In This Episode
- Abortion rights advocates are bracing for a ruling in a case that could revoke the FDA’s decades-old approval of mifepristone — the most common and effective drug used for medication abortions. Dr. Kristyn Brandi, chair of the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health, tells us how the decision could impact access to reproductive care nationwide.
- And in headlines: at least 59 migrants have died after their boat sank off southern Italy, Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Jordan over flare-ups of violence in the West Bank, and the long-running ‘Dilbert’ comic strip was pulled from hundreds of newspapers after a racist rant from its creator.
- Physicians for Reproductive Health – https://prh.org/
- Planned Parenthood: Mifepristone Fact Sheet – https://tinyurl.com/43dchus4
- Vote Save America: Fuck Bans Action Plan – https://votesaveamerica.com/roe/
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, February 27th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice. And this is What A Day where we are proud to be the very first news outlet to report that Angela Bassett did, in fact, do the thing.
Tre’vell Anderson: I guarantee you that nothing, absolutely nothing at the Oscars will be able to top Ariana DeBose’s BAFTA wrap.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, I condemn whoever first sent that to me because [laughter] it has haunted me ever since. I haven’t slept in days. I can’t get it out of my head. Send help, I need it. [laughter] [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, the massive winter storm that buried parts of California in snow is moving east. Plus, hundreds of newspapers dropped the Dilbert comic strip after a racist tirade from its creator.
Josie Duffy Rice: But first, abortion advocates nationwide are bracing themselves for a ruling from a federal judge in Texas over a case that could revoke access to a key abortion medication nationwide. A decision is expected as early as this week.
Tre’vell Anderson: Okay, so let’s start with the basics here. Who is behind this particular case and what exactly are they trying to accomplish beyond getting on all of our nerves?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, well, that’s their main goal, I assume. But this case was brought by the conservative advocacy group the Alliance Defending Freedom. Incredible name, given the fact it’s the exact opposite thing they are doing.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: Members of this group were involved in a now infamous Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that resulted in the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade last summer. Um. And now this alliance has since shifted its focus to challenging the FDA’s decision from over 20 years ago to approve the drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, the two most common and effective drugs used for medication abortions. By the way, mifepristone is also used to treat patients experiencing miscarriages and can help people with Cushing’s syndrome. That’s a disorder caused by the overproduction of stress hormone. So it’s not just used for medication abortion.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: So the group is arguing that the FDA should have never approved this drug in the first place, and these pills should be taken off the market in all states, regardless of their policies on abortion. And if the court sides with those anti-abortion advocates, it’ll make it much harder for people seeking abortions across the country to access this essential medication. It would even make it illegal for online providers to send the medication in the mail as well.
Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so hate that. And–
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: You’re the legal expert here, but I’m assuming this would establish and set like a very dangerous legal precedent if it comes to fruition in this way.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Calling me a legal expert is a stretch, but [laughter] you are correct about that. Advocates are concerned that abortion opponents won’t stop with these two drugs. Right? Like, what’s to stop them from coming after things like birth control, like the morning after pill if a judge deems those to be abortive drugs. Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: And we’ve already seen lawmakers target access to these and other forms of contraception on the state level in GOP led legislatures like this is what we were always afraid of with the end of Roe. When conservatives said it should be up to the states, let states decide, the fear was always that it was never going to be up to the States. That this was a cover for banning any sort of abortion or birth control, period. And a coalition of Democratic led states have already spoken out, saying that such a ruling would be, quote, “nothing short of catastrophic.” Abortion rights groups like NARAL pro-choice America have called the possibility a, quote, “backdoor abortion ban.” And again, this is what we were scared of.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm. Yeah. You know, we had so many activists, advocates talking about, you know, even though this might look a particular way or might look like they want to put this responsibility in the hands of the states, that it was, you know, a long game toward, as the activist group said, a backdoor abortion plan. Um. And given that this case right here is in Texas, a state with a lengthy track record of criminalizing reproductive choice, I assume it’s not looking very good.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Naturally, a lot of people are preparing for the worst because U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, the conservative federal judge overseeing this case, was appointed by, you guessed it, former President Donald Trump. And he’s considered to be an activist judge. Right. He’s one of the most conservative judges in the nation.
