How pregnant Americans may be affected by Supreme Court ruling on Mississippi abortion law

In one of the most aggressive challenges to Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America, justices will decide the constitutionality of Mississippi's 2018 law banning most abortions after 15 weeks. If the court overturns Roe, abortion bans passed in a dozen states since the 1973 ruling would immediately go into effect. Amna Nawaz reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is the eve of oral arguments in what could be the most important abortion rights case at the U.S. Supreme Court in a generation.

    Amna Nawaz previews tomorrow's session.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the case is seen as one of the most aggressive challenges to date to Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America.

    Here, the justices will decide the constitutionality of Mississippi's 2018 law banning most abortions beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy. If the court were to overturn Roe, abortion bans passed in a dozen states since the 1973 ruling would immediately go into effect.

    For more on these historic stakes, we get perspective from Alexis McGill Johnson. She's president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.

    Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for being here.

    So, Marjorie, I will begin with you.

    Is this the moment that anti-abortion activists have been waiting half-a-century for? What's the best outcome for you here?

  • Marjorie Dannenfelser, President, Susan B. Anthony List:

    Yes.

    After 50 years of not being able to allow the will of the people to make its way into law in the states, this seems like the best opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade. The effect of that will be to return to the states their ability to do just that, to enact laws that reflect the will of the people in each state.

    So, yes, we are very hopeful. We're hoping that there's a complete overturn, at a minimum, a partial overturn. When that happens, it will put us in line — better in line with the rest of the world; 47 out of 50 European countries limit abortion before 15 weeks. We don't limit it at any point during gestation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Alexis, I will come to you for response now.

    And also, just given the fractured landscape of abortion rights we have across the country right now, if the court moves to limit Roe or to overturn it completely, what's at stake here?

  • Alexis McGill Johnson, President, Planned Parenthood:

    Look, what's at stake is that 36 million people will be living in states without an abortion provider, right? It's not just the dozen states who have trigger laws in the ban.

    There are 26 states that could move to ban abortion. And the impact that, we have already seen happening already in Texas.

    I would disagree that this is about the will of the people. What we have seen in state after state, particularly in the South and Midwest, is a tyranny of the minority, a vocal minority, who actually control the levers of power, because there's no state where banning abortion is popular.

    And so what you will have is thousands, millions of people having to travel out of state just to seek access to basic health care.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You talk about the will of the people.

    I just want to take a quick look at where current attitudes are when you look at the polling, current attitudes towards abortion in America. These are 2021 numbers from Gallup.

    About 32 percent of those polled believe abortion should be legal always; 48 percent say it should be legal sometimes. And 19 percent say it should be illegal in all cases.

    So, Marjorie, you have got 80 percent of Americans polled saying at least sometimes abortion should be legal. Do you want to see it ended in all cases?

  • Marjorie Dannenfelser:

    What I — what would be a real win is that each state, given the best ability that we have in this country to allow consensus to make its way in the law, with elected officials being accountable to the people, that we will find that each state has its different consensus.

    That's exactly the way we do things in this country, how we have handled egregious human rights violations over time, that we least allow the people to express their will through their elected representatives.

    Another permutation of that poll from Marist is that 80 percent of Americans think that abortion should be limited after 12 weeks. That's a far cry from what the Supreme Court mandated in 1973, that it couldn't be limited at any point up until birth.

    So, clearly, we have some work to do. And, frankly, consensus is not necessarily what the abortion lobby wants, because that means they lose ground that they got only through judicial fiat. The will of the people expressed, and then those legislators who are accountable to the people, is the best way to resolve this. And we will do this state by state.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Alexis, I see you shaking your head. I want to give you a chance to respond.

  • Alexis McGill Johnson:

    By judicial fiat, right?

    Here we have the complete remaking of the judiciary among judges, some of whom don't even believe in IVF, right? So I think that's quite laughable.

    I think what we're talking about is the fact that every pregnancy is unique. Every circumstance for every person to make a decision is unique. And the intent of the anti-abortion movement is to totally ban abortion, because they do not trust pregnant people to make decisions about their own bodies.

    But the real impact is what we're seeing now in these people who are traveling thousands of miles out of fear because of this horrific ban in Texas, seeing the 12-year-old patient that came into a Planned Parenthood who said: "Mom, it was an accident. Why are they making this so hard for me?"

    That's the kind of impact, the real-live people who are on the other side of these bans that could be impacted across this country with the overturning of Roe.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Marjorie, look forward for me here for just a moment. If Roe is overturned or further dramatically limited, you could potentially have tens of thousands of women facing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.

    So, tell me what that landscape looks like for you in the way of support for these children, support for these women, who will be disproportionately women of color, low-income women, rural women.

  • Marjorie Dannenfelser:

    Yes, I — just like now, women face unplanned pregnancies all the time.

    And the one response that Planned Parenthood has, and the disproportionate — not only just proportionate, almost complete answer they have, is to abort their child. If we actually don't acknowledge what we're really talking about here and the fundamental difference of opinion, we do great discredit to the debate that should be happening in this nation.

    And that fundamental difference of opinion is about whether there are two human beings that need help in every unplanned pregnancy. So, the responsibility of the pro-life movement and the responsibility of Planned Parenthood is to serve those women and their unborn children and their born children in every unplanned and difficult pregnancy.

    That should be where we're working together here. This is a compassionate, loving movement that embraces woman and child. That's the way forward.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But, Marjorie, just to follow up, what does that landscape look like?

  • Marjorie Dannenfelser:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Are you also advocating for state governments to allocate more funds to support these families? What specifically are you asking for there?

  • Marjorie Dannenfelser:

    Well, specifically in Texas, $100 million was dedicated towards alternatives to abortion and support for services and seven points of reason, seven reasons that women have abortions, and ways that just support their children otherwise.

    What we are doing at Susan B. Anthony List and through many of our entities is doing complete reviews of each state that would be most ambitious in passing laws, and looking at every single service to a woman and child, finding the gaps, making sure that that is easily accessible to women, and surrounding them with love and protection in the long term, not just abortion today, and we will never see you again.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Alexis, we have already seen Democratic-controlled legislatures moving to codify abortion access, in sort of preparation for what could be ahead.

    And regardless of what happens at the Supreme Court, it looks like this will play out at the state level. So look forward for me from your perspective. What does this landscape look like in the future? And is enough being done to meet the needs of those women, as it could be growing?

  • Alexis McGill Johnson:

    No, there are nearly not enough providers in states that are moving to codify Roe to meet the need.

    We have already, again, seen it in Texas. We have seen the ripple effect of people traveling to New Mexico, people in New Mexico having to travel to Arizona and California. And so the impact on people, the very people that Marjorie claims to care about, who have to take off from work because they need — they need access to care, they need to get child care, because the majority of people who are seeking access are already parents.

    What we are talking about is not forcing people into parenthood. We are trying to help people, give them the range of options and support their decisions, because we trust them to actually make the decisions for themselves.

    And so the work continues to be to push in those states where the access is wider, to really push the boundaries and ensure that there is more access and more support and more care, and to ensure that we can actually export that imagination into the states that are becoming more and more restrictive.

    We have seen 600 restrictions introduced just this last year. And the fact that the Supreme Court has taken up this case, again, just goes to demonstrate just the complete disdain for our ability to make decisions about our own bodies and to trust lawmakers to do that instead. It is really quite unconscionable.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, we will certainly be watching this as it unfolds in the court and across the country. It's a historic moment, with a lot at stake.

    I thank you both for joining in the conversation.

    Alexis McGill Johnson and Marjorie Dannenfelser, thank you again.

  • Marjorie Dannenfelser:

    Thank you.

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