Alcindor: 50 years of federal abortion rights ended.
Woman: I'm furious. Letting people make decisions over your own body of a woman's body is just appalling.
Alcindor (voice-over): Rage.
Man: Grateful to the Lord, that Roe VS. Wade has been overturned.
Alcindor: And joy after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, paving the way for abortion bans in multiple states.
Joe Biden, President of the United States: With Roe gone, let's be very clear. The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk.
Alcindor: The impact already sweeping across the country as clinics make changes and close their doors.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): The people have won a victory. The right to life has been vindicated.
Alcindor: Republicans celebrate the combination of years of activism and political maneuvering that led to the conservative majority on the court.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): American women today have less freedom than their mothers. Reproductive freedom is on the ballot in November.
Alcindor: Democrats condemned the decision and focused on the midterms.
Good evening and welcome to this special edition of Washington Week. Today was a seminal moment in American history. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the federal right to abortion and a precedent set nearly 50 years ago. The courts 5-4 ruling came after a dispute over the Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The decision means States can now ban the procedure with trigger laws and constitutional amendments already in place. Almost half of the states are likely to immediately ban abortion or heavily restricted. Republicans celebrated the decision.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY): House Republicans are incredibly grateful for the pro-life movements tireless efforts for decades leading to this day.
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA): What a historic day this is. And what a great victory for life.
Alcindor: President Biden and Democratic lawmakers called it a devastating blow to women.
Biden: It was three justices named by one president. Donald Trump or the core of today's decision to upend the scales of justice and eliminate a fundamental right for women in this country.
Pelosi: It's a slap in the face to women about using their own judgment to make their own decisions about their reproductive freedom.
Alcindor: The decision will impact women of color and low-income women the most and states with bans, women will have to drive hours and hours to other states to access abortion.
Joining me tonight to discuss this on this historic day. Nia-Malika Henderson, senior political analyst for CNN, Zolan Kanno-Youngs White House correspondent for The New York Times.
And joining me here in studio. Leigh Ann Caldwell, Washington Post Live anchor and the co-author of the Early 202 newsletter, and Josh Gerstein, senior legal affairs reporter for
Of course, Josh, you broke this story. You were the reporter who got this leaked information that Roe was going to be overturned. I wonder, how does what we saw today, the decision that was that was made today by the court. How does it compare to what you saw what your colleagues saw and what you reported on?
Josh Gerstein, Senior Legal Affairs Reporter, Politico: Well, you mean Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion. The draft that we published about two months ago, and it was almost identical to what we published. There were very few changes in the official decision released by the court. The main thing was, Alito had to grapple with the arguments, the descent put forward and also the arguments that Chief Justice John Roberts put forward about why this was not the case to overturn Roe versus Wade. And so he made those sort of additions to the opinion. But by and large, he didn't really vary from the argument that he put forward in the draft that we obtained and I do wonder if maybe he decided he wasn't going to be pressured into changing any of those words, so he decided not to.
Alcindor: And as part of this, there's this nuance here that I really want to get at there's a 6-3 ruling upheld a Republican backed Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks. But then the vote for was 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade. Justice Chief Justice John Roberts, of course, is the one who was changing his mind. Talk a little bit about the difference between those two rulings and also, what does it say about where Chief Justice Roberts finds himself in this court?
Gerstein: Right, so Roberts didn't want to go as far as his conservative colleagues wanted to go. He thought it wasn't necessary to overturn Roe versus Wade to uphold that Mississippi law. The Mississippi law would have essentially banned most abortions after 15 weeks after a fetus had reached 15 weeks, and he said, “Look, we can just approve that law, but we can still say there's some federal constitutional right to abortion and we don't have to decide right now. Is it 15 weeks, the line or nine weeks or six weeks or four weeks or could states completely prohibit abortion?” It wasn't necessary to decide that to resolve this case, and so he wouldn't have gone that far. But that's now just a footnote in history because five justices did go that far and overturned Roe v. Wade.
Alcindor: And he couldn't persuade his colleagues really to get to go with him.
Gerstein: No, he couldn't. You know, he made that argument that it wasn't necessary, but they said, “Look, we'll have to face in a year or two, a ban on maybe abortion before six weeks in
another state or in Mississippi. We might as well just square up to this question right now.”
Alcindor: And Nia, as we noted, this decision has immediate impact. Clinics are saying that there are some women today who were in waiting rooms trying to get abortions who were turned away. Research shows that these are mainly black women and women of color and low-income women who are accessing abortion and who will be impacted by this. I wonder if you could just talk about the impact of this on women.