Tre’vell Anderson: And you got the chance to speak with someone about the case, right, Josie?
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. I spoke to Dr. Kristyn Brandi, chair of the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health and a practicing OB-GYN in New Jersey. I started by asking her about the repercussions the decision could have on access to reproductive care nationwide.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: It’s newly concerning for people that are in places that have protections around abortion, in places like California and my practice in New Jersey. And medication abortion is 53% or about over half of abortion care right now. The other thing of note is that medication abortion is a really great tool for people that can’t go in person to get medications. But we’ve seen in Dobbs that people that have difficulty accessing care are often people that come from marginalized communities, BIPOC people, young people, people that are undocumented, that can’t go through checkpoints to get to a clinic. People that are incarcerated.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: And so if we are limiting that in any way, that’s really going to be disproportionately impacting people that are already marginalized in health care.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely. So tell us a little bit more about the logic that the court may use to outlaw these drugs. Right? Like, is there any evidence that these drugs are actually dangerous, as these anti-abortion groups are arguing? How do you see them getting to this point where they would say, okay, this drug is no longer available or this medication is no longer available?
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: I think that’s probably one of the most disheartening parts about this. There is overwhelming evidence that this medication is safe and effective and that the FDA did nothing wrong in actually approving this medication, just like they approve all other kinds of medicines. We’ve had many studies to look at the outcomes of what have happened to people using this medicine. And overwhelmingly, it is, I like to say, ridiculously safe. There is a rate of less than 0.1 percent of all people that take this medicine need some type of serious intervention, like being hospitalized or getting a blood transfusion. If you compare it to other medications, things like Tylenol and Advil that are over the counter, it actually has less side effects and less complications. The evidence is very clear about this. And essentially this lawsuit, while it’s arguing about safety, the hope is that it’s going to ignore all of those actual safety claims and just go at the politics of this issue. If it’s just going to ignore all of that data. I hate to use the slippery slope argument, but like what does that mean for literally any other medication and how it gets approved and released to the public?
Josie Duffy Rice: No, I also hate slippery slope arguments but this is the classic example of a valid slippery slope argument. Right. So you were recently at the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris to talk about the potential repercussions of the Texas case. What came out of that discussion? And do you feel like the Biden administration has a plan for how to respond to this potential action by the court?
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: It was really a great conversation. I will say that the vice president really expressed a good understanding of what’s going on, why this is important, and talked about some of the things that the administration can do, although it’s challenging because the separations of powers, that they can only do so many things. But I think they are very interested in trying to challenge this in any way that they can. Technically, the FDA is a separate thing than the legal system. And so working with the FDA, working with the Department of Justice, it seems like they had anything they possibly could on the table to try to protect this care. So I’m really glad that the vice president and her team really know how important this is and how devastating it could be if we lose this medication.
Josie Duffy Rice: So separate from this case, also on Friday, a dozen blue states sued the FDA over the special restrictions the agency has placed on these two drugs. Since we are expecting a worst case scenario from the judge in Texas, would this other federal suit have any effect on the outcome of this decision or how does that play into the kind of legal process here or the legal outcome?
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: I was really excited to see this lawsuit because I think it actually got to like a legitimate concern around the FDA’s control of this medication. Mifepristone is regulated by something called the REMS criteria, which essentially is a special category of drugs that have a lot of harmful side effects that need to be really carefully regulated, things like chemotherapy drugs. So mifepristone is put under this category, even though it may not have warranted it based on the safety record that we know that this medicine has. And so there’s special ways that the medication has to be released. Until recently, you couldn’t actually prescribe the medicine. You had to have it like stocked in your clinic or hospital. And so these attorney generals and their lawsuit actually challenge a legitimate concern around how this medicine is regulated and how it doesn’t need all this red tape to be able to be given. I thought that was such a great idea. If we weren’t in this setting right now, where we may lose this medication altogether. And so it seems kind of like a moot point right now.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: And a lot of us are just kind of waiting for this Texas ruling to figure out what’s going to happen. Regardless of the outcome, it’s already adding to the confusion and chaos that exists right now in the US around abortion care, even having a lawsuit that is trying to take mifepristone off the market. Many people are hearing both that medication abortion is going away or that this medicine is unsafe because that’s why would they challenge that to make the FDA take it away if it wasn’t safe?
