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Planned Parenthood: SCOTUS Halts Louisiana Abortion Law for Now, But Roe v. Wade Fate Uncertain

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The Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a restrictive Louisiana anti-choice law from going into effect Thursday, in a major victory for reproductive rights advocates. The case was seen as a litmus test for determining whether millions of women across the nation will continue to have access to abortions. The divided court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of an emergency appeal by a Louisiana-based abortion provider, Hope Medical Group for Women, to temporarily block a Republican-backed law that could have left the state with just a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions. The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. Pro-choice groups call such statutes TRAP laws, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” We speak to Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Washington, D.C., where the Supreme Court blocked a restrictive Louisiana anti-choice law from going into effect Thursday, in a major victory for reproductive rights advocates. The case was seen as a litmus test for determining whether millions of women across the nation will continue to have access to abortion. The divided court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of an emergency appeal by a Louisiana-based abortion provider, Hope Medical Group for Women, to temporarily block a Republican-backed law that could have left the state with just a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions. The law requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinics. Pro-choice groups called such statutes TRAP laws, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers.”

In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a nearly identical Texas law in a 5-to-3 ruling. The now-retired Justice Kennedy ruled with the majority in that decision. His replacement, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, voted with the minority on Thursday. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s liberals to block the anti-abortion law from taking effect, for the moment.

The news came just days after President Donald Trump attacked reproductive rights in the State of the Union address. Trump criticized the state of New York for passing a law codifying a woman’s right to an abortion.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days. Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and their dreams with the world. And then we had the case of the governor of Virginia, where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.

To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children, who can feel pain in a mother’s womb. Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life. And let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.

AMY GOODMAN: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo responded on Twitter by writing, quote, “Breaking: @realDonaldTrump just proposed rolling back Roe—the law of our nation for 46 years affirmed & reaffirmed by numerous Supreme Courts. Never. NY has a message to those who spread lies & fear to control women’s reproductive health: Not gonna happen. Not now, not ever.”

Well, for more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Dr. Leana Wen. She is the new president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She’s the first physician to lead the organization in nearly 50 years and the first Asian American and immigrant ever to hold the office. Dr. Wen is a practicing emergency room doctor who has also served as the commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore. She entered medical school at the age of 18, after coming to the United States as a young immigrant from China just over 10 years earlier. In 2018, Time magazine named her one of the 50 most influential people in healthcare. She is co-author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests.

Dr. Lean Wen, welcome to Democracy Now!

DR. LEANA WEN: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to join you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Let’s start off with the Supreme Court decision. Actually, how significant is it?

DR. LEANA WEN: It’s significant to the women of Louisiana, who have a temporary, but important, ruling that would allow them to continue to get access to healthcare, which is what it is. Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure that one in four women will have in our lifetimes. We have to talk about abortion in the context of reproductive healthcare, and reproductive healthcare as healthcare, women’s healthcare as healthcare.

And it’s important that the Supreme Court issued this temporary blocking; however, it’s important to note that Justice Kavanaugh was among those who dissented, which means that all of us who were very concerned about his nomination are correct, in that Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance with Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about Chief Justice John Roberts weighing in with the liberals. Again, this is a temporary decision.

DR. LEANA WEN: Well, for us at Planned Parenthood, this is about people’s ability to access fundamental healthcare. And we know that this is also the will of the people, that 73 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. And it’s something that we saw in the last midterm elections, that women, particularly women of color, rose up to vote for a strongly pro-reproductive health majority in the House of Representatives. We also now have 25 governors and 19 state legislatures, including D.C., that will protect women’s rights and reproductive healthcare. And it’s time for everyone to respect that women’s healthcare is just what it is: healthcare. And healthcare is a fundamental human right.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised by Chief Justice Roberts weighing in with the liberal justices?

DR. LEANA WEN: Well, this is a temporary blocking. We now need for the Supreme Court to overturn this rule that would cost women’s lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Leana Wen, let’s move to Title X. Now, most people in this country probably don’t know what it is. But talk about why you’re so focused on it and what is an imminent decision that’s about to take place.

DR. LEANA WEN: Well, first, I want to address what President Trump said during the State of the Union, which I watched from the balcony of the U.S. Capitol as a guest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I was angry and disgusted, because the president of the United States deliberately lied to the American people as a way to manipulate, to spread misinformation and to distract from his ultimate objective, which is to overturn Roe v. Wade and cut access to women’s healthcare, reproductive healthcare, and restrict women’s rights. We see what Trump is doing.

And we see what Trump is doing also with Title X, which is the nation’s only grant program that provides for cancer screenings, STI tests, HIV care, reproductive healthcare to millions of people. We expect, any day now, that the Trump administration will be issuing their final rules to basically gag doctors. Doctors like me will be prevented from providing our patients with accurate information. So, if a woman goes to a clinic that receives public funding and she requests information, referral for an abortion, the doctor will not be able to provide her with a referral, even if her life is in danger. It’s ridiculous. It’s unethical. It’s illegal. And Planned Parenthood will be fighting President Trump and the Trump administration with everything we have, because it is our goal, it is our job, to protect women’s health and the health and rights of all people.

