Janine Jackson interviewed Jessica Mason Pieklo about abortion rights in post-Roe America on the July 15, 2022, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.
Janine Jackson: In their story last May headlined, “Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Case Challenging Roe v. Wade,” the New York Times told readers that with consideration of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court was plunging “back into the contentious debate over abortion.”
But the right established in Roe v. Wade of the individual and not the state to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy prior to the point at which a fetus could live outside the womb is actually not really contentious. Majorities of the US public support it, have supported it, and for some 50 years, courts have as well.
The reversal of Roe by the current court, therefore, presents a challenge to journalists: reflect actual public opinion, tell the real history of jurisprudence and explain the particular political deformation of the current court, or revert to a “some say, others differ” mode that subsumes the public will and human rights into a backdrop of Beltway conventional wisdom.
And that would remind us again why corporate media might not be the place for the conversations we need to have to move us forward.
Well, let’s talk about that with Jessica Mason Pieklo, senior vice president and executive editor at Rewire News Group, which has kept a long-term eye on the issues of reproductive rights and justice. She joins us now by phone from Colorado. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Jessica Mason Pieklo.
Jessica Mason Pieklo: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
JJ: Well, you’ve been reporting on reproductive justice and the courts for more than a minute. And you wrote recently that you used to sort of parse
legal rulings and look at the language and look at what it meant, but that with Dobbs, it didn’t even really merit that kind of inspection, and it kind of represented a categorical change in what the court says and does.
I wonder if we could start with that on the ruling itself and why you think that it represented a kind of change in the way the court speaks on these issues.
JMP: Sure. Thank you. I think that’s an excellent place to start. You know, within the legal movement, both the conservative and progressive legal movements prior to the Dobbs decision, really since Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there [was], in the court, a more honest debate over what the state could or could not do in terms of regulating pregnancy and childbirth and those outcomes.
And that was under the Planned Parenthood v. Casey framework. That was the great abortion compromise that the Supreme Court came up with as a way to save Roe and sort of settle this debate, so to speak, for the ages. And what happened as a result of the political campaign to take over the courts and to really move this issue away from the will of the people and into a minoritarian space is that the Dobbs decision is a perfect reflection of that.
It cherry picks history, it cherry picks the law and it really just comes to a conclusion that was predetermined by Sam Alito and the other conservative justices on the court.
And I think that’s the one thing that I really hope folks understand that is really different with this iteration of the Roberts court and what we will see amplified moving forward is that for the conservative legal movement, it is outcome determinative.
So it doesn’t matter what the law says. They will find the outcome that they are looking for and work the law backwards to make it fit.
JJ: Well that seems seismic and something that we would hope that journalism would recognize and not simply try to stuff this new reality into an old framework. And I wonder what you as a reporter make of the way—and I know it’s all in medias res, you know, they’re trying to figure it out as we all are—but what do you make of the way media are addressing, what you’re saying is this is not the same. We have to address this differently. Are media rising to that challenge?
JMP: You know, there are fits and starts. I think that along with the general public, there is an understanding within more mainstream and Beltway media that the institutions are failing in this moment, whether it’s the political leadership, whether it’s our institutions like the Supreme Court, they are failing.
And our entire democratic experiment in this country is at risk right now. And my concern is that that realization is starting to dawn a little too late for folks who really have the ability to do something about it.
But I do remain hopeful that folks are seeing the moment for what it is. I think the shift that we saw in some of the conversation around the court when the Dobbs opinion was leaked in May and then, you know, the follow up opinion actually being released and not changing substantively at all—I mean, I think what’s been really interesting to see is how, you know, how the leak happened and then the final opinion came out and there weren’t really any changes, even some of the most egregious parts of the opinion that media latched onto about a, you know, steady domestic supply of infants, for example, that’s still in the final opinion, right?
So I think as the dust settles and truly how extreme the reality is, I do think they’re starting to latch onto it. I worry though that media has ingrained habits. And that is one of the areas where, in three months from the Dobbs decision and in six months from the Dobbs decision, I’m concerned that journalists who don’t cover this issue and the Supreme Court on the regular will fall back into habits that they know just because that’s what we all do as humans, right? We just sort of fall into our old habits.
I’m concerned that we’ll see that in the media as well, and a return to treating abortion as a political issue to be resolved in statehouses and in Congress, as opposed to a human rights crisis that is unfolding in this country right now.
JJ: Absolutely. Well, concretely, as we speak, Biden has introduced an executive order that talks about government level protections for abortion rights, but I wonder what you make of that generally. And then where do you see the fight right now? Big question.
JMP: That’s a huge question. So let me sort of take them in reverse order. Right now, the fight is absolutely in the states and in your local communities about getting people access to care that they need.
This is a scramble. Where I live in Colorado, for example, when the Texas ban first went into effect almost a year ago, we saw a 500% increase in patient need here in the state of Colorado. And that’s only increased since then. So even in states that currently protect abortion access, it is really, really difficult to access care.
So that’s the immediate moment that needs to be met, is just getting people access to healthcare. The political moment is a real one too, though, and I was glad to see the administration release the executive order.
There are some good parts to it. It doesn’t go far enough. It is too vague. I mean, there are lots of places to criticize, but I think it is important that we have finally, at least, something to start with.
I was happy to see that the administration was taking seriously the need to really address attacks on people’s rights to travel for care, because this is something that extends well beyond the
abortion issue. If we start to unravel the constitutional right to travel in this country, we have no idea where that goes.
