Transcribe your podcast

From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily. As the confirmation hearings for Amy CONI Berrett begin this week, much has been made of the decades long battle that got the right to this moment, with a conservative majority cemented on the court and a nominee who openly opposes abortion.


Less attention has been paid to how the left lost that battle. Today, a conversation with Elise Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.


It's Monday, October 12th. Good morning, Michael, Emily. Hi, Elise, how are you? I'm supposed to be the one saying hello. Thank you. So at least the reason we want to talk to you is because we are at this very strange moment in the United States. The majority of Americans support the right to abortion and support Roe v. Wade. And yet the Senate is about to confirm and openly anti-abortion justice, the third conservative justice in the past four years.


And that right to abortion very much seems in jeopardy. And your group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, exists to protect abortion rights. So it seems you are on the cusp of a of a pretty historic defeat despite having public opinion on your side. Does that all feel kind of like an accurate characterization of where things are? Yeah, yeah, Michael, I would say that's pretty accurate and not to take the the group that I lead out of it, but I would say that the American people are on the cusp of a pretty historic defeat if, in fact, this nominee is confirmed and this court does what the president said it was designed to do, which is undermine the fundamental right to abortion.


We'll say more say more about that when you say the American people. Well, when I say the American people are on the cusp of a very important defeat, what we're experiencing is something that a minority of people have not been able to achieve legislatively, have not been able to gain political consensus around using one of the branches of government to impose that will on people. And the impact will be fairly catastrophic, both in terms of what people will experience in their real lives, but also in terms of the confidence of the American people that our values sets, our common beliefs are part of what guides our democracy.


Mm hmm.


You're saying that conservatives are using the Supreme Court to do what they couldn't do legislatively, but wouldn't the right say that that's what the left also did with Roe v. Wade?


It's just that the right has been doing it better than the left over the past few years.


You know, I don't know what they would say, I would say that we have tracked a lot more money, resources and infrastructure going in to the advancement of right wing judicial activists. Everything from the Federalist Society to Judicial Crisis Network has poured resources into a strategy of moving like minded people on to the courts. In a way, I just don't think there is a parallel among mainstream or left progressives.


But doesn't that just mean that the right is doing it more effectively or better?


Because we find ourselves in this moment where we are, where the court looks like it does the lower courts look like they do filled with conservative judges and Amy Koni Baird is going to be, unless something radical changes in the next couple of days confirmed and ROE is in thread. So I just want to understand how we got here. And part of that story is the right being very effective in this long term strategy.


But it's also correct me if I'm wrong about what the left has not done to counter that, because we have heard a lot about the success of the right and its strategy and we're really interested in what the left was doing during this time.


When you came into this role in 2013, President Obama was in his second term. He had put to liberal and two female justices on the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Donald Trump is not a political figure in anyone's mind.


And at the highest level, it seems like the most important thing for abortion rights advocates is very secure, and that is the reliability of Roe v. Wade. So talk to me about that time period. Sure.


When I went to NARAL in twenty thirteen, we were already dealing with what are talked about a lot, a lack of equity in access. The rate itself stood by. State legislatures had been putting restriction after restriction after restriction in place, which disproportionately did, as it always does, impact Low-Income Women, women of color. And we were kind of in this massive cognitive disconnect, right. We had a majority support, but not enough awareness of what was already happening in some of these red states, what the real impact on women and families was, and a lack of sufficient motivation for our elected officials to speak up about this right.


To make it as central on our side as they have made it on their side. Because I was seeing that across the board, nobody was talking about the issues in a way that represented the threat of the erosion of abortion rights that we were already seeing manifest at the state level, the power grab that was happening from the right and in fact, the real extremity of the right's position that actually needed to be exposed. So you think about twenty twelve when Todd Akin, who was running against Claire McCaskill, said in an interview, women don't need abortions in the case of rape because if it's a legitimate rape, the body has a way of shutting that whole thing down.


A piece of medical disinformation, absolutely untrue. But also, all of the sudden, people were like, well, wow, that feels like a very extreme statement. And he lost, right.


Todd Akin lost in Claire McCaskill won. But what we failed to do in that moment was demonstrate that Todd Akin was, in fact demonstrative of an entire philosophical framework that was driving the GOP and was hugely unpopular. And I think silence in the political realm has both allowed the right to gain power, but also created unimaginable threats. Again, yes. To abortion rights, which is important enough on its own. But really, this is an entire ideological framework that is way out of step with American mainstream.


I just want to be clear. Are you saying that in 2013, the writing on the wall, to use your phrase, was really extreme speech around abortion, like what you were seeing from figures like a Todd Akin and that you were concerned because there wasn't a comfort level on the left around confronting it and talking about it.