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. Right.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: And I’m really concerned about people just not knowing what’s available to them and being really concerned that they just won’t get care and then they just won’t seek it out because they don’t think it’s an option.
Josie Duffy Rice: It also seems like it might make it more likely that there are these two lawsuits, make it more likely that it goes to the Supreme Court, right?
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: Yeah, definitely. And I think that was initially the design of the Texas lawsuit, because if you look at the process of where it would go, it’s this judge and then it’s the Supreme Court. That’s the pathway, which is concerning because it seems like the Supreme Court is probably not going to rule in favor of keeping the medication available.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. They’re not exactly on our side on this. So as an ob gyn, you’re probably getting a lot of questions from your own patients about what’s going on, especially whether this should limit their options. How are you counseling them right now?
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: Yeah, which is wild, considering that New Jersey is one of those places that has a lot of great protections for abortion care.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: But I’m still getting calls to my office from patients asking if medication abortion is still available. There’s already confusion about what’s available, what people can access, having a conversation without all the stuff in the media that people are hearing. It’s really challenging to kind of have to restart people’s understanding about what’s going on because they hear so much on TV. Because let’s say you take the medicine today and tomorrow, they outlaw it. I don’t want people to think, especially my patients. I don’t want them to think that they took something that was unsafe when they absolutely didn’t. So it’s really important for people to know out there that nothing changes by this lawsuit about the safety record and also that there are medication regimens we can give that don’t include this particular pill that still work really well.
Josie Duffy Rice: That was my conversation with Dr. Kristyn Brandi, chair of the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health. We will of course continue following this story and keep you updated. But that is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads. [music break].
Tre’vell Anderson: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: A wooden boat carrying more than 130 migrants ran aground off the southern coast of Italy yesterday, leaving at least 59 people dead. And officials fear that number could rise. At least a dozen children were among those who drowned. Italian authorities said the migrants were originally from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and were traveling from Turkey. Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni blamed the tragedy on human traffickers, though her far right government has pushed tougher rules to stop asylum seekers from entering the country, as well as harsher punishments for organizations trying to rescue migrants at sea.
Josie Duffy Rice: Another wave of violence has swept through the West Bank this weekend as Israeli and Palestinian officials met with diplomats in Jordan in an effort to de-escalate tensions. Hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked a West Bank town yesterday after a Palestinian gunmen killed two Israelis in the wake of a raid last week that left 11 Palestinians dead. Jordan had invited delegates from Israel and the Palestinian Authority for talks Sunday to focus on security ahead of Ramadan and Passover, which begin next month. In a statement, both sides said they’d work to prevent any future violence and Israel agreed to freeze new settlement activity for at least the next four months. A follow up meeting will take place next month in Egypt.
Tre’vell Anderson: And as proof that weather does in fact happen in California, many across the Golden State are emerging from snow to start their week off. Yes, snow in California. A rare combination of a powerful Alaskan storm and an atmospheric river system dropped more than six feet of powder on Socal’s highest mountains over the weekend and a record amount of rain for the month of February in some areas. This past Friday and Saturday, downtown L.A. was drenched by a total of nearly four and a half inches of rain, and another round is expected to arrive later today. But before you start poking fun of Californians for, let’s say, our inexperience with winter weather, keep in mind that this same storm system is still on the move. The National Storm Prediction Center says it’s heading east where fierce winds are threatening millions of people from Arizona to Ohio. Tornadoes and damaging hail are also expected to rip through Oklahoma, Kansas and the Texas Panhandle in the coming days. I have not enjoyed the rain. I’ll just note that. Um. I know we need it. And, you know, it’s hot and dry and drought and all that other stuff. But baby, it has not been cute.
Josie Duffy Rice: There is a well-deserved void in the comics section of your local newspaper today. That’s because hundreds of them killed Dilbert, the long running office comic strip created by Scott Adams after Adams went on a racist rant last week on his YouTube channel. He called Black people a, quote, “hate group.”