So there are big warning signs in the Dobbs decision for a whole panoply and host of other rights for us. The Biden administration taking action on this with this executive order is a good initial first step. I don’t think it goes far enough. I also think it doesn’t matter what the administration did with regard to abortion rights, Republicans and the conservatives on the right were going to say that it went too far anyway, so you might as well swing for the fences at this moment.
JJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, we’ve always made a point on this show to acknowledge that some people were never touched by Roe, if you will. Anybody relying on public assistance wouldn’t have access to this so-called right.
Understanding that just makes for a longer timeline and understanding of this fight. And, it also highlights groups that have been providing access to abortion even while it was supposedly provided for everyone.
All of it comes back to say what I know that you think about, which is that when we talk about these rights, they’re not equally accessed by everyone. And it’s important for reporters in particular who are talking about the reality of Roe or post-Roe to acknowledge that it impacts different people differently.
JMP: Absolutely. I mean, for so many people in this country, Roe was already aspirational at best. So what we will see as part of the fallout from this decision is that those folks who were already struggling and marginalized in their ability to access care will only be more so.
For example, Whole Woman’s Health in Texas has announced that they are moving their clinics to New Mexico as a result of Texas’ trigger law being able to take effect which bans abortions; abortion is functionally banned in the state of Texas right now.
And so while it’s good that Whole Woman’s Health is able to move services to New Mexico, to a state where there’s protected access and help facilitate the travel of patients to New Mexico, the reality is that some of those clinics, like the McAllen clinic, were serving the Rio Grande Valley that had no access to healthcare at all.
With those clinics closing, then that’s not just abortion care that’s going away. So we’re exacerbating these deserts, and who’s accessing that in the Rio Grande valley? Well, those are largely Latina and undocumented people.
JJ: Right. And I guess I want to say two things with that, is that both it means that those folks who have lacked access continue to lack access, but also that folks have been making networks to get access…
JJ: …even while, nominally, abortion was legal, it wasn’t for them. And so those networks exist and those people exist and we should acknowledge that that’s there.
JMP: Absolutely. Some of the silver linings of this moment have been witnessing those networks that were already in place, local direct aid and practical aid support groups.
Those are folks who, you know, give patients and people who need money to travel to care, hotels, gas, those kinds of things, along with abortion funds, making sure people can have money for their procedures, because most of the time this isn’t covered by insurance and they’re paying out of pocket. And that is very expensive. I mean, it’s not like these are cheap procedures.
So to see those networks in place and really be able to rise up in this moment is why we do the work, honestly. But it’s also tragic because they’re so beleaguered right now, they’re so overwhelmed. The need for care is so much, and they’re also human beings in their own response. And so they are functional first responders to this huge crisis with very little support of their own.
JJ: Absolutely. We are trying to pull out differently impacted groups, and one of them that is maybe not getting that much attention is young people. And I know that you’ve written about another Supreme Court ruling, Bellotti, that has a special impact here that I haven’t heard media talking about. What’s meaningful there?
JMP: So the Bellotti decision, as you said, absolutely does protect the right of minors to be able to access abortion. That is under fire at this point as well, along with a whole host of others.
When we talk about the harm that abortion bans create and where impact falls, minors who need access are really at the sort of tip of that sphere and we see that a thousand fold.
And, and I could talk about this for hours, but let me kind of draw a real fine point on it. In response to the Dobbs decision and the fallout at the state level of these abortion bans, we had the American Pediatric Association issue a statement on the harms of mandating childbirth for children.
And I pause there on purpose, because the American Pediatric Association is a non-political body. Their job is to just set standards of medical care for pediatricians across the country. And they are now in a spot where they are having to say that the stated policy goals of the conservative movement are contrary to human rights law.
This court is taking us to a very, very dark place so quickly.
JJ: So the Bellotti ruling was a—what was that about, briefly? What were the facts of that case?
JMP: Oh, sure. Absolutely. So the Bellotti decision was one of the sort of first decisions to come from Roe that said, functionally, teenagers don’t have to have their parent’s consent, you know, minors don’t have to have their parent’s consent to have an abortion, that there can be other processes involved if consent is not available.
And so that creates the pathway for what’s called judicial bypass. And now there is a real push to not only upend judicial bypass and mandate parental consent, sometimes two-parent consent.
But, for example, in the state of Texas, the Republican platform there is suggesting that if people stay on their parents’ insurance as is allowed under the Affordable Care Act until they’re 26, that their parents have to consent to a whole host of these kinds of procedures.
So this is an attack on the autonomy of young people in really disturbing ways. And you put that in line with the decision that the Supreme Court released at the end of this term, the Bruen decision on guns, and we’re functionally telling young people in this country that they have no right to feel secure in their bodies.
JJ: Final thoughts from you, Jessica, about what reporters could be doing more of or less of as they cover, as they certainly will, the question of abortion rights going forward. What would you like to see more or perhaps less of.
JMP: I would really love to see more centering of the patients and providers, not in terms of the tragedy stories, but in terms of really what it means to deny people’s access to basic healthcare as a stated policy position in this country.
And I would love to see reporters take these cases where we have a 10-year-old assault victim who has to travel across state lines to have an abortion and know that that might not even be guaranteed.
I want those stories to go back to the elected officials and get them on the record for defending these positions. They campaign off of this. They raise millions of dollars off of this. They should stand by the results of their policies.
JJ: We’ve been speaking with Jessica Mason Pieklo. She’s senior vice president and executive editor at Rewire News Group. They’re online at rewirenewsgroup.com. Jessica Mason Pieklo, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.
JMP: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
The post “They Will Find the Outcome That They Are Looking for and Work the Law Backwards to Make It Fit.” appeared first on FAIR.
This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Janine Jackson.