And so you felt it wasn't being sufficiently addressed. Yeah, I think that there were absolutely parts of the reproductive rights and justice movement that were pushing for it to be talked about, but I think, you know, most people in elected positions had been taught for a long time to sort of check the box on being what we would call pro-choice and then move on because there was an inherent discomfort in actually interrogating the issue much more than that. And I think that has fundamentally allowed the right to gain disproportionate power and hurt us.


You know, the fundamental platform of the Republican Party at this point is extreme and it absolutely deserves to be interrogated. What does it look like when you criminalize abortion? What happens? Are you actually sending women to jail? Most women who seek abortion care are already moms. What happens to their family? What are you doing to doctors? How do you investigate miscarriages? What does that look like and feel like to the American people who have enjoyed this fundamental freedom for almost 50 years?


It is a really radical change in our culture, in our society, and it has to be interrogated. And I do not think we've done enough of that.


So back to 2013, you go to narrow with this concern in your head that there's not sufficient appetite within the movement to confront this. So what is your priority at that point? Because in this period, there are dozens of restrictions being put in place, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, where you are from all kinds of restrictions, hospital admitting privileges, building codes for abortion clinics. So what were you doing? Were you on the ground for any of these battles?


Yeah, absolutely.


I mean, it narrow along with our partners and we work in a vast movement, has a presence in all 50 states. But you mentioned Texas. And, you know, I think Texas is such an interesting place to start because in twenty thirteen, Wendy Davis took to the floor of the Texas state legislature in an old school filibuster. Texas law require you do it really old school. And you know, I don't.


And she was she was basically standing in the legislature trying to physically filibuster for, I think, some record amount of time a state law that would have restricted abortion.


Absolutely. And she had a personal story that was driving her, but she lost that battle. She did write she actually won by the old set of rules. She filibustered long enough for the clerk to expire. Then Governor Rick Perry said, well, we'll go into another special session to get this done. That didn't work. And then they had to change the rules again. They went to a third special session with changing the number of votes that was required.


And I think that was really a crucial example of their willingness to change the rules, to drive an agenda that they can't get done by the old democratic way of doing things. North Carolina, you mentioned. Right, one of the most controversial restrictions became sort of famous because they passed it in the dead of night attached to a motorcycle safety bill. These are things you do when you really don't want the public to have the opportunity to understand what is going on and participate and that fundamental democratic process of being able to lobby your elected officials so that they are representing you.


That is what we have seen. And I think that what we have been wholly unprepared and to some degree unwilling to fight is the changing of the rules at every step of the way.


But at what point do you and the people you work with turn to yourselves and say they're changing the rules, we need to do the same?


You know, I remember, you know, we had just had a conversation with Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List. And it's very clear from talking to her that. The exact means the partners, the process is not exactly top of mind, it's the goal and I think it becomes clear in hearing you describe this and in watching recent history that the right was simply more dogged and in some ways more creative.


Yeah, that I mean. I'm going to think on that for a second. The. I think that is absolutely true across issues, isn't it?


I mean, we're we're dealing with a crisis in democracy of which this threat to abortion rights is but a piece of the puzzle. You know, when we say everything is on the line with this election or even the Supreme Court nominee. And I think people really do understand that Roe is absolutely in the crosshairs, but so is the Affordable Care Act, which was actually passed with popular opinion by the will of the people, as well as massive strides in civil rights, voting rights, LGBTQ rights.


Alito just alluded to the fact that a Birgitt fellow is on the line. It just didn't quite get the right case to take it in the last couple of weeks. I think it is emblematic of a deeper disease that has overtaken our democracy. And I think most American people still want to believe in democracy and not change the rules so that we end up with minority rule. But the right has been very comfortable with that for a very long time. And I think that has brought us to the dangerous point we are at.


I'm curious if you think the movement has demanded too much purity from Democratic candidates. And I use that word because that's the word that was used by Senator Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic senator from Missouri, who came under immense pressure from Democrats during her twenty eighteen re-election bid to be very vocal in defending abortion rights. To do the thing that you said in some ways Democrats haven't done enough of in this era. And this was at a time when abortion rights were becoming increasingly limited in McCaskill's state and she lost that race to a Republican.


And her point after that defeat was that the Democratic Party and its allies are forcing Democrats to pass a purity test. On issues like abortion and it's alienating some voters and putting candidates at political risk, which means that rather than having a Democratic senator who is maybe not especially outspoken on abortion, but is a vote for abortion rights in the Senate, Missouri has no Democratic senator, which is in fact the case right now.