Nia-Malika Henderson, Senior Political Analyst, CNN: Well, it's immediate and it's real, and there's not only the impact on women there is an impact on men as well. I mean, remember, it takes two people to make a baby. And often times you have been who are taking their girlfriends or partners to an abortion clinic so that their wife or girlfriend or partner can get an abortion and the vast majority of women who make the decision to get an abortion do so because they cannot afford to have a baby. Many of these women also already have children,
so they very well understand the high price of daycare, for instance, they understand that maybe they work in a job where they don't have paid family leave. So that I think is a broader question for some of these states. Will there be an expansion of the social safety net? For instance, if you in the states or compelling women to carry their babies to term? What does it mean for the fact that many of them are going to have to go to jobs where they don't have paid family leave? So, I think that is going to be a real question. I think the other question is will this have a mobilizing effect on women and men across the country, particularly younger men and women across the country who have come to know this right? And in many ways have taken it for granted. The Democrats I spoke to think yes, this will be a mobilizing effort around the issue of abortion. We obviously see protests all across the country tonight because of this decision, a decision people pretty much knew was coming because of Josh's great reporting and breaking this story, but also comes as a shock to so many people because we haven't lived in a country where the Supreme Court has actually taken away a right that people have taken advantage of for the last 50 years.
Alcindor: And Zolan to Nia's point about the impact of this and whether or not it might mobilize people. President Biden was out today, he said, “This is not over.” As part of his speech reacting to this decision, there are now Democrats who have written letters to President Biden urging him to take executive action. What more do we know about the White House's strategy here and whether or not President Biden might take some executive action?
Zolan Kanno-Youngs, White House Correspondent, The New York Times: Well, One thing that we do know is that the president is allies those within the White House when you talk to them, they do clearly see this as an issue that they hope will galvanize the base that has become increasingly frustrated with the administration on a number of other issues. You saw a quick rush today by the president, the vice president the administration after this ruling came out the vice president was in Illinois. She was set to give a speech on maternal health that she quickly cast that away and made that speech, more so about Roe and the implications here. The president and what I would say especially most people, you know, you talked around the White House would say, probably one of the more significant speeches, historical speeches of thus far of his presidency. You could feel the gravity in the room there, as he comes out, takes a deep breath. A dozen of his senior aides, all women crowded, to the right of the lectern as he begins speaking and says that this will have far reaching implications on women's health throughout the country. He both tapped into the real-life implications for Americans, but also quickly turned to, if you really want a difference here, you're going to have to head to the polls.
You're going to have to make a difference, he said. Roe is on the ballot, and that is both an indication of the need of this administration and the party and the interest in trying to galvanize the based on this issue, but also the limitations that the president has. When it comes to this decision, most of the proud power is going to be with the Food and Drug Administration. You did already see them authorized abortion pills. The president did say that he'll direct HHS, the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that access for that medication is still available for Americans. But once again, he called on Congress to take action and it doesn't look like they have the votes right now. So it will be another test as well of this administration and this president's ability to work with members of Congress to try and enact actual change at this time.
Alcindor: And Leigh Ann, Zolan wrote the introduction for you because, of course, we have to talk about Congress. There's this hearing now that's supposed to be happening in the Senate in
July about the implications of this decision. What are you hearing from Democrats and Republicans about what happens now and what steps they want to take?
Leigh Ann Caldwell, Anchor, Washington Post Live: Well, let's start with the Democrats. The Democrats do not have the votes to do anything on this issue. They voted after your story, Josh, came out, knowing that this decision was going to be overturned. They tried to codify Roe v. Wade, and it failed and they don't have enough Republicans to join on them. Now there's a couple Republican Senator Collins and Senator Murkowski of Alaska, and they're working in a bipartisan fashion with Senator Tim Kaine on a compromise codification law, but they would still need 10 Republicans to support it, so there is no legislative path right now. And that is why
Democrats are saying that this is now an election issue, and that is the only way that anything can be done. As far as Republicans are concerned, Republicans are pretty divided. There are some Republicans in Congress who are saying If we take back the majority, we need to introduce a federal ban on abortion so that abortion is illegal around the country. There are some Republicans who are a lot less comfortable with that and when I tried to ask lots of them questions about that today, they try to discourage and say, “Let's just keep this at the states,” like Roe did. And so you could potentially see internal discussion at the very least among Republicans about how they move forward.
Alcindor: And talking about the way forward and what might happen. Nearly one in four women in the United States have an abortion by age 45. The majority of people who got an
abortion in 2020 used medication as to get an abortion. Josh with those statistics, with that in mind, I wonder what you're hearing about what the court might do for on medical abortion on abortion pills. Legally, where might this go?
