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With Kavanaugh Confirmed, Both Sides Of Abortion Debate Gear Up For Battle

Oct 10, 2018
Originally published on October 10, 2018 8:03 pm

The end of the fight over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination sets up a new battleground over abortion rights, and activists on both sides of the issue are gearing up for what's likely to be a series of contentious battles from the high court to state legislatures.

Planned Parenthood is unveiling a new strategy designed to prepare for the possibility of a nation without the federal protections for abortion rights outlined in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

In an exclusive interview with NPR, Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said the reproductive rights group is preparing to "super-size" its efforts to connect women with abortion services in what could become an increasingly difficult environment. Already, she said, women in many states with restrictive abortion laws have difficulty obtaining the procedure.

"Over the last years, obviously, there has been a great retraction of access for women in this country in many, many states," Laguens said.

Abortion rights opponents have been working for decades to pass new restrictions at the state and national levels, with their eyes the ultimate prize: overturning Roe and other Supreme Court decisions that have affirmed the right to an abortion. Both sides see that possibility as far more likely with Justice Kavanaugh on the court. He replaced retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had often been the court's swing vote on abortion and other controversial matters.

Life After Roe?

Planned Parenthood's new strategy to fight back includes three major components: expanding access in states with laws favorable to reproductive rights; policy work aimed at strengthening reproductive rights; and efforts to reduce stigma surrounding abortion.

If Roe were overturned or substantially weakened, state legislatures would become the front lines of the fight. Officials at Planned Parenthood and other groups are preparing to lobby state lawmakers and other elected officials to strengthen protections for abortion and remove restrictions already on the books.

In states with more liberal laws, abortion rights advocates see an opportunity to shore up and expand access, with an eye toward serving women from other states. That could include expanding access to medicated abortion through telemedicine and using technology to inform women about how and where they can access services, Planned Parenthood officials said.

"Already women across this country have to access funding; they have to access transportation; they have to access housing; they have to access support networks," Laguens said. "That is gonna be a greater need if there are further restrictions when Roe is attacked by this court."

In Illinois, the organization has expanded its surgical abortion services from two to five locations over the past two years, said Dr. Amy Whitaker, medical director at Planned Parenthood of Illinois.

Whitaker said she already serves women from throughout the Midwest, and she expects to do that "on overdrive" if Roe is overturned and surrounding states pass increasingly restrictive laws.

"With Kavanaugh on the court we know that we're gonna need an ironclad network of states and providers across the country where abortion will still be legal and accessible, no matter what happens on the Supreme Court," Whitaker said.

Cultural influencers

As a final step, Planned Parenthood's Vice President of Communications, Kevin Griffis, said the organization recently restructured its communications division to create a team focused on working with "cultural influencers" like television writers and producers to tell stories about abortion and reproductive health. The organization has been consulted on shows including CW's Jane the Virgin, HBO's Girls and Fox's Glee, he said.

"[Stigma] truly is at the heart of the attacks that we're seeing," Griffis said. "And I think the key to reducing that is really being able to change people's perception of abortion so that they see it for what it is — which is a really safe medical procedure and a typical, standard part of healthcare."

Courts and statehouses

Abortion rights opponents also are preparing for the next phase of this fight, said Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Nance.

As soon as Kavanaugh was sworn in, Nance said, abortion rights opponents "were talking about, starting to get together and think about the best cases to move forward, to put in front of the court."

Several states have passed abortion restrictions that are currently being litigated and could eventually come before the Supreme Court. Iowa, for example, passed one of the most restrictive laws earlier this year. That law, banning abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat could be detected, was blocked by a county judge before it could take effect.

Nance said abortion opponents also will be preparing to continue to push for new abortion restrictions at the state level.

"The state legislature for the past 10 years have been very fertile ground for moving the ball down the field on the issue of life," Nance said. "And so we will continue those efforts, and I think we will continue to see success."

