In This Episode
- President Biden promised to codify abortion access into federal law next year if voters elect more Democrats to the Senate and maintain their majority in the House. Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, joins us to discuss the historic investments her organization is making to mobilize voters ahead of the midterm elections.
- And in headlines: the U.S. will release another 15 million barrels of oil from its strategic reserves, Brittney Griner spent her 32nd birthday in Russian prison, and Amazon warehouse workers in upstate New York rejected a bid to unionize.
- Planned Parenthood Action Fund – https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/
- Abortion Finder – https://www.abortionfinder.org/
- Vote Save America: Fuck Bans Action Plan – https://votesaveamerica.com/roe/
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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Wednesday, October 19th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Juanita Tolliver: And I’m Juanita Tolliver. And this is What A Day where we’re standing up proudly to say that Candy Corn is a top three Halloween candy option.
Priyanka Aribindi: We are sick and tired of the smears, the lies, the attacks.
Juanita Tolliver: I would choose candy corn over Reese’s peanut butter cups any day.
Priyanka Aribindi: I would not be going that far. [laughter] [music break]
Juanita Tolliver: On today’s show. Human rights groups are worried about an Iranian athlete who violated her country’s conservative dress code during an international competition. Plus, Brittney Griner spent her 32nd birthday in a Russian prison cell.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, President Biden made a promise to codify abortion access into federal law next year if Democrats are able to keep their majority in the House and most importantly, add Democratic senators in next month’s midterm elections. This came during a speech yesterday at a DNC event in DC where he highlighted how Democrats contrast with Republicans on abortion rights and how Democrats plan to push back.
Juanita Tolliver: Look, it seems like there’s no coincidence at all that he’s made this speech right now when we’re less than three weeks away from Election Day. Abortion rights have clearly become a major mobilizing issue and focus for Democrats nationwide ahead of these elections.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, we really don’t have that much time left. As you said, three weeks. And Biden is using this time to urge voters to elect two more Democratic senators. And this is one huge example of what that relatively small addition, along, of course, with keeping the house, could accomplish some very tangible benefits for all Americans.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: But he still has a plan if that doesn’t happen. Here is what he had to say on Tuesday:
[clip of President Joe Biden] If Republicans get their way with a national ban, it won’t matter where you live in America. So let me be very clear. If such a bill were to pass in the next several years, [whispering] I’ll veto it. [cheering and applause]
Juanita Tolliver: Look, Biden said what he said, and I’m here for the clarity, the ASMR and the flex of using the veto and the fact that Republicans are about to find out exactly how pissed off Americans are about Roe being overturned and their proposed national abortion ban.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, absolutely. Here for all of the above. Though I do want to circle back to the ASMR at some point. Love that he has learned what this is. Big fan of it. Please keep doing it. I felt very reassured by that personally. But the goal here would be to sign this into law on the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22nd, 2023.
Juanita Tolliver: Keeping the right to choose and the right to our own bodily autonomy is one of the biggest things that could come as a direct result of your vote in the midterm elections. So as always, check out Vote Save America dot com for more information on how and where and when you can vote depending on where you are. This also comes on the heels of more than a dozen states passing total or near-total abortion ban since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June. To hear more about the threat of abortion bans and how Planned Parenthood Action Fund is making historic investments to mobilize voters during the midterms, I spoke with Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood. I started off by asking her how she felt about President Biden’s promises and how her organization is preparing to respond to the threats from Republicans at both the national and local levels.
Alexis McGill Johnson: We are really incredibly grateful for President Biden and the administration at the beginning of this crisis, as we all saw it happening. They were clear that he was going to offer up a whole of government approach and engage all of his agencies in brainstorming and thinking about the ways in which we could protect, defend, expand access to abortion care across this nation. And I think what he did yesterday was make it even more plain–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: –That when we get to 52 pro-choice leaders in the Senate, when we get to maintaining a House majority that protects access to abortion, that he will be there and prepared to sign the legislation to codify Roe, which is what we need in this moment now that Roe has been overturned with the Dobbs decision.
Juanita Tolliver: I just want to emphasize that the threat of a national abortion ban is very real and very dangerous, because when you have Republican Senate candidates like J.D. Vance, who said on stage during the Ohio Senate debate that it’s totally reasonable to have a national abortion ban as an option. I want to know how your organization is working with candidates to call out that extremism, but also to mobilize voters in response to that threat. Because I understand Planned Parenthood is making historic investments in this midterms.
