Bans Off Our Bodies: Planned Parenthood Pres. on Abortion Bans, Bills in Congress & the Supreme Court

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After thousands of people marched in hundreds of rallies across the United States to protest against tightening abortion restrictions, we speak with Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson, who says the weekend actions represent “a movement moment” for reproductive rights. “More than 80% of Americans believe that Roe should be the law of the land,” she says. “And yet, in state after state, these horrific restrictions and bans are continuing to further erode our ability to access our constitutional right.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

On Saturday, hundreds of rallies took place across the United States amidst a mounting assault on reproductive rights. The rallying cry of the day was “Bans Off Our Bodies.” The protests and marches came one month after Texas’s near-total ban on abortions went into effect. This is Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Alexis McGill Johnson addressing thousands at a protest in Washington, D.C.

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: This year alone, we have seen nearly 600 restrictions introduced in 47 states. So, no matter where you live, no matter where you are, this fight is at your doorstep right now.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we are joined by Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Alexis, welcome back to Democracy Now! This was a massive weekend of action, and particularly in Texas, where the near-total ban has taken effect. Tens of thousands of people not only marched but attended the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where one musician after another spoke out. In fact, Finneas, Billie Eilish’s brother, pledged 100% of his proceeds to the Texas Planned Parenthood. Can you talk about what you think this action means, on this day that is the first day of the Supreme Court back in session, the first time they are meeting in person — without Brett Kavanaugh, because he has COVID?

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Amy, thank you so much for having me this morning, and thank you for playing those testimonies in such long clips from our representatives, who spoke out so eloquently and beautifully about their own abortion experiences.

That’s what this weekend was. It was a movement moment of patients telling their stories, of providers telling the challenges, of activists and leaders and everyday people showing up to demonstrate that, you know, more than 80% of Americans believe that Roe should be the law of the land, that they should have access to safe and legal abortion. And yet, in state after state, these horrific restrictions and bans are continuing to further erode our ability to access our constitutional right. And so, what this weekend did was really just the beginning, to let the courts know, to let lawmakers know, to let state lawmakers know that the people will not stand for our rights being encroached upon in such a way.

And it’s amazing that we have artists like Billie Eilish, like Finneas, like Gracie Abrams, shouting from the stage, along with folks like Megan Thee Stallion and — you know, and people, the one in four women, trans men, nonbinary folks who also have had abortions, telling their stories and reducing abortion stigma. It was really incredibly powerful.

AMY GOODMAN: For people to understand what this near-total ban in Texas is, explain what’s happened to the Planned Parenthood clinics, to the other women’s health clinics. I mean, this “Ban Off Our Bodies” in Texas is a real coalition effort. No one particular name is attached to it.

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: No, absolutely. I mean, look, this is, again, a moment where we are all facing an existential crisis around our ability to access abortion. And Texas is just, really, the opening salvo. We have an unconstitutional six-week ban, with a bounty hunter provision attached to it, so that anyone who supports anyone getting access to an abortion after six weeks — it’s effectively rendered Roe meaningless. You know, this is what’s happening right now, and not just at Planned Parenthood, at independent providers across the state. You know, they’ve become crisis hotlines — right? — people calling, panicked, trying to figure out where to go, trying to get in before six weeks. And also, you know, Texas already has a number of other restrictions that complicate the ability to access abortion: 24-hour mandated waiting periods, mandated counseling and ultrasounds.

And so, the reality is, 85% of our patients in Texas were already coming to us after six weeks, and it means that those who can travel out of state are now having to identify places in Oklahoma, in New Mexico. Folks in Oklahoma, New Mexico are now having to travel outside of their own states, and it’s having a tremendous impact, a ripple effect, really, across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the disproportionate impact on Black and Brown people, not to mention, overall, lower-income people?

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Completely. And I think that’s always what this — what this last year, I think, in particular, has laid bare, that our healthcare crisis is a function of systemic racism. And so, the impact that that is having on these clinics, as well as on the people who, you know, again, have to take off work — right? They have to plan to travel. We had one patient who drove a thousand miles to Aurora, Colorado, by herself, because she didn’t know if someone driving with her out of Texas would be cause for them to get in trouble. It would not, but she still didn’t know. And so, people are making these calculations where they can, but that impact of having to go out of state is certainly going to fall disproportionately to BIPOC communities.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about WHPA, about the Women’s Health Protection Act, that Congress — the House passed overwhelmingly. And I want to go now to the Senate, because that’s where it would have to be voted on next. Now, the Democrats are in charge — by a hair, but they are in charge. But still, it looks like it cannot pass. And looking at recent Los Angeles Times coverage of one senator, Susan Collins of Maine, she said, “I support codifying Roe. Unfortunately the bill … goes way beyond that. It would severely weaken the conscious exceptions that are in the current law.” She said she found parts of the bill’s language “extreme.” Collins said she’s talking with other senators on a potential bill that truly would codify Roe. She’s going to vote against WHPA. Can you explain what it is, its significance? And what is your strategy for dealing with the Senate?

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Yes. So, WHPA is the Women’s Health Protection Act. It is a law that would stop these horrific bans, like S.B. 8 in Texas, and would prevent further erosion by states on our federally, constitutionally protected right to access abortion.

The idea that Susan Collins, you know, who claims a pro-choice mantle — you know, also is someone who has put Brett Kavanaugh into a lifelong appointment — has decided to go in this direction against the Women’s Health Protection Act is really quite alarming. You know, we are trying to ensure that our — you know, we are obviously on calls with all of our senators, trying to make sure that they will support this incredibly important legislation. But we’re also activating folks in the streets to have those same conversations, to make sure that people know that the majority of Americans support safe and legal abortion. It is a majority position.

And reproductive freedom has always been under constant attack. So it’s really incredibly important for us to continue to push our lawmakers, our senators, to get them on record, knowing that this, in the middle of this year, when the Supreme Court is taking up Jackson v. Woman’s Health, is going to be a conversation that we’re going to have for the next 12 months.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about the Mississippi law that will be heard, the oral arguments, on December 1st, banning most abortions 15 weeks into a pregnancy. This is the one that many see as the greatest threat to Roe v. Wade overall, although right now — I mean, you can just tell us the numbers across this country — it’s virtually being overturned.

ALEXIS McGILL JOHNSON: Yes, absolutely. And I think that you’re absolutely right. I think what Texas has the potential to do is usher in a de facto end to Roe, because there are 25 other states that are looking quite closely at their ability to engage in copycat legislation, starting as early as the next legislative session in ’22.

And what we have with Mississippi, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is a 15-week ban. Dobbs — sorry, Jackson Women’s Health is the sole provider of abortion in Mississippi. This 15-week abortion ban is another clear violation of our constitutional right to an abortion. And that the Supreme Court has taken up this case, that it is willing to consider overturning 50 years of precedent, makes it, I think, incredibly momentous at this moment. And so, this is the first direct challenge to Roe v. Wade since Justice Amy Coney Barrett is sitting on the bench. And that is incredibly concerning for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Alexis McGill Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She spoke at the Washington, D.C., protest this weekend.

When we come back, from one activism to another, climate activists Vanessa Nakate of Uganda and Greta Thunberg of Sweden in Milan, Italy. Stay with us.

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