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Advocates and lawmakers prepare for an end to legal abortion in much of the nation


A leaked draft decision from the Supreme Court suggests Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. While waiting for the court to officially release its decision, advocates and lawmakers are preparing for an end to legal abortion in much of the nation. Abortions would likely be significantly harder to get in states like Mississippi. Meanwhile, states like California are working to become national havens for abortion rights. To talk about the implications, we're joined by reporters Brittany Brown in Jackson, Miss., with the Gulf States Newsroom, and Danielle Venton from KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to you both.



FADEL: So, Brittany, let's start with you. You were at the clinic at the center of this case yesterday - Mississippi's only abortion clinic. What did you see and hear there?

BROWN: It was unusually quiet at the Jackson Women's Health Organization yesterday. The clinic, which is also known as the Pink House, normally sees abortion rights opponents and protesters outside. But yesterday it was quiet. There were mostly journalists, alongside three or four clinic escorts, known as the Pink House Defenders. And they're a group of volunteers who help patients seeking abortions enter and exit the clinic safely and discreetly.

Derenda Hancock has been a Pink House Defender for nine years now and says abortion rights advocates have been bracing themselves for more restrictions. The Supreme Court leak itself was a surprise, but the draft decision was not. She says it left her numb.

DERENDA HANCOCK: Feelings - don't have any. Like I said, even when you're prepared for this, when you hear it, it's just pretty much gut-wrenching.

FADEL: What about people who oppose abortion rights in Mississippi? What did you hear from them?

BROWN: There were only two abortion rights opponents outside the Pink House yesterday, which is unusual because there's normally a larger crowd out. And I spoke to Omarr Peters with Students for Life of America. He's a coordinator with high school and college students across Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. And he says he is cautiously optimistic about the future of abortion.

OMARR PETERS: I am a pro-life male. I'm an African American. And I just want to see us do better as a community when it comes to life.

FADEL: And what about lawmakers in Mississippi? This is a conservative state. What are they saying about this likely decision?

BROWN: Yeah. So Mississippi is a Republican stronghold state. And most of our leaders, like Governor Tate Reeves, the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, have all said the same thing. They're not pleased with the Supreme Court leak, but they agree with the impending decision. They've maintained their anti-abortion stance. And Mississippi and Louisiana are a few of many Southern states with so-called trigger laws in place, meaning if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, abortions will automatically be banned in almost all cases.

FADEL: OK. So let's bring in Danielle Venton. Danielle, you're in California. When this leaked decision came out, how did people react there?

VENTON: There was a lot of anger, some disbelief, even if this was, to some extent, expected. Of course, plenty of people in California oppose abortion. But last night, among the more than a thousand people gathered at a rally in San Francisco, it was the voices of those supporting abortion rights that were the strongest.

MICHELLE WHITNEY: I'm so proud to be in California at this time and just so lucky.

TONY ASARO: The attack against women is so blatant and disgusting.

CAROLINE HANNAN: It's not enough to just rest on that comfort and to allow people to be slammed back to the Dark Ages.

VENTON: And that was Michelle Whitney (ph), Tony Asaro and Caroline Hannan (ph), all San Francisco residents.

FADEL: Now, that was what regular people were saying. What have state officials said and done since the leak?

VENTON: Well, California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday night said in a statement, California will not sit back, and that the state was going to fight like hell. So Newsom and leaders in the state legislature are proposing an amendment to the state constitution that would ensure the right to an abortion and make California what some lawmakers call a reproductive freedom state. That amendment would go before both the legislature and the public for a vote.

FADEL: A reproductive freedom state - so what does that actually mean?

VENTON: Well, that includes things like legal protections for patients and clinicians, a right to access, a right to choose a provider, to privacy and confidentiality. Lawmakers and, in particular, the Legislative Women's Caucus are advancing 13 different bills. These bills do things like drop copays for abortions and direct more funds to support clinics.

Here's one of the caucus leaders, State Senator Nancy Skinner.

NANCY SKINNER: We will also welcome those from other states. We have let them know they will be safe here. They will be protected. And we'll do everything we can to allow them to exercise their reproductive freedom.

FADEL: OK. So that's at the state level. Are you seeing action at the local level, too?

VENTON: Yeah. I listened in on a board of supervisors meeting for Santa Clara County yesterday, where they voted unanimously to approve a $3 million grant for a local Planned Parenthood clinic. This is what Supervisor Cindy Chavez said just before calling for the vote.

CINDY CHAVEZ: These are really dark times and will be very dark times, especially for poor women in this country. Our action will lighten those times just a little bit and hopefully turn the tide back again.

VENTON: And that money will go towards medical treatment, counseling, lab testing and staff training.

FADEL: Now, I want to turn back to Brittany for a moment. What are abortion rights advocates doing in the meantime in Mississippi while abortions are still legal?

BROWN: They're still providing abortions at the Pink House right now because, so far, the law hasn't changed in Mississippi. Now organizations that fund abortions and help pregnant people cross state lines to access abortions, like the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund and Access Reproductive Care Southeast - are raising money and seeking volunteers to help people travel to reproductive freedom states, like California, Colorado and others, for access to abortions.

In fact, Diane Derzis, the CEO of the Pink House, says they're planning to open other Pink Houses in New Mexico next month that would see Mississippi patients.

FADEL: OK. That's Brittany Brown in Jackson, Miss., with the Gulf States Newsroom. And we also heard from Danielle Venton with member station KQED in San Francisco. Thank you to you both.

BROWN: You're welcome.

VENTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Brittany Brown
Danielle Venton