Alexis McGill Johnson: Absolutely. We are spending um more than we’ve ever spent in an election, much less a midterm, $50 million dollars uh and–
Juanita Tolliver: Wow.
Alexis McGill Johnson: –working with our partners in the reproductive rights and uh health and justice movement to ensure that we are doing what we can to get to these numbers that we just talked about. But you’re right. I mean, this isn’t just about, you know, the argument around overturning Roe. And Roe was wrongly decided, had a lot to do with this argument that these are really decisions that should be made by states. You know–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: This the federal government has no business in you know, determining what kind of health care should be provided in each state. And, of course, when you have states that can have, you know, essentially hold people hostage to one set of health care opportunities and another state that will allow you to be free. There is a role for the federal government, indeed the Constitution to play here. The opposition has made it clear they want to abolish access altogether. This is not just about the 25 states that we will see banning access to abortion in the coming year. It is about the fact that they want the entire nation to be living under their vision of who should control our bodies, their vision of who they trust, which is not us, um in order to make decisions.
Juanita Tolliver: I want to know about what you’re hearing from the view from the ground, because, look, I started out in campaigns working field and grassroots mobilization. So I know you’re getting unvarnished truth when you’re talking to voters, knocking on doors and making phone calls. And so you’ve been on the campaign trail in Wisconsin, New Mexico, Michigan, Georgia, and I hear a lot more states to come. And so what are you seeing and hearing that lets you know that this message about abortion is sinking in for voters? But also, what are you seeing and hearing that might not be translated in the national polling or state level polling that we’re seeing each week?
Alexis McGill Johnson: I’m so glad you asked Juanita because let me tell you, people are coming in hot. They are–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: –unbelievably upset, enraged that people think that they can just like roll up and be in the middle of your exam room. They know people right now who are having to make challenging decisions to get out of state, driving upwards of 400 miles one way just to get access in some cases to–
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah.
Alexis McGill Johnson: Medication abortion, turning right around. They are upset that this is the world that they are living in. We are hearing that expressed. I think the thing that is not translating in the polls and I think because we like to make everything issue specific. Right?
Juanita Tolliver: Right, right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: Like we’re talking about abortion rights over here. We’re talking about economics right over here. We’re talking about inflation over here. No, actually, the intersection of all of these issues is coming together for people as they consider their vote. And they understand that forcing someone to make a decision to expand their family at a time where they’re not prepared to or become a parent at a time when they’re not ready to, is also an economic decision.
Juanita Tolliver: Yes.
Alexis McGill Johnson: And we’re parsing these as if they’re not related and connected, but the people who actually can get pregnant understand this very well.
Juanita Tolliver: And you talked about some of those court decisions, though. Every once in a while we get a glimmer of good news that a court has stayed or blocked an abortion ban. I think most recently that happened in Arizona. And I wanted to know if Planned Parenthood clinics on the ground are one, able to pivot quickly to start offering services again, but also how Planned Parenthood is working with them to fight these battles at the state level, as well as keeping people who may be actually seeking abortion care, informed about the changes with these decisions.
Alexis McGill Johnson: Our Planned Parenthood affiliates and health centers are doing incredible work every day to make sure that they are able to provide patients the care that they need. As soon as one of these injunctions like lifts the ban and allows people to see one more patient, they are there and they are ready to pivot. Because remember Juanita we’ve been like navigating this kind of on again off again with bans for the last decade. I mean.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: You know, we’ve been fighting in courts for quite some time. So we do have that muscle and so much of our litigation knowing that at the end, with this essentially constitutional ban currently on accessing abortion in many states, it means that we have to be prepared. And if there is a win, if there’s an opportunity to provide, extend patient care, we are there in order to deliver that and make sure someone doesn’t have to travel an extra 400 miles.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: This is a state by state battle. Right. This is a an opportunity, I you know, I’d like to believe, for abortion to save our democracy, because we are on the ground now connecting people to the reality that the majority of people across the nation believe that Roe should have been the law of the land.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: And they’re asking us, they’re coming to us and saying, why is it that, like, if the majority of us believe that this should be the law, why can’t I have it in my state? So it’s an opportunity to educate people about how the opposition has gerrymandered and essentially put people into power that are completely out of touch with where the majority of their constituents in. And they can make these decisions without any accountability.
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah.
Alexis McGill Johnson: It’s an opportunity to kind of get them engaged in a local process. And you really just understand, like at every level, there is someone who is designing laws that affect you and you have to be engaged and educated.
