committee to unfairly grade one of her historic new moves. Biles, who has performed moves so complicated that they necessitate creating new valuations by which to judge her, was rightfully upset after the 2019 World Championships when the WTC decided to underscore her double-twisting, double somersault dismount move. The WTC claimed that it was concerned about “the risk, [and] the safety of the gymnasts” who might want to try Biles’s moves without the talent to pull them off.

Still, despite the fact that Biles has already proven herself as one of the most exceptional gymnasts of all time, her decision ruffled some feathers. After her withdrawal, the U.S. team missed out on the gold medal in the team all-around for the first time since 2008; however Biles expressed concern that if she competed in unfit condition, not only could she have become gravely injured, but her team may not have even won the silver medal they did win. Biles is still scheduled to compete in team event finals next week. —Mariel Lindsay

Pink offers to pay the wardrobe fine for the Norwegian women’s handball team

Singer-songwriter Pink has offered to pay the 1,500 euro fine levied on the Norwegian women’s beach handball team for “improper clothing.”

The team petitioned the European Handball Association for permission to wear longer uniform shorts, but instead they were threatened with a fine or disqualification. They ultimately decided to make a statement during a recent match against Spain.

The team immediately received international support on social media, including from Pink, who tweeted, “I’m VERY proud of the Norwegian female beach handball team FOR PROTESTING THE VERY SEXIST RULES ABOUT THEIR ‘uniform’. The European handball federation SHOULD BE FINED FOR SEXISM. Good on ya, ladies. I’ll be happy to pay your fines for you. Keep it up.”

International Handball Federation regulations currently state, “Female athletes must wear bikini bottoms that are in accordance with the enclosed graph, with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg. The side width must be of a maximum of 10 centimetres.” —Maggie Sicilia

German gymnastics team wears unitards to combat sexualization

The women of the Norwegian beach handball team aren’t the only ones standing up against the sexualization of women in sports. This week, Germany’s women’s gymnastics team competed in unitards that covered their arms and legs, rather than the traditional bikini-cut leotards.

“We sat together today and said, OK, we want to have a big competition,” Sarah Voss, one of the competitors, explained. “We want to feel amazing, we want to show everyone that we look amazing.” The more modest leotards don’t sacrifice style; the uniforms, which are white and red with see-through cut-outs and black detailing, look just as elegant as other designs worn on the Olympic stage, though the Germans seem to be the only team pushing more modest attire—for now.

American gymnast Simone Biles, who is 4’8” tall, says she prefers the traditional leotards because they make her legs look longer. “But I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable,” she said. “So if anyone out there wants to wear a unitard or leotard, it’s totally up to you.”

Part of the German team’s motivation, besides wanting to feel more comfortable while performing, may stem from problems at the heart of the culture of gymnastics. As ABC News reports, “The Tokyo Olympics are the first Summer Games since Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, was sent to prison for 176 years for sexually abusing hundreds of gymnasts, including some of the sport's greatest stars. At his sentencing, athletes—some of them Olympians—described how the sport’s culture allowed for abuse and objectification of young women and girls.”

Whether or not other gymnastics teams choose to follow Germany’s lead, one hopes more female gymnasts feel empowered to choose the attire that gives them the most confidence. —Madeline Fry Schultz

The pandemic isn’t over, and CDC mask guidelines seem to indicate it’s getting worse

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on mask-wearing has been confusing at best. Now, months after declaring that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear face masks indoors, the CDC is reversing course. Citing the rise of the delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, the CDC is urging everyone to wear masks if they live in coronavirus hot spots, even if they’ve had their shots.

“It is not a welcomed piece of news that masking is going to be a part of people's lives who have already been vaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “This new data weighs heavily on me, this new guidance weighed heavily on me and I just wanted to convey that this was not a decision that was taken lightly.”

Citing data that suggests vaccinated individuals could spread COVID-19 to the unvaccinated, the CDC now also recommends that children wear masks at school this fall, despite evidence that children are not likely to develop severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Following suit, Biden announced on Thursday that federal employees will be required to get vaccinated or mask up on the job and take regular COVID tests. As vaccination rates across the country lag, Biden may be hoping that a federal mandate will encourage private sector companies to enact similar policies. —MFS

Foster child turned adult advocate is crowned Mrs. Universe

While most pageants, including Miss America, do not allow contestants to be married or have children, Mrs. Universe encourages marriage and motherhood. The contest, according to its website, “is open to married women ages 20 and up whose focus is on accepting and sharing one’s life experiences and embracing its possibilities to empower others.”

This year’s winner couldn’t be a better spokesperson. Victoria Petersen, who represented Minnesota in the pageant, is a wife and mother who has been a vocal advocate for foster care youth.