Tre’vell Anderson: Interesting.
Josie Duffy Rice: And said that, quote, “The best advice I could give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people.”
Tre’vell Anderson: Now.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s like you’re trying to get fired.
Tre’vell Anderson: Maybe we should be saying that the other way around. But you know whatever.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right. That’s the [?] project you want to engage in.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right? [laugh]
Josie Duffy Rice: Though the strip ran in as many as 2000 newspapers at its peak and was once beloved by the kind of people who reply all to companywide emails. Adams is no stranger to controversy. He’s been an open supporter of Donald Trump since 2015. By the way, that’s a very early time to be open supporter of Donald Trump. [laughter] That is out the gate supporting Donald Trump. Okay? He questioned the death toll of the Holocaust and even used a mass shooting in California to promote an app he helped create.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm.
Josie Duffy Rice: Timing. He also blocked me on Twitter. Dozens of newspapers dropped Dilbert last year after Adams ran strips with jokes about reparations for slavery and workplace diversity initiatives. At the time, the editor in chief of the San Francisco Chronicle said, quote, “The strip went from being hilarious to being hurtful and mean. Very few readers noticed when we killed it.” Honestly, at this point, being dropped by local media, it’s hard to do. [laughter] The only person having a–
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely.
Josie Duffy Rice: –hard time in local newspapers is Scott Adams, and I live for it.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] And in more important news. The NAACP on Saturday hosted an evening to celebrate Black excellence for its annual Image Awards. The ceremony featured a special appearance by WNBA star Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle. The couple was greeted with a standing ovation as they took the stage just over a year after Brittney was first detained by Russian authorities on drug charges. She was released in December in a high profile prisoner exchange. I’m sure we all remember that. Take a listen to what Cherelle then Brittney had to say:
[clip of Cherelle Griner] We are just truly so thankful to all the people, many of whom are Black women and Black led organizations who fought so hard to bring BG home tonight.
[clip of Brittnery Griner] It feels so good to be here, especially with my beautiful, amazing wife and with all of y’all here today.
Tre’vell Anderson: BG went on to call for the return of Americans still detained abroad. Also at the Image Awards, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade took home honors for their work supporting organizations that provide health care to trans and queer people. They both honored their 15 year old daughter, Zaya, who came out as trans in 2020 and in an emotional acceptance speech, Union called on the racial justice movement to, as she put it, make room for everyone.
[clip of Gabrielle Union] The intersection of Black rights and the rights of the LGBTQIA, trans and gender nonconforming people continues to be rough. That’s a huge understatement. Even as we demand equality at the top of our lungs, we consistently fail to extend our advocacy to protect some of our most vulnerable among us.
Tre’vell Anderson: I love this family. Ten out of ten. No notes. A lot of parents could take a page out of their book when it comes to supporting and affirming your children coming into themselves. I love this family.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. [laughter] Yup. [laugh] We’re not going to say more, but we are saying more.
Tre’vell Anderson: Ya’ll know what it is.
Josie Duffy Rice: I love them, too. This is how a family should be. This is how a parent should be. This should be the floor, not the ceiling. I do also want to say they look great. Their skin looks amazing.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes.
Josie Duffy Rice: And I just want to say, look at Gabrielle Union. Look at Scott Adams. Ask yourself, who do you want to be skin wise? Face wise, looks wise.
Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, what side of the beauty counter you want to be on own, okay?
Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. Maybe take a hint.
Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Make a snow angel in Palm Springs and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just Scott Adams’ Twitter replies like me, just kidding. I can’t. He blocked me. What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[spoken together] And good riddance Dilbert.
Josie Duffy Rice: Ugh.
Tre’vell Anderson: I wasn’t reading it. No way.
Josie Duffy Rice: I try not to live with vengeance in my heart. However, love to see Scott Adams fail. One of my favorite hobbies. Excellent. Top to bottom. Quote me on that.
Tre’vell Anderson: Period.
Josie Duffy Rice: Period. Beautiful.
Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.
Dr. Kristyn Brandi: [AD BREAK]