But first, the mid-terms

While advocates on both sides of the abortion debate are looking ahead to legal battles in the coming months and legislative sessions next year, neither side is losing sight of another opportunity to rally each base — the mid-term elections, now less than a month away.

The abortion rights group NARAL is launching a $750,000 direct mail and digital ad campaign aimed at suburban female voters in eight cities. The group has also launched a $1 million ad campaign targeting Republican candidates and urging abortion rights supporters to "vote them out." The group is running ads spring-boarding off Kavanaugh's confirmation and warning that the Republican Party "harms and silences" women.

Fresh off their victory in the Kavanaugh fight, abortion opponents are also running mid-term get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Mallory Quigley, Vice President of Communications for the abortion opponent group Susan B. Anthony List, said her group's primary focus now is on voter canvassing and other efforts leading up to the mid-term elections next month.

"The Kavanaugh confirmation battle kind of exemplified...why we've been engaging in Senate races across the country since last summer," she said. "And that's precisely because the Senate is where Supreme Court justices are confirmed."

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court has given abortion rights opponents an opportunity that they have long hoped for to weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade. That's the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is announcing a new strategy to protect abortion rights. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: The Supreme Court can't just get up one morning and overturn Roe v. Wade. The justices would first have to take up a case that would give them a chance to reconsider that landmark decision. But abortion rights opponents hope that will happen soon. Penny Nance is CEO of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, which supported Kavanaugh.

PENNY NANCE: We're taking a moment here to rejoice in the fact that he was actually confirmed. And - but very quickly, even after the swearing-in, we were talking about starting to get together and think about, you know, the best cases to move forward to put in front of the court.

MCCAMMON: Several state laws severely restricting abortion are already making their way through the court system, including one from Iowa that would ban the procedure as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, often before a woman knows she's pregnant. Kavanaugh is replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was often the swing vote on abortion and other contentious issues. So advocates on both sides are watching to see how much the new court is willing to restrict abortion.

Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens says, in some ways, the last several years have been a training ground for what could be coming. She says many states have passed laws that force women to go to great lengths to get abortions.

DAWN LAGUENS: Already women across this country have to access funding. They have to access transportation. They have to access housing. They have to access support networks. That is going to be a greater need if there are further restrictions when Roe is attacked by this court.

MCCAMMON: Those efforts will now be supersized, Laguens says. She says Planned Parenthood will lobby state legislatures to strengthen protections for abortion rights and expand services in states with more liberal laws. Dr. Amy Whitaker is medical director at Planned Parenthood of Illinois. She's expecting to see more women coming from more restrictive states across the Midwest.

AMY WHITAKER: We know that we're going to need an iron-clad network of states and providers across the country where abortion will still be legal and accessible no matter what happens on the Supreme Court.

MCCAMMON: In the past two years, the organization has expanded surgical abortion services from two to five locations in Illinois. Nationwide, Planned Parenthood also will work to increase access to medication abortion and use technology to connect women with information about where they can get the procedure. Both sides are also preparing for the midterm elections next month. The abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America has launched a million-dollar ad buy telling supporters to vote out Republican candidates this November. This ad opens with an image of Kavanaugh's face.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Right now, women are under attack.

MCCAMMON: NARAL is also launching a separate campaign to educate suburban women in eight key cities around the country about the impending threats to Roe. For abortion rights opponents like Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, the Kavanaugh fight has also served as a reminder of the importance of elections.

MALLORY QUIGLEY: The Kavanaugh confirmation battle kind of exemplified why we've picked this to begin with, you know, why we've been engaging in Senate races across the country since last summer. And that's because, you know, precisely the Senate is where Supreme Court justices are confirmed.

MCCAMMON: With Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, advocates on both sides say their bases are energized and ready for the next phase of the battle over abortion rights. Sarah McCammon, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARIBOU SONG, "CAN'T DO WITHOUT YOU (EXTENDED MIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.