She entered the foster care system at age 12 and aged out at 18. Thanks in part to the support of her high school track coach, who welcomed her into his family and walked her down the aisle at her wedding, Petersen was able to get a full-ride scholarship to college.

She has since founded Bring Beloved, an online community for foster youth, and has more than 20,000 followers on her Instagram, where she is vocal about foster care issues, motherhood, and her faith.

“I felt competing for Mrs. Universe was something I’d really enjoy doing, but I was scared,” she said in a recent Instagram post. “Scared that people would think I was superficial and irresponsible. … If we can breakdown the stereotypes in pageantry, then we can breakdown the stereotypes that lead us away from caring for foster youth.” —MFS

New legislation would require women to register for the draft

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved legislation, authored by Senator Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would require women to sign up for the Military Selective Service, ABC News reported.

If enacted, it would mean that for the first time in American history, women could be drafted into service during wartime or a national emergency.

Although the U.S. Armed Services does not currently have an active conscription program, most men must register with the Military Selective Service when they turn 18 in case a draft ever becomes necessary. Male immigrants are required to register within 30 days of being in America.

In 2013, the Pentagon opened frontline ground combat to women, enabling them to serve at all levels of the military. But opportunity is different from obligation, says Senator Josh Hawley, R-M.O., who opposes the legislation. He tweeted, “American women have heroically served in and alongside our fighting forces since our nation’s founding—it’s one thing to allow American women to choose this service, but it’s quite another to force it upon our daughters, sisters, and wives. Missourians feel strongly that compelling women to fight our wars is wrong and so do I.”

The proposed Selective Service expansion is part of the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual “must pass” piece of legislation, and according to ABC News, it’s likely to become law with Reed’s changes intact. —Melanie Wilcox

Women’s Wikipedia pages are more likely than men’s to be nominated for deletion

Although only 19 percent of English language biographies on Wikipedia are about women, they make up 25 percent of Wiki pages nominated for deletion, according to new research from Francesca Tripodi, assistant professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science.

"The problem of underrepresentation on Wikipedia runs deeper than simply missing pages," Tripodi's study says. "Not only are Wikipedia’s notability criteria a barrier for women, even women who meet these stringent guidelines for inclusion are still more likely than men to be considered 'non-notable' and nominated for deletion."

Wiki editors have to monitor women’s published pages to ensure they don’t disappear, Tripodi said. “If nobody's watching out for it, then it will be deleted. It's exhausting,” Tripodi told NPR. “It's a second level of work that, quite frankly, new people or new editors might not want to take on.”

Wikipedia supplies platforms on the Internet, including Google’s knowledge panel, and it’s also used to train artificial intelligence. —MW

Research finds wildfire smoke is tied to COVID risk

A new study from the Desert Research Institute suggests that exposure to heavy smoke from wildfire blazes raises the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, the research showed that the population in Reno, Nevada, suffered a nearly 18 percent spike in COVID from August to October 2020. The period coincided with heavy smoke drifting over the city from fires in nearby California.

“We are located in an intermountain valley that restricts the dispersion of pollutants and possibly increases the magnitude of exposure,” explains Dr. Gai Elhanan, who co-authored the study. Even after controlling for other factors which could have driven positive case numbers up, like the number of coronavirus tests administered, results were the same.

Earlier research had tied 14 percent of coronavirus deaths in the U.K. to air pollution. The likely connection between air quality and disease is ominous given that the American West is now in its peak season for forest blazes, and the delta coronavirus variant is spreading like wildfire (pun intended). —MB

Good News of the Week

Young dad is the first person in the United States to receive an artificial heart transplant

Matthew Moore, 39, came to Duke University Hospital expecting to get heart bypass surgery. Instead, he’s become the first American to be fitted with an advanced artificial heart.

The “heart” won’t pass muster with vegans—it’s made from part of a cow. It is powered by a battery that remains outside Moore’s body, and it adjusts how much blood it pumps based on his movements and activities. First approved for use in Europe, it’s meant to buy patients time while they wait for a scarce human heart transplant.

Moore wound up with the history-making device because he suffered a heart attack in the hospital while he waited for bypass surgery. Doctors had to do chest compressions for 45 minutes to get his heart beating again and stabilize him. “It's a miracle Matthew is with us today," his wife told Insider. Fortunately, Duke is conducting a trial of the device, and Moore fit the bill as a younger man who was the right size to accommodate the bulky heart. He’s now in rehab, working on getting stronger. —MB

Watch of the Week

Lady Kitty Spencer, Princess Diana’s niece, got married in Rome last Saturday. She wore a total of five handmade dresses from Dolce & Gabbana over the course of her wedding weekend. For the ceremony, she donned an elaborate lace bridal gown and veil that immediately calls to mind Princess Grace’s iconic dress. Here’s a look at all of the beautiful pieces.