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Planned Parenthood President On Supreme Court Abortion Ruling


Some other news now. The Supreme Court has overturned a 2014 Louisiana abortion law. The question is whether this law, which required doctors at clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, unduly burdened women's access to abortions. And the court threw that law out. Planned Parenthood's new president, Alexis McGill Johnson, is on the line. Welcome to the program.

ALEXIS MCGILLL JOHNSON: Thanks for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: How big a ruling is this?

JOHNSON: This is an extraordinary ruling. It is certainly a sigh of relief for those of us who've been watching this case. Abortion access is protected in Louisiana for now. And it is clear that the Supreme Court sent a message to politicians across the country to stop trying to take away access to safe and legal abortion. So it is quite a profound ruling today.

INSKEEP: Now, it is also upholding precedent in the view of Chief Justice John Roberts. There was a similar Texas law that had extra requirements for doctors at abortion clinics that the court threw out several years ago. But an interesting thing happened here. In 2016, John Roberts dissented in that ruling. Now in 2020, with a somewhat different court, with a vote that has changed on abortion issues, John Roberts went the other way and stood with the majority to, again, throw out this Louisiana law. What do you make of his course?

JOHNSON: What I make of it is that he actually respects precedent, right? He said, we're not going to overturn 40 years of precedent. What I also recognize here is that it doesn't change the makeup of the court, right? So the court still has the votes to do anything they want, and they didn't. I think that's worth paying attention to. And we still have 16 cases that are one step away from the Supreme Court that could still determine access to abortion. But what he said was that, I'm going to respect precedent in this case. And I think we should take that as really his respect of precedent, and I think that's pretty extraordinary.

INSKEEP: Sixteen cases, meaning that you still have grave concerns that there's something imminent that could, in some way, severely restrict abortion rights.

JOHNSON: Yes, absolutely. Look. We know. We've seen bans. You know, just even the last year, 25 abortion bans were enacted in a dozen states, including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. We've seen, you know, cases. We've used the court, right? Many of our colleagues use the court to actually - you know, as a stopgap while these conversations happen. And so I think it's really important to know that the judiciary has gotten incredibly conservative. Senator McConnell just confirmed the 200th conservative judge in the - over the weekend. And so the makeup of the Federal Court and as we know, the Supreme Court makeup, you know, will, you know, continue to hang in the balance and will be decided most likely by the next president. And so, you know, we have 16 cases. It's really important to understand it in the context of the structure that we are engaging and hearing.

INSKEEP: I'm remembering - very briefly - I'm remembering when John Roberts had a confirmation hearing back in 2005. He was appointed by George W. Bush. He said Roe v. Wade is settled law. He now appears to have meant it and shown that he meant it. Did you ever think you would get to the point where you were depending on John Roberts to uphold your view of abortion rights?

JOHNSON: No. And I - you know, quite frankly, I know that there was a lot of conversation directed towards him both as a chief justice understanding that his legacy on this bench matters tremendously - and I think we've seen in the other decisions on - you know, as well. And so, no, I think it's pretty exciting just to see, you know, this is the first courts on - with the two judges that...

INSKEEP: Go to stop there. But Alexis McGill Johnson, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.