Does that resonate with you, that critique? You know, this is something with a great deal of respect that I think Senator McCaskill and I disagree on, I think when in Missouri, just like in my home state of Texas, when we actually have the fundamental conversation about who is standing for freedom, trust in their constituents to make their own decisions versus those who would seek to control those being a great example of that, we win.


This is this is a Republican opponent yet. And and when when we fail to interrogate them on the consequences of their extreme position, we fail to make real to the voters what the stakes are. But that at the end of the day, red states, purple states, blue states, when you actually frame the question of when it comes to who should make the decision about outcomes of individual pregnancies, most people in every state believe that that is a decision best left to the individual, and that when we take the time to have a real empathetic, compassion based conversation with voters, they are so with us.


But what about an imaginary female voter wants to vote for Claire McCaskill, but feels there's not a place for this voter's belief that, yes, a woman should have the right to an abortion, but only in very rare circumstances. And she may get the message if you get the kind of McCaskill campaign you want, that that's not really the Democratic Party's view because the Democrats have followed your guidance and they are being outspoken. And don't you just lose that voter and send them to the Republican side?


No, I would argue that that voter needs to have a more honest and open conversation, one that gets down to core values, one that reminds everybody of the fact that, like, we don't walk in our neighbors shoes.


And when they are allowed to have that conversation and say these are real stories of your neighbors who have faced real complications in life, who should make that decision? What is freedom mean that we actually win those folks? It's when we refuse to engage in the conversation, when we refuse to allow people to sort of work through their complicated personal emotions. This is a plurality of people who I self identify as pro-life are still with us on the governing question of who decides.


But if we don't have the conversation, then they don't know where they fit.


It's interesting the way you just put that, because I think some people might hear what you just said and think, boy, that's not meeting a voter where they are. That's telling a voter how they ought to think about this. And that is potentially very dangerous politically.


But you're saying if you engage the voter and have the conversation, the outcome will be what you and this movement wants.


That's that's a pretty complicated political calculation. I think that's right, but I mean, isn't democracy about the messy stuff, race, gender equity, what happens with sex? What happened? These are all really complicated conversations. And fundamentally, when we have them, I think we win.


So to Claire McCaskill, you say just one to be sure I understand this. I wish you'd had that conversation more fully because I think it would have benefited you. I think that's right.


And not just the conversation about what we stand for and what we represent, but what this terrifying world does actually look like that we are on the cusp of.


But where we are right now, just the political reality of it is that a, Claire McCaskill loses folks like her, the Blue Dog Democrats lost and Democrats have not held the Senate. And if you can't elect Democrats in those kinds of states, then you can't control the Senate and you can't control the Supreme Court. And that brings us back, I think, to Roe v. Wade and where we are right now.


And in talking to my colleagues ahead of talking to you, perhaps the biggest critique of the abortion rights movement during this period is what they describe as an overreliance on the security of Roe v. Wade. This notion that no matter how bad it was to get at the state level or in Congress, that a woman's right to an abortion was going to be constitutionally protected.


So do you feel there has been a kind of overreliance on kind of taking for granted that that thing would always be in the background?


Yes, if I had a time machine and could go back in time and was an adult in charge of the organization that I am now, I absolutely would have changed the way that we did things through the 90s. In the 90s, there was a real opportunity to go on offense in a way that we didn't because people felt overly secure and the right at the same time, 20, 20 hindsight is a great thing. And so. Right, we can only control how we move forward and how we best secure reproductive freedom for everybody in this country, not just in theory, but in practice.


Looking for new ways to earn cash back, introducing Chase Freedom Flex earn five percent on travel purchase through chase, three percent on dining, including takeout, three percent at drugstores and one percent on everything else you buy plus earn five percent on bonus categories like gas stations. Learn more at Chase Freedom Dotcom bonus category spending limits apply and you have to activate each quarter. Cards are issued by JPMorgan Chase Bank and a member. FDIC restrictions and limitations apply offer subject to change.


This is so many Sengupta. I'm a reporter for the New York Times. I've covered nine conflicts written about earthquakes, terror attacks, droughts, floods, many humanitarian crises. My job is to bear witness. Right now I'm writing about climate change and I'm trying to answer a really big and urgent question, which is how do we all live on a hotter planet? But there are also so many other questions we're all asking right now for answers. I rely a lot on the work of my fellow reporters at The New York Times, like, how can I make sense of what I hear from our presidential candidates, what's true, what's not?


