In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last year, Planned Parenthood is dealing with an ever-shifting landscape of legal restrictions on reproductive care. Bills get passed and then temporarily blocked by judges. Patients hear about an abortion ban in their state and think it applies to contraception as well. Others worry about seeking care for a miscarriage, fearing prosecution.
“These restrictions are sowing chaos and confusion into people’s lives,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood. “The thing that keeps me up at night is ensuring that we have the infrastructure — from a care perspective, from a resource perspective, from a legal perspective — to protect our patients and providers, to get people access to the care that they need.”
For Johnson, the task of informing and caring for patients is tied up with trying to prevent the erosion of democracy itself. STAT caught up with her soon after she was selected as a member of the 2023 STATUS List. — Eric Boodman
There are two lawsuits in federal court regarding abortion pills. One, filed in Amarillo, Texas, by anti-abortion groups, is seeking to revoke the Food and Drug Administration 23-year-old approval of mifepristone. The other, filed in Seattle by 12 state governments, is asking the FDA to immediately remove the restrictions on its use, given that this drug is safer than Tylenol. How do you see these cases?
The case in Amarillo is a wake-up call to everyone who thought that they didn’t have a stake in this or that they lived in a state where they weren’t going to lose access to abortion. We’re not aware of any medication where a court has revoked an evidence-based FDA approval. So we’re clearly very concerned, as the entire medical community should be. It’s a very dangerous precedent. For them to have forum-shopped to a federal court where they were guaranteed to get a judge who has demonstrated a hostile viewpoint on reproductive rights — we have concerns about how our judiciary is being used.
The other case is important, raising questions about why we have restrictions on a medication that is proven to be incredibly safe and effective. I’m grateful for that engagement from governors and attorneys general.
What role will alliances with Republicans play in protecting reproductive rights?
The majority of people in virtually every state support access to reproductive freedom. There’s no public opinion poll that suggests that that is not the case. So the question we have to ask is: How can it be that the majority of people believe in bodily autonomy, and these laws are still being pushed? What you see is a pattern of gerrymandering, locking in control of state houses.
The question I have for people who identify as Republican, who are benefiting from other policies, but are clearly not being fully represented, is: How are they going to continue to show up in this fight? There’s no way we could have gotten to the kind of ballot measure results that you saw in 2022 without Republican and independent support. We are trying to demonstrate this disconnect between having majority support for reproductive freedom and having laws, systems, structures that deny our ability to hold these lawmakers accountable.
That means engaging in questions around democracy reform, but also talking to folks on both sides about getting stronger protections. This is totally a nonpartisan issue. The Republican Party has been captured by an anti-abortion-rights minority, and that is pushing them to very extreme positions that are impacting the health and life of many people who could become pregnant.