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A Mississippi court case is integral to the future of Roe v. Wade


When the Supreme Court issues a ruling that could completely reshape abortion access in this country, it'll be deciding on a case that came from Mississippi. A new podcast from WWNO and WRKF goes back to Mississippi to trace the origins of that case. The podcast is called "Banned." It's reported and produced by journalist Rosemary Westwood. I recently asked Westwood why it was important to her to look back on this decision's roots in the South.

ROSEMARY WESTWOOD, BYLINE: I really felt, when we heard the Supreme Court was going to take the case and when they were going to examine this issue of whether states can ban abortions early in pregnancy, that people might be surprised that we're at this point. And as someone who's been reporting on abortion laws and access and reproductive health care for a number of years, it did not sort of hit me that way. And I felt like it was my responsibility, in a sense, to try and explain to people this trajectory. I really felt that Roe v. Wade seemed to have a sense of stability and permanence in people's minds. And this podcast is intended to help people understand that that was never the case.

FADEL: Let's talk about that because you start the podcast in 2018, when this ban is being signed into law - a 15-week ban, that you can't get abortions after 15 weeks - which, as you say in the podcast, is seen as clearly unconstitutional. And even then, those signing it into law joked about immediately being sued. And they were. Did state lawmakers and the Mississippi attorney general, Lynn Fitch, who's central to the story you tell and to the story of this moment - did they ever think that this would be the law that would go all the way to the Supreme Court?

WESTWOOD: They tell me they were not expecting this outcome. And actually, Jameson Taylor is one of the lobbyists that helped write this law. And what Jameson Taylor tells me is that he was putting this law together with a sense that it was a good next step for Mississippi. And Jameson says, you know, there wasn't a bunch of geniuses in a room, you know, knowing what we were going to do. But I think when people listen to this podcast, they will realize there were bunches of geniuses in bunches of rooms for 50 years, that this law is not about having some kind of magic bullet. It's about creating an environment where a law like this was going to be successful at some point. And this happens to be that point.

FADEL: And then you spent a lot of time at the Pink House, which I think a lot of our listeners have heard about at this point, because they are at the center of this Supreme Court case, the Jackson Women's Health Organization. And you spoke to both patients but also providers who not only deal with mountains of paperwork to comply with these more and more burdensome laws, but also they have concerns about their own personal safety. Can you talk about what they were telling you?

WESTWOOD: The doctor that we talked to in the podcast - he's had protesters outside places he's been living at, carrying, you know, signs and literature and with his face and his name on these posters, you know, saying who he is. He's afraid to use his name in the podcast. He's afraid for his family. He worries when he walks out of the clinic at night. He could get shot and killed.

FADEL: The other thing that struck me is at the beginning of the podcast, you take us to this moment in 2018, the signing of the 15-week ban into law. That's the law in front of the Supreme Court right now. And you note that everybody that's in that room is white. And then in the next episode, you take us to the Pink House, and you note how almost every patient is Black. Why was it important to draw that picture for the listener?

WESTWOOD: I think one of the fundamental things about abortion and abortion access, whether or not Roe remains, is that it is an economic issue. Like, you need money to get an abortion. And so what you see when this law is being signed are those with means creating this law who are far more likely to be white. And when you go to a clinic, you see people who are far more likely to have less means seeking out abortions to be able to control their lives, really. And when abortions are banned, assuming they're going to be banned, it will definitely be Black women and other women of color and young women - like, teens - who face the greatest hurdles to still trying to access that procedure. And it's, you know, so overlaid with so many other issues of economic and health injustice, really, where Black women are far more likely to die in childbirth. Black babies are far more likely to die in the first year that they're born. And that's true in Mississippi, which also has among the highest rates of maternal and infant death in the country. So the racial components of this issue are stark, and you cannot talk about abortion without talking about that.

FADEL: You know, sometimes I feel like it's characterized as anti-abortion rights activists getting lucky in Mississippi with this law. Was it luck?

WESTWOOD: Partly. Partly it was because if we didn't have Donald Trump as president, this would not be happening. Donald Trump's ability to appoint three conservative justices sealed the deal for Roe v. Wade, and this law was timed sort of fortunately for those in Mississippi who wanted it to be passed and upheld and go to the Supreme Court, because as it was making its way through the federal courts, the Supreme Court was becoming more conservative with each appointment that Donald Trump made. So, yes, partly it was, but the luck matters in the short term, but I don't think so much in the long term when you have this many people working this hard for this long to create, you know, a legal community where Roe v. Wade is seen as an incorrect decision that needs to be fixed, to create lawmakers wanting to pass laws to provide the Supreme Court an opportunity to make such a ruling. I mean, that amount of effort and work is really what got us here. But Mississippi's individual law - this particular law did get lucky to be the one chosen in a way to write this history for the country.

FADEL: Rosemary Westwood is the host of the podcast "Banned" from WWNO and WRKF. Thank you so much.

WESTWOOD: Thank you, Leila.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.