Juanita Tolliver: Yeah, it’s a multipronged battle. I think this is a great opportunity to educate people on the importance of voting in those state legislative races, those city council races. That’s where these decisions are coming from.
Alexis McGill Johnson: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: I do want to revisit the checklist, the guide that Planned Parenthood released that really tells people where to go, how to access it, and even connects them with abortion funds who can provide funding. Is that a brand new tool from Planned Parenthood or is this an updated version based on all of the changes we’re seeing from the court decisions?
Alexis McGill Johnson: Well, I mean, on the health care side, people can go to abortionfinder.org. They can come to our website to find access to appointments and to funds in order to support they’re getting the health care they need. On the Action Fund side, which is our political organization, we’ve always put out voter guides to help people understand where their electives stand on this. We are a nonpartisan organization. We support people who care about the fact that bodily autonomy is key to our freedom. And I think that that is critically important for people to understand who those folks are. It’s your DAs. It’s your state Supreme Court. So many people are going to be impacting this decision, not just your lawmaker and your governor.
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Alexis McGill Johnson: There are lots of people in every community that are going to be a part of these decisions now.
Juanita Tolliver: Right. And I have one more question on accessibility, because I’ve seen reports that a Planned Parenthood in Illinois is starting a mobile clinic where they’re providing abortion medication to people who are, I believe, pregnant up to 11 weeks. And as these bans continue throughout the country, you mentioned 25 states will be implementing abortion bans in some form within the next year. Uh. Do you expect more of these mobile units to pop up around the country where states where abortion is accessible will be providing this type of care around their borders?
Alexis McGill Johnson: Yeah, I mean, Planned Parenthood affiliates are out there doing everything they possibly can to expand access to care. It is currently the case that 18 states have eliminated all or some abortions. We will see upwards of half the country no longer having access to care. And so everything we can do to expand care, whether that is through telemedicine, whether that is through mobile units, we’re helping them navigate. We’re helping them figure out those pieces all while our action fund is preparing to defend and you know fight back in many of these states as well.
Juanita Tolliver: That was my conversation with Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood. And we’ll have links to their site and other resources ahead of the midterm election. But that’s the latest for now. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s get to some headlines.
Juanita Tolliver: President Biden will announce the release of 15 million more barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve today. The move is intended to lower gas prices and stabilize energy prices worldwide at a time when voters say the economy and the high cost of living are among their greatest concerns heading into the midterm elections. Biden is also expected to announce the release of another 15 million barrels in December, meaning that all 180 million barrels he authorized to be released earlier this year will be gone from the reserve and it makes complete sense. He wants to combat what we know the business of Opec+ is doing right? They’re going to be–
Priyanka Aribindi: Totally.
Juanita Tolliver: –changing gas prices and changing supply. And so he’s trying to counteract that. So good on Biden for making this preemptive move.
Priyanka Aribindi: Safety concerns are growing for a professional rock climber from Iran who competed at an international competition over the weekend without hijab. Elnaz Rekabi left South Korea one day ahead of schedule yesterday to return home to Tehran. Rekabi has worn the traditional headscarf in competition before. But this comes amid widespread protests in Iran, triggered by the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who allegedly violated the country’s very strict dress code. Rekabi’s friends and family reportedly said that they didn’t know her whereabouts following the competition, she recently posted an apology on her Instagram account. But human rights groups are questioning whether or not she wrote it herself.
Juanita Tolliver: This is some really scary stuff, and I–
Priyanka Aribindi: Truly.
Juanita Tolliver: –just hope that Elnaz is safe. Though I’ve seen reports that they’re likely going to take her to the same jail that caught on fire in Iran just over the last weekend. So I’m really afraid for Elnaz right now.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s terrifying. It’s been weeks and weeks and weeks and there have been no signs of this letting up. It’s scary.
