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An OBGYN Doctor on the Impact of Mississippi's abortion case

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Supreme Court heard a case today which could ultimately reverse the constitutional right to an abortion. The justices are considering a Mississippi law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks, but the state of Mississippi argued further that the court's previous decisions establishing the right to an abortion were wrongly decided.

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SCOTT STEWART: Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey haunt our country. They have no basis in the Constitution. They have no home in our history or traditions.

SHAPIRO: That's Mississippi Solicitor General Scott Stewart. One of those fighting to keep abortion legal is Dr. Jamila Perritt. She is president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. Welcome.

JAMILA PERRITT: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: Today's arguments left many with the impression that the justices will hollow out Roe, if not overturn it altogether. Is that your sense?

PERRITT: It's hard to say. I mean, we don't know what the justices are going to do, you know, or what the court is going to do until we have a decision in June. However, the conservative members of the court did signal an openness to upholding the abortion ban, but they're divided on whether to completely overturn previous decisions like Roe and Casey.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about those different options before them. First, walk us through, what happens if the justices adopt the most sweeping argument made by Mississippi lawyers, that there is no constitutional right to abortion? What would the immediate consequences across the U.S. be?

PERRITT: Well, I want to start by just being really clear. I'm not a lawyer. I'm not a politician. I'm a doctor. And as a doctor, I take care of real people, people who will be deeply impacted by overturning - or upholding this legislation and overturning access to abortion care. What that means for folks in Mississippi and around the country is whether or not you have access to the safe, essential, medically necessary care is going to depend wholly on where you live in the country and what kind of resources you have access to.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about that. I mean, it doesn't affect everybody equally. Who would be most affected by it?

PERRITT: Well, it's not going to affect everyone equally, because access to abortion has never been equal around the country. Folks with means, with resources will always have access to this care regardless of what happens at the level of the Supreme Court. We saw that happening prior to Roe v. Wade, and we'll see that - and we see that continuing to happen with state level abortion restrictions around the country. So what that means is that those living on low income - young people, people of color in particular, immigrants, folks who don't have child care, who don't have time off from work - are always going to be left out from any - are going to be deeply impacted by anything that restricts access to abortion care. And so this is going to have a disproportionate and inequitable impact on many communities.

SHAPIRO: You're describing the impact on patients. What about for doctors who perform abortions?

PERRITT: I think it's complicated for doctors who perform abortions. It's - one of the oaths that we take when we are entering and leaving medical school is to make sure that we are supporting people with the care that they need in the way that they needed, this oath to first do no harm. And by passing these kinds of restrictions, it is directly misaligned with our oath to follow ethical guidelines in providing individuals with non-judgmental and complete patient care. We see this reflected in statements like those that come out of the leading medical organizations, including the American College of OBGYNs, the American Medical Association, who oppose these limits on accessing safe and essential medical care like abortion care.

SHAPIRO: And so what happens when a doctor is faced with that apparent conflict?

PERRITT: Well, we only have to look to states like Texas, to what's happening now in Mississippi and Tennessee and Ohio to find out what the impact is. We have physicians and health care providers who support abortion care really put in a difficult place of trying to be able to provide this comprehensive care to the communities that they serve and being put in the - in a position to have to make really tough decisions about what they can and cannot say, who they can and cannot refer to care. And that's not medicine. That's not ethical.

SHAPIRO: If we are looking at a future where the U.S. has a patchwork of state laws regarding the legality of abortion, describe what that means in practical terms for somebody who wants to end a pregnancy.

PERRITT: What that means is you have to be able to make the arrangements. You need to have money. You need to have time. You need to have resources. You need to be able to find a provider who is willing to care for you. Often what that means is traveling hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to be able to get care. And so it makes it exceedingly difficult. But the reality is that that's the point, right? That's the point of passing these state-level restrictions. The point is to eliminate access to abortion, period. So whether it shows up in gestational age bands like we're seeing in Mississippi, whether it looks like trap laws, whether it looks like physician providing only restrictions on care, the intent is the same.

SHAPIRO: And so just briefly, what do you think the response from abortion rights supporters needs to be?

PERRITT: Well, where - we saw that response today. We're organizing. We're lifting our voices. We're centering the stories of people who've had an abortion, people who are providing abortions. And so we're really making sure that folks understand there is no state in the country where the majority of people do not support access to abortion care. We need to say that frequently and often.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Jamila Perritt is president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. Thank you very much.

PERRITT: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: And in another part of the program, we hear from an abortion rights opponent. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.