Will Roe v Wade Be Overturned? Katie Talks Reproductive Rights With Planned Parenthood’s President

The latest on the changes to abortion laws in the U.S.

With the influx of news, it’s sometimes hard to keep up with everything. But as we weathered the pandemic, a slew of laws passed restricting access to abortion, and last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. I wanted to understand how reproductive rights were being threatened at every level, so I reached out to Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson for the latest…

KATIE:

The Supreme Court will hear a case in the fall that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade. Can you explain what that case is? ​

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

This case has been brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is the last abortion provider in Mississippi. And the case is challenging a blatantly unconstitutional ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. All bans like these are currently blocked around the country, but this is clearly concerning given the makeup of the Court where we know that there are a number of Justices who do not support access to abortion personally. 

KATIE:

This will be the first test of Justice Amy Coney Barrett and how she views reproductive rights, won’t it? ​

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

It will. And it will also be a significant test of Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch. We have to look back at the last four years and the impact of the Trump administration. Trump appointed more than 200 judges to lifetime positions on federal courts. Many of them have records that are hostile to reproductive rights. So there is no way really around that. We know that they have expressed personal concerns around access to abortion. And the real question here in this case is whether or not they will lean into their personal concerns or honor nearly 50 years of precedent where the Court has affirmed our right to determine what happens to our bodies. ​

KATIE:

​If in fact the Court decides that this Mississippi law is constitutional, what will that mean? ​

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

This case goes directly to the heart of Roe v. Wade. It goes directly to the question of whether or not we are able to decide to continue a pregnancy. And it will empower states across the country who have anti-reproductive rights majorities in them to pass their own legislation related to 15 week bans. 

KATIE: 

Speaking of which, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law one of this country’s strictest abortion bans earlier this month. What can you tell us about it?

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

This is one of the most extreme bans in the country. It is intended to ban abortion at six weeks, [which is] before most of us know that we are pregnant. It includes no exceptions for rape or incest. And it also has this crazy provision that allows people from any state to sue an abortion provider and other individuals who helped or intend to help someone seek access to this care.

KATIE:

​Texas isn’t alone. There are many states that are passing equally onerous ​laws, aren’t there?

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

We’ve seen upwards of 530 restrictions at the state level [this year]. And we’ve seen a number of growing restrictions over the last decade, quite frankly, that have been designed to intimidate providers, intimidate patients seeking access to abortion and people who support them in doing that. So it has been a very coordinated strategy state by state, knowing that Row could possibly be overturned. 

KATIE:

​Can you talk about how these laws disproportionately affect women of color and those from lower income levels? ​

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

If you have resources, if you are able to get out of state, get on a plane, take your sister, your friend, your daughter to another state, and take the time off from work and find childcare [then] obviously this restriction is not going to impact you to the same extent [as it would] someone who has to take that time off from work who really can’t afford to [or] who may be undocumented. And so it is a question of impact here. And we know that because of systemic racism and discrimination and barriers in communities that the people who will bear the brunt of these bans and who have been bearing the brunt of these bans have been low-income, BIPOC communities, transgender and non-binary communities, who don’t have the same support structure as others, ​

KATIE:

​This Mississippi case is just the first state law that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Even if Roe v. Wade is upheld this time, it could be tested again and again. Is that accurate? ​

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

Even if the court dismisses this ban as unconstitutional in Mississippi, there are 16 other cases that they could take up in the next Supreme Court term that could undermine or overturn Roe. As advocates of abortion care and sexual and reproductive rights, the courts have always been our backstops for some of the most restrictive laws. In the remaking of the federal judiciary under President Trump and Senator McConnell, what we have seen now is a branch of our government that is no longer reflective of where the majority of Americans are on this issue. And so, while we have a White House and a Congress that cares a great deal about protecting access to sexual and reproductive health care, we now have a judiciary that is increasingly conservative and organized in a way for many of these restrictions to go directly from the states all the way to the Supreme Court.

KATIE:

Do you think that women across the country appreciate the significance of what is happening given that many of them have never lived in a time when Roe v. Wade didn’t exist?

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON:

 I think there is an awakening  I’m 48. I’m as old as Roe nearly. I was born in 1972 and, you’re right, for my entire life, this has always been something that I probably have taken for granted because I also live in a state that has a lot of protection. But we should also be clear that many of our reproductive justice colleagues who have been centering the experience of Black and Brown and low-income communities have always said that  in many of their states, there’s so little access because of the number of restrictions that have been put into place. They’ve seen and lived this experience of essentially being shamed for seeking just normal abortion care. The number of abortions actually has decreased over the years in large part due to the increase in availability of contraception. And so that lived experience of what was happening, pre-1973, the back alley abortions, the very dangerous abortion is not the standard experience right now, but it could be. And I think that [we need to try] to connect the dots for generations to help them understand both what we fought for, what our parents fought for, and what we need to continue to fight for quite frankly, as parents. I’m a parent of two young girls who are nine and 12, and the notion that they are going to grow up having fewer rights than I did is really alarming, ​