Gerstein: I think you know, there's been a lot of concern expressed today about some of the things justice Thomas said about that this could result in overturning the decision that guarantees the right to same sex marriage or contraception. But I think the more immediate battles are going to be the kinds of things you're talking about, Yamiche, are going to be the questions of travel outside of states If there are organizations that try to organize women to travel out of states like Texas and Louisiana and other states, where abortion is more widely
available. Are those states going to try to crack down on those people? Are they going to indict people who are in New York and are using technology to reach out to people in other states and arrange abortions for them or send them abortion medication? Will warrant go out for those people’s arrest? And then there's a lot of questions around technology and social media. We've had abortion banned in this country before a half century ago in many states, but there was no social media and technology at that time. You know what we see states trying to geolocation people that are involved in these sorts of underground railroad efforts to get women out of states into other states where abortion is more available. Those are all the questions that the court is going to have to grapple with justice Kavanaugh indeed said that these issues around travel between states are going to come up, and he thinks women should be allowed to travel freely to get abortions in states where it's legal,
Alcindor: Those are such poignant questions. You also mentioned same sex marriage, and there are a lot of people looking specifically at Justice Clarence Thomas, who wrote in a concurring opinion, the Supreme Court should reconsider the ruling that that allowed for same sex marriage for millions of Americans here. What are you hearing about whether or not same sex marriage and other rights can be taken away?
Gerstein: Well, I mean, if you look at the rationale this decision on abortion, you can see why people would raise that question because they say, “Well, if there's no clear history of the right in and it's not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution. Then maybe it's in jeopardy.” There's no mention of same sex marriage in the Constitution. There's not even a mention of privacy in the Constitution and certainly not contraception. So you can see how the all those things would potentially be on the chopping block. Thomas was the only one to say explicitly that he'd like to move in that direction. It should be noted the other justices said they don't want to go. The other conservative justices said they don't see that as a logical fallout here, and this decision applies only to abortion. So I do think, for now, those justices are unlikely to take Thomas up on his suggestion.
Alcindor: And Nia, even though, even if it's maybe not likely right now, there are a lot of people who are scared about rights being taken away. I also think that we're now living in this country where people living in blue states might feel a little protected by the Supreme Court. But I was reading about right here in Washington D. C. Things could change. There could be a federal ban because the city, is uniquely positioned to possibly have federal changes. But what are you hearing about the concerns about other rights and how that could be impacted?
Henderson: Well, listen, I think there is a sense that obviously clearance Thomas brought this up. Obviously, conservatives and Republicans more broadly, didn't like that marriage rights were extended to same sex couples, and I think he in some ways is saying listen, you know this apparatus that led to this 6-3 Supreme court that worked its way through different states and chipped away at abortion rights and finally got them overturned. That same apparatus could be used to overturn same sex marriage. You know, make it a sort of patchwork of states' rights across the country, if you are an LGBTQ person, and so you know, at some point you might say, oh, you're being hysterical. Oh, you're sort of hyperventilating about what could happen. But listen, we just saw what happened with Roe V. Wade weight, something that for many, many years people took for granted. Democrats took for granted. Democrats were sort of squeamish about wanting to be so pro-abortion and talk about the need for widespread abortion rights.
And so now they find themselves in a position where they I think are going to argue. Listen, Republicans not only have stripped away abortion rights across this country, they also want to take an additional step around curtailing other rights of for same sex marriage, for instance, for contraception. We already see this happening for voting rights as well. We'll see if it's ineffective kind of ploy in a political campaign for Democrats going forward. But I think it isn't too much to argue that people who are looking at Clarence Thomas's words and seeing sort
of it as a breadcrumb trail of breadcrumbs for Republicans and conservatives to follow along other rights and other you know, rights that have been granted over the past years. I think you know it isn't you know, sort of overreach to suggest that this is a court that could be ripe to curb rights that we've known for the last couple of years.
Alcindor: And Zolan, as Nia's talking about rights that could be curbed. I want to ask you about Merrick Garland, the attorney general, he says that the Department of Justice is going to use all the tools that it can to try to protect abortion rights. I wonder what, how you see that happening? What are the tools that they have to possibly impact the way that women access abortion in this country?
Kanno-Youngs: One initial sign that we have is the statement he put out today, right where he made it clear that states should not restrict certain abortion pills, so that's one sign that we have. I also just want to say the point that Nia was just making about how the far-reaching sort of ramifications of this ruling and how it could apply to same sex marriage, potentially interracial marriage as well. That actually mirrors the language as well of the White House, the President Biden and Vice President Harris over the past couple of weeks ever since the Politico story on this, Josh's story. What you've seen is even if the president at times has throughout his career, actually, rarely sometimes uttered the word abortion. He did today. But what you have
seen them really tap into to try and galvanize a far-reaching base is to frame this issue, not just as one of abortion rights, but one more so civil rights. And talking to some people close to the White House, that is to basically and acknowledgement both of the fact that yes, there is a majority of Americans based off recent polls right now support Roe. But when you start looking at unlimited levels of abortion, and limitless abortion as well, that's where you start to see some of some varied approval numbers, especially when you break it down to demographic groups. So, it's just a fascinating point there as well. The framing of this White house to framing this not just as something that has to do with abortion, but something that could lead to a broader infringement on civil rights.