AMY GOODMAN: Just to be clear, if you were—if a gag rule were imposed and you were asked, as a doctor, by a woman saying, “I’d like to terminate my pregnancy. What should I do?” what could you legally respond?

DR. LEANA WEN: I want to first say that we don’t have the final rule by the Trump administration yet. And so, what we understand that the Trump administration is going to do is to prevent doctors from giving women their options. And specifically, if a woman says that she would like to have a referral to receive an abortion, a doctor who is working in a clinic that receives Title X funding would not even be able to give that referral, even if her life is in danger.

And this compromises our fundamental ethics as doctors and nurses. It compromises the oath that I took when I became a doctor, which is to help all my patients to make the best decisions for themselves. It’s my job, as a doctor, to trust my patients, to trust women. And politicians like Donald Trump have no role legislating and telling me what I can or cannot say to advise my patients. It compromises patient rights. It compromises physician ethics. And Planned Parenthood will not stand for that.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to our discussion with the new president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Dr. Leana Wen. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “End of My Bloodline (Remix),” featuring Moor Mother, by Screaming Females. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. I want to turn to Virginia, where a reckoning about racism and sexual assault has left the state government in disarray, with Virginia’s top three elected officials—all Democrats—facing political crises that threaten to upend their careers and the state’s leadership. The controversy that’s enveloped Virginia since Governor Ralph Northam admitted last week to wearing blackface took a shocking turn Wednesday when Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface at a college party at the University of Virginia. Just days prior, Herring, who’s second in line for Virginia’s governorship, had called for Governor Northam to resign. The first in line, Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, is also embroiled in scandal, after a woman who’s accused him of sexual assault came forward Wednesday with details of the encounter.

So, we’re going to turn right now, continue our conversation with Dr. Leana Wen, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the first doctor to serve as the president in half a century and the first Asian American and immigrant ever to hold that office. She also, before being head of Planned Parenthood, was commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore.

Dr. Wen, Planned Parenthood was one of the first, when Governor Northam admitted to wearing blackface, demanded that he resign, though Planned Parenthood had been a longtime supporter, financially and otherwise, of Governor Northam. Why did you take that stance?

DR. LEANA WEN: Governor Northam is not just a governor. He’s a doctor. There is profound racism in medical care, that’s led to huge health disparities for African Americans, for immigrants, for people of color. And I thought a lot about what it was like to be a medical school classmate of Governor Northam who is a person of color, and what is the care that Governor Northam—Dr. Northam—and his classmates who wore blackface, what is the care that they delivered to their patients. We, as Planned Parenthood, will never stand for racism, bigotry, harassment, discrimination, of any kind. And as a healthcare organization, it was particularly important for us to speak out, because racism is something that deeply, profoundly affects the health outcomes of our patients.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, if all three of the Democratic politicians resign—and it’s a little complicated—but Republican speaker of the House of Delegates in Virginia, Kirk Cox, would be next in line to become governor. He has compared aborted fetuses to dead soldiers. This is Cox speaking against abortion just last week on the state House floor.

DEL. KIRK COX: The eye can handle 500,000 messages simultaneously. We are no accident. How about a baby? Week four, the two optic nerves are forming, and so is the lens. Week eight, that retina I just began to talk about is forming, those 130,000—130 million rod-shaped cells. Week 16, the eye picks up light. Week 26, the end of the second trimester, that eye is fully formed, it can see light, and the eyelids open. And I think if you shine a flashlight on a mother’s stomach, you just might get a kick or a wiggle. With the miracle of modern medicine, at 22 weeks, we now have a 20 percent survival rate. What a blessing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Virginia Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox, who is in the chain of succession to be governor, considering what might happen. Dr. Leana Wen, can you respond to what he said, and then also to what Governor Northam said about abortion?

DR. LEANA WEN: Well, I think it’s important for us to talk about medicine and science and facts. I don’t even want to respond to these things that are said that are not medically accurate, but here are the facts, as I know them, as a doctor, as a scientist, as the president of Planned Parenthood.

It’s a fact that abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure, that is common, that one in four women in America will have in our lifetimes. It’s a fact that about 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks. It’s a fact that those that occur later are because of extreme circumstances, such as extreme danger to a woman’s health and life, and when there are things like unsurvivable fetal anomalies. I mean, I had a patient who found out in her second trimester that she was carrying twins that would be born without diaphragms or without ever developing their lungs. And so, if she had carried them to term, they would have suffocated upon birth.

I mean, medicine is complex. It’s extremely difficult for women to make very personal, very painful decisions. It’s my job as the doctor to provide my patients with the information that they need to make the best decision they can for their health. And it shouldn’t be up to any politician to make that decision for a woman.

Actually, what these politicians are doing is trying to restrict women’s access to healthcare. And as a doctor, I know what the cost is going to be. The cost is going to be women’s lives. The American people have shown that we want more healthcare and not less. That’s what we demand of our elected officials, to respect that women’s healthcare should be treated no differently than any other aspect of healthcare. At a time when maternal mortality in the U.S. is soaring, is increasing—versus all other industrialized countries, it’s decreasing—we should really be looking hard at what it is that we’re doing as this healthcare system. We have a healthcare system and a political system that does not value women’s lives, that don’t give us something as basic as bodily autonomy.