What will this school year mean for children growing up in these extraordinary times? Like my own child, how does systemic racism affect all of us? My colleagues and I are doing our best to answer complicated questions like these, but we can't do that without our subscribers. If you'd like to subscribe, go to NY Times dot com slash. Subscribe and thank you. So at least you just said that in retrospect, you wish the movement had done more to prepare for a reality in which Roe was not secure and which you have done more aggressive work at the state level and legislatively, but you're saying you have to look forward now.


So let's look forward. Let's talk about the months ahead. We are airing this episode on the morning that Amy CONI Barrett's confirmation hearings are scheduled to start in the Senate. Our colleague Adam Liptak covers the Supreme Court, anticipates that before we ever see Roe fully overturned, we'll first see Republican states move to limit the right to an abortion because they think the courts are going to back them and that the gap between a woman's right to have an abortion in Democratic states and Republican states is going to grow wider and wider.


And with that scenario in mind, are there states where you feel you must do the most work right now? No, I want to.


Yeah. So we've long looked at what are, as we would call sort of hub's or outpost's for abortion access as states have gotten more restrictive and more draconian. Right. It was crucially important in Illinois that they've passed laws to protect and defend the right to abortion and also remove existing restrictions and state law, not just for the people of Illinois, although that would be enough, but because they are sort of an oasis in a region of states that have been more and more restrictive.


And so we know that there are patients coming across state lines.


So you see certain states is kind of satellites for nearby Republican controlled states that may end up restricting abortion significantly.


I think that is the interim strategy. However, I think it's really important that your listeners understand that the goal of the movement that has seen so much control is not federalism, not to send these decisions back to the states. They've been very clear about that. It is to criminalize abortion across the country. And we have to meet that threat with our own willingness to say it is long overdue that we enshrine these rights and freedoms into federal statute, meaning an act of Congress.


Yes. Yes.


Do you think there ever would be political appetite among Democrats in Congress to pass that kind of legislation? It would be controversial. It would be polarizing. I mean, given all the competing views and priorities of what might be a theoretical Democratic Congress, it's not a subject the Democrats campaign on at the moment. It's not a subject that you hear Joe Biden or Kamala Harris talking about.


You know, I can hardly think of anything less controversial than wanting to codify Roe through federal statute. And in fact, I think it is the Republican fondest wish that Democrats never advanced that legislation because it puts them in an impossible position of trying to please a base that is way out of the mainstream or actually vote for their political future, which does require them acknowledging this fundamental freedom. And so I am absolutely dedicated to working with federal elected officials to call that bluff because that bluff has actually been our downfall.


Well, coming back to where we began, it seems like it would require a lot of the kinds of public conversations. It sounds like you've been thinking we need to have since twenty thirteen to get such legislation passed, although I don't hear us having those conversations just yet.


Yeah, I think culture change is really hard. You we're dealing with, again, a political climate that the radical right gambled on. We're just uncomfortable with these conversations and I cannot be more clear our silence on these issues and the values that drive us to engage in then hand victories to them that they would not otherwise have.


I mean, given that we aren't having those conversations currently, do you understand why someone who supports abortion rights might be feeling a little terrified and disheartened right now, as Amy coni Barrett's confirmation barrels through? And it looks like Roe is in jeopardy. And the plan being articulated is one that requires a lot of time and a lot of political will. And as you just said, real cultural shifting.


Yeah, I think people are right to be alarmed. I think we are on the precipice of something that is bad and will get worse for a lot of people. But I would ask those people to actually listen more carefully because we are having those conversations. Listen to Jen Jordan on the Senate floor in Georgia during their debate of that extreme and extraordinary law. Listen to her invoke the radical position her colleagues across the aisle took in suggesting that miscarriages are something to be investigated.


Listen to your faith, Walker in the state house in Missouri, who has really underscored the hypocrisy of her colleagues who will move to outlaw abortion services, will not addressing infant and maternal mortality in that state. These conversations are happening. They are exposing hypocrisy. They are exposing the damaging consequences to allowing this agenda, which is so out of step with public media and public opinion, to dominate and red states and take our cues from those on the front lines, elevate their voices and conversations, and we will expedite the change that we need to see.


Do you fear that those two lawmakers may be yelling into the wind in those states? I mean, those are red states. Those are states with Republican legislatures.


I mean, put another way, are you now operating as the underdogs here in the way that the right saw themselves until recently? And how does the underdog operate, if not with a similar playbook as the one used by the right to get to this point?


I don't think that we look, ultimately, the playbook on the other side is an undemocratic, if not anti-democratic one. And I don't think that's our playbook, because I think that what we have is an understanding that when we actually see this. For what it is, which is a Kraven. Grab to maintain power for a minority that we start to get the exponential benefits of. Merging all of these movements for voting rights, for civil rights, for racial justice, for gender justice, for abortion rights into a singular.