Alcindor: And Leigh Ann, as Zolan is talking about how to sort of how to frame this discussion. There are poll after poll that showed that Americans want to see abortion be legal in some form or fashion in this country. What's your sense of the sort of feeling that maybe there will be a political conversation that will be successful for Democrats amid the midterms when people are, of course, dealing with Inflation, gas prices all of these different things?
Caldwell: Yeah, it's going to be a huge test. So we know for many, many, many elections, Democrats did not go to the polls over the issue of abortion. It was an esoteric fear that it was going to be taken away. It was not an issue that is important to them. They had the access Republicans, though, had a goal and they did. And so now that the tables are turned. What's going to be interesting is if Democrats can mobilize on this. The D. Triple C held
a closed door briefing for House Democrats on Wednesday, anticipating this, and they said that the polling is showing that voters are on their side and the messaging is going to be Democrats have an answer, and that answer is Roe v. Wade. Republicans. Their answer is complete abortion restrictions extremists you choose, and I will say there was a big gun story today, too.
Alcindor: I want to ask you about that, but really quickly. I want to ask you because former President Trump put out a statement that said the following. This is following the Constitution. This brings everything back to the states where it has always belonged. God made this decision. I talked to so many people who supported President Trump, but they didn't like his tweets. They didn't like the brash style, but they wanted an abortion decision. What does that mean for Republicans when it comes to the next candidate?
Caldwell: Right, okay, so as far as abortion is concerned, they have been running on this. This is Mitch McConnell putting in all these because the conservative justices so that they could get this decision, but now that they have this decision, there is some concern more so in the Senate, then in the house about the suburban women voters, and that's part of the reason the reasoning thinking behind Mitch McConnell and why he moved forward on a bipartisan gun bill is because he didn't want to issues to really peel off the suburbs. He can say we are not totally unreasonable. We gave you this even though there knowing abortion ruling was coming.
Alcindor: And I want to talk about, of course, the gun decision that Leigh Ann is talking about, and that sort of issues of guns. That happened this week, the Supreme Court issued the most significant ruling on the Second Amendment in more than a decade. The justices found that there is the Constitution provides a right to carry a gun outside of the home. So Josh, how are they squaring these two things when it comes to abortion and guns? And what does it tell us about how conservatives overall view rights in America?
Gerstein: Well, I mean, a lot of people do see attention right because they're saying that states can't do certain things to ban guns outside the home or make it very difficult for people to carry guns outside the home. But in the area of abortion, they want to allow states to basically do anything they want in terms of regulation. So there is a contrast there. I think what the Republican justices would say is many of them consider themselves to be originalists. They want to look at the literal words of the constitution and there is a second amendment that talks about the right to keep and bear arms. People may disagree about what that means. There's no amendment that mentions abortion in the Constitution, and that's what the decision that came out today basically said it's not in the Constitution. We don't think it's implied in the Constitution, either. And so the issue was left to the states. Whereas you know, this is something the founders put in the Constitution about guns, and that's something the court just has to grapple with.
Alcindor: And if this decision wasn't happening. We might be talking about guns because there was that big that big movement in the Senate to pass bipartisan gun legislation. But I have to ask you one last question because we're focused on abortion tonight. Josh, you broke this story. It is a career defining story. Of course, there are so many people with different opinions on the actual decision. But I want to take us inside for a moment with the minute that we have left on what you thought when you realized what you had in terms of this document, and what you're reporting targets are now?
Gerstein: Well, we thought it was going to be a pretty momentous decision, and I thought when it first came out, our concern really wasn't that it wasn't authentic. When we published it is difficult to explain to people just why you're so confident that it's real. So when, when Chief Justice Roberts came out and said, this is an authentic draft, we thought that was a pretty huge, significant milestone and take your breath away a little bit when you got this reporting, and you thought, wow. What? This hasn't I mean, I've been covering the Supreme Court off and on for about two decades and I've never seen anything like this. And I started to research what kind of leaks we've seen. And sometimes there are rumors about an opinion or rumors about a justice changing his mind in a case. But there never been an actual draft opinion that came out a long in advance of the decision being released. So we knew it was a pretty extraordinary event and that it was also on a Supreme Court decision that would get riveting attention for the public. As you know, you mean of the cases that are resolved every year. The public doesn't pay attention to the vast majority of them. And I think, as we see from tonight's program, people are very, very focused on this one.
Alcindor: Well, we'll have to keep watching your reporting.
Thank you to Nia, Zolan, Leigh Ann, and Josh for joining us and for sharing your reporting.
On Saturdays, PBS News Weekend anchor Geoff Bennett has the latest on the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Thank you for joining us.
I'm Yamiche Alcindor. Goodnight from Washington.