A hundred years ago, Planned Parenthood was founded on the simple idea that your body is your own; and if it’s not, then you cannot truly be free or equal. It’s that same fight that we’re fighting now. I mean, we have a situation where, with this Supreme Court, within a year, one in three women of reproductive age, which is 25 million women, could be living in states where abortion is outlawed and banned. States across this country have passed abortion bans as early as six weeks, when most women don’t even know that we’re pregnant. This is what’s it stake right now. It’s literally about women’s lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Leana Wen, as you talk about healthcare being a human right, are you for Medicare for all?

DR. LEANA WEN: I am for universal access to healthcare. There are multiple models that deserve examination and careful analysis and debate. Medicare for all is one of those proposals. It’s important for us to hold up our values. And my value, and our value in Planned Parenthood, is that everyone must be guaranteed affordable, quality, compassionate, expert healthcare, regardless of who you are, what you look like, where you come from, whether you can pay, that healthcare must be a guaranteed right, not a privilege that’s available only to some.

And reproductive healthcare, women’s healthcare, should be treated no differently than any other aspect of healthcare. I mean, think about the gag rule. How much outrage would there be if the Trump administration said to doctors, “You can’t tell your patients with diabetes anything about insulin”? Well, that’s what’s happening, that reproductive healthcare has specifically been singled out, siloed, stigmatized and attacked, when actually it’s the same thing as any other aspect of healthcare.

That’s what I believe. That’s what Planned Parenthood believes. And that’s what we will always fight for, because our North Star, it’s not—you know, what we do isn’t fighting about the what. What we do is fight for our patients. That’s what we do every day, is to fight for our patients, their lives, their futures and their rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Wen, before you go, your life story is quite remarkable, and I was wondering if you could share some of it with us. Talk about coming to this country.

DR. LEANA WEN: When I was 7, my parents brought me here to the U.S. from China. And we were able to stay, on political asylum. My parents and I, in those early days, really struggled, even though my parents worked multiple jobs. We depended on Medicaid. We depended on WIC when my mother was pregnant with my sister. We depended on food stamps. And I think a lot about what this president is trying to do to attack people like me. For us, Medicaid, food stamps, they were not an entitlement. They were our lifeline. They were what enabled us to stay in this country. And I truly believe now, as I am a new mom myself to a 1-and-a-half-year-old boy—I truly believe that I am living my parents’ wildest dreams.

And I’m so fortunate to have also been a patient of Planned Parenthood—so was my mother, so was my sister—just like one in five women in America, that Planned Parenthood and access to reproductive healthcare was also our lifeline. Planned Parenthood and reproductive healthcare is what enabled me to be able to pursue my wildest dreams. And that’s why I support and will always fight for this organization.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Wen, you went to college when you were 14 years old?

DR. LEANA WEN: When I was 13. So I was also—I was in college when I was 14.

AMY GOODMAN: And when did you go to medical school?

DR. LEANA WEN: When I was 18. And I was very fortunate and privileged to be able to do that. It’s something that I never—I always dreamt of being a doctor, but I didn’t know that it was something that I could do. And being a doctor is the greatest privilege of my life, because I’m able to take care of patients and their families in their time of greatest need. But it’s also in medicine and in public health that I’ve seen how it is a public health crisis, this attack on women’s healthcare and the attack on reproductive healthcare, the attack on LGBTQ people, the attack on immigrants. It’s a public health crisis. And that’s what I’m fighting, with all of our supporters and our partners here at Planned Parenthood.

AMY GOODMAN: You were diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 27?

DR. LEANA WEN: That’s right. So, I actually only told this story for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s a deeply personal story, and I didn’t share it. But when I was 27, I was diagnosed with early cervical cancer as part of a routine Pap smear. And I was very lucky that the cancer was caught early. I underwent a procedure that I knew would affect my fertility. And my husband and I really wanted to have children. And it’s something that we didn’t talk about for years, our struggles with fertility and the cancer diagnosis.

But I decided to tell it two weeks ago for the first time in an op-ed, because I thought, “If I’m not sharing this story, with the platform that I have, then how can I encourage others to, and how can I encourage others to get the HPV vaccine, to get early detection and treatment, which has saved my life?” And I would encourage others to tell their stories, too, because it’s so important for us to emphasize diagnosis, screening, and to talk about how programs like Title X are so important, because they are literally life-saving preventive services that we at Planned Parenthood offer to nearly two-and-a-half million patients every single year.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Leana Wen, I want to thank you so much for being with us, the new president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, first physician to head the organization in 50 years, first Asian American and immigrant ever to hold the office. She has served as commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore. And we’ll have you back on to talk about your fight against opioids and all the work you did there. In 2018, Time magazine named Dr. Wen one of the most—one of the 50 most influential people in healthcare.

When we come back, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has just introduced the Green New Deal. We’ll speak with journalist Kate Aronoff. Stay with us.

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