Voice that exhibits change politically and through policy, and I actually think and I think this is important that they're ramming through this nomination for the Supreme Court has done the service. Bringing clarity to the fact that all of our rights were on the line together and therefore it is bringing coherence to the cacophony in a way that will be transformational in terms of the way elections go and to our legislative power and ultimately in the way we use the courts and litigation. Hmm.


But I still hear you saying that forgive the language. The left and the movement is hurting all of its cats and bringing everything together and trying to marshal a strategy.


And at this moment, that may be very disheartening for some people on the left to hear that right now, the abortion rights movement is figuring out how to knit together all the experiences and the people when defeat is literally on the horizon.


You know, I think that the goal of the right has been to dishearten us. It's been to teach us that. Organizing doesn't matter, and so disengagement is a reasonable strategy and I don't see that happening, and I think if we were to admit defeat and adopt, there are tools that would be the end of our democracy, and that is not what we stand for.


Of course, there are democratic means of achieving top down change and highly regimented organizations and movements, but that has not been the reputation of the kind of activist advocacy left.


In fact, I remember covering the story of gay marriage in New York. It turned into a very chaotic situation until Governor Andrew Cuomo stepped in once and said, we're doing it my way, we're doing it top down. We're going to get it done in a few months. And he did it. But implicit in that was that the left struggles with this kind of discipline.


But I would argue that if you are executing a top down agenda that doesn't actually center those most affected, that doesn't actually represent the majority of people who will benefit or suffer from laws put into place, it's going to be a short term victory. And as you say, the GOP may win this confirmation. They may, in fact, get their greatest wish and undermine Roe. But that's not the end of the story. You know, we are seeing so much more energy on the left come from communities, come from state level legislatures.


That is a strategy that's been pursued by the right for so long. And we have sort of all powerful weapon on our side, which is that we are the majority. And at the end of the day, I believe as long as our democracy holds, that the majority will prevail. You know, ultimately, if our biggest sin is a deep belief in the power of democracy to come out with good outcomes that benefit the majority of American people in all of our complications and all of our beautiful diversity, I'll take that sin.


We have to get better at actualizing it, or else we will lose everything we hold dear.


Well, at least I really want to thank you. I appreciate you engaging in this conversation with us and being so generous with your time. So thank you. Thank you. The Times reports that Judge Amy CONI Barrett signed a letter published in a newspaper in 2006 when she was a law professor opposing abortion, an unusual public declaration for a Supreme Court nominee. Those who signed the letter declared that they, quote, oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death.


The letter is expected to be seized upon by Senate Democrats during CONI Barrett's confirmation hearing as evidence that she has taken a public position on the subject and therefore cannot rule on the subject of abortion in an unbiased manner. Those confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin this morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. We'll be right back. Looking for new ways to earn cash back, introducing Chase Freedom Flex earn five percent on travel purchased through Chase, three percent on dining, including takeout, three percent of drugstores and one percent on everything else you buy, plus earned five percent on bonus categories like gas stations.


Learn more at Chase Freedom Dotcom bonus category spending limits apply and you have to activate each quarter. Cards are issued by JPMorgan Chase Bank and a member. FDIC restrictions and limitations apply offer subject to change. Here's what else you need to know today. The second presidential debate scheduled for Thursday has been canceled after President Trump flatly refused to participate in a virtual format. Instead, both Trump and Joe Biden are expected to hold dueling forums on rival TV networks. Meanwhile, the president's doctor says that his infection is no longer contagious, but did not say whether or not the president is now testing negative for the coronavirus.


And in a sign of Democratic fundraising muscle, Jamie Harrison, who is challenging Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, raised 57 million dollars in the last quarter, the highest quarterly fundraising total for any Senate candidate in U.S. history.


The fundraising reflects the broader financial might of Democratic Senate candidates in 2020 and the specific anger among Democrats at Graham, a vocal Trump defender and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is rushing to confirm Amy CONI Barrett to the Supreme Court.


Recent polling shows that Harrison, who once badly trailed Graham, is now running neck and neck with.


That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Mama. See you tomorrow. Looking for new ways to earn cash back, introducing Chase Freedom Flex earn five percent on travel purchased through Chase, three percent on dining, including takeout, three percent at drugstores and one percent on everything else you buy plus earn five percent on bonus categories like gas stations. Learn more at Chase Freedom Dotcom bonus category spending limits apply and you have to activate each quarter. Cards are issued by JPMorgan Chase Bank and a member.


FDIC restrictions and limitations apply offer subject to change.