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Head of Planned Parenthood on what's next in the fight for abortion rights

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And as we continue our coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, we have called up Alexis McGill Johnson. She is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: Thank you so much.

CHANG: So of course, we all had a heads-up that this ruling was coming based upon the draft opinion leaked earlier this year. But still, I want to ask you, what thoughts ran through your head when you got the news that Roe was indeed overturned?

MCGILL JOHNSON: Just overwhelming sadness and devastation, right? I mean, you're right. We all believed this would happen. I think anybody that sat in the court or heard the oral arguments in December knew that the justices were poised to make this decision - and the week obviously confirmed that - but still holding out hope that cruelty wouldn't prevail in this decision. And it has. And it's just devastating to think about the impact on so many women across the nation.

CHANG: And what are you telling your supporters after such a huge defeat? How are you telling them to still have that hope that you thought was there?

MCGILL JOHNSON: Well, look; I think President Biden said it well. Roe is on the ballot now, right? We are clear how we got here. There were politicians who have been telling us that they can make better decisions about our bodies than we can across the country. And there are justices who lied about their respect for precedent. And so, you know, we are telling people that we will continue to fight for our freedom.

CHANG: Well, of course, there are a lot of people in this country who don't agree with your position. I want to play some tape for you. This is from Mason Deshant, who spoke to one of our producers outside the Supreme Court earlier today.

MASON DESHANT: Us as pro-life activists - yes, we are trying to make abortion illegal around the country. It is just something that needs to be unthinkable. It needs to be illegal.

CHANG: I guess the ultimate question is, what do you say to someone like Mason Deshant and others who have the same position? What do you want to tell them about today's ruling and why you think abortion should still remain legal in this country?

MCGILL JOHNSON: Look, the majority of people still believe that Roe should be the law of the land, and I expect that number to actually grow over the coming weeks. We know that people do not want politicians and lawmakers to be making decisions for them, private decisions. And so, you know, people who oppose access to abortion, they have every right to not have an abortion. They don't have a right to tell me or anyone else what we should do with our own bodies.

CHANG: So in the immediate days ahead, what is the most urgent priority for Planned Parenthood in this moment? What is the plan?

MCGILL JOHNSON: Our priority remains the same, right? It is getting care to patients and patients to care. It is around trying to support them with travel, getting the appointments. And even still, as you know, we're looking at an eventuality where we're looking for 24 states to absorb the abortion care of 50. And that will mean that some people will be forced into pregnancy.

CHANG: How concerned are you now that there will be a lot of women, a lot of people out there who will now be seeking unsafe abortions as a result of this ruling?

MCGILL JOHNSON: I think that's always a concern - right? - when you take away access to care to providers that people will turn to alternative methods. You know, we will support and educate people around methods of self-managed care and also recognize the fact that many people, because they are vulnerable, will be preyed upon with other information and bad actors. I don't know. The journal Lancet, a medical journal, had as its cover just a month ago, you know, the fact that women will die if Roe is overturned. Women will die. So of course we are concerned about what will happen.

CHANG: Yeah. And in terms of the long view, I mean, what happens to the abortion rights movement in your mind? How does it reshape after something like this?

MCGILL JOHNSON: The abortion rights movement will continue to fight, and I think it will become stronger than ever, right? It means that we have to go state by state, restriction by restriction, ban by ban. And I think we're clear - right? - that this isn't just about abortion. We see it in laws that are being introduced in some of these anti-abortion states, laws that are trying to criminalize IVF and IUDs and emergency contraception. We should all be alarmed at the lengths - the extreme lengths that the opposition is going to control our bodies. And so we will continue to fight all of those restrictions until everyone is free.

CHANG: Alexis McGill Johnson is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Thank you very much for your time today.

MCGILL JOHNSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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