Juanita Tolliver: Right. Brittney Griner turned 32 yesterday, but she marked the occasion from a Russian prison. The WNBA star released a statement through her lawyer that said, quote, “Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me.” Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February for carrying a small amount of cannabis oil in her luggage, and she pleaded guilty to drug charges in July. She’s currently serving a nine year sentence, though White House officials said talks are still underway to try and secure her release. In the meantime, she has an appeal hearing set for October 25th. And the only thing I can say is bring Brittney home. Right. Like it’s been too long since she’s been in Russian custody in this Russian prison. And I still think about what her wife, Cherelle Griner, said a few weeks ago on CBS, that it sounded like Britney was really struggling mentally and emotionally in that prison.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, free BG. Women who regularly use chemical hair straighteners could be at higher risk of developing uterine cancer. That is according to a new study by the National Institute of Health. And researchers noted that Black women could be disproportionately affected because they are more likely to use those products. The study found that women who use chemical straighteners at least four times a year were nearly twice as likely to develop cancer of the uterus. While uterine cancer only accounts for about 3% of all new cancer cases in the U.S., rates among Black women are steadily rising, and they are twice as likely to die from it compared with white women.
Juanita Tolliver: This is just shocking data, and I say that knowing that my family, my mom, my sisters, my grandmother and cousins all use this type of hair straightening products way more than four times a year.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Juanita Tolliver: I’m talking every other week at hair appointments. And so I also think that something in this study must have to do with the inequitable access that Black women have to health care and treatment. And so that might have something to do with the death rate that we’re seeing in the study, too. So a lot more to unearth here. In Georgia, Republican efforts to make voting harder are being met with people voting harder. On Monday, the first day that polls opened for early in-person voting, a record 133,000 people cast their ballots across the state. That’s an 85% increase compared to the first day of voting in the 2018 midterms. This is also the first election since Georgia enacted SB 202, a law that makes it much harder to vote by mail and prohibits volunteers from offering refreshments to voters waiting in hours long lines to vote. But Georgia Democrats have suggested that a surge in early turnout doesn’t mean concerns about the new law weren’t warranted, only that voters are much more determined to make their voices heard. And that’s exactly the sentiment here. They know the barriers that are being set up to keep them from voting. And so they’re turning out early to make sure their votes count and to address any type of issues that poll workers could raise.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s amazing that this is happening, though those Georgia Democrats are 1,000% right. That does not mean that concerns about this were not warranted, does not mean that this new law should be in place just because you have made people rise to this crazy high standard and we have–
Juanita Tolliver: Right.
Priyanka Aribindi: –done it.
Juanita Tolliver: Jump over a new hurdle.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Just because they’ve done it, doesn’t mean that any of that was okay and that they should have been made to do it. Jeff Bezos might treat himself to a second glass of endangered animal blood tonight because his company won a big victory at one of its fulfillment centers. Employees of an Albany area Amazon warehouse voted 406 to 206 against joining the Amazon Labor Union, which represents workers at a warehouse in Staten Island. This is the Amazon labor unions second defeat this year, which speaks to how hard it is to organize when you’re up against a trillion dollar company. This time around, Amazon contracted a team of consultants who were paid over $3,000 a day to convince workers that joining a union was against their best interests. No word on um you know, they could have taken all that money and just paid the people who work for them.
Juanita Tolliver: Make it make sense. How $3,000 a day to consultants when you don’t want to raise people’s wages by like $5?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Juanita Tolliver: Is that what this is? That’s ridiculous. That’s ridiculous. And for a brief and blissful period, there was one place you could go without risk of bumping into James Corden. But that period is now over because the host of The Late Late Show is once again welcome in the New York City restaurant Balthazar. So back up for a second rewind. On Monday, the restaurant’s owner, Keith McNally, posted on Instagram that Corden had been banned or 86’d for being, quote, “the most abusive customer to my Balthazar server since the restaurant opened 25 years ago.” McNally also called Corden a, quote, “tiny cretin of a man”, which is a phrase that’s pretty hard to take back.
Priyanka Aribindi: Pretty hilarious, though.
Juanita Tolliver: But he still tried to do it, posting later in the day that the ban had been lifted after Corden called to apologize profusely. Oh, wow. To be a white man. You know, and I can just make a call.
Priyanka Aribindi: All you had to do.
Juanita Tolliver: When or if Corden will return to the restaurant is anyone’s guess. Making him order off the tiny cretin menu will not help Balthazar’s cause. Like what? Who knew that James Corden was a horrible human?
Priyanka Aribindi: I loved this saga. I ate it up. I think this ended, it’s wrapped up a little too quickly for my taste. Sadly, I would have liked more blurry Instagrams of like stock photos of James Corden with like long winded captions and some hot gossip. But uh this ended a little too quickly. I don’t think this man should ever dine at any of these restaurants ever again. I don’t really think he should be leaving his house for a while. If someone wrote these things about me and all of these news outlets picked it up and ran with it. I don’t think I’d be dining out for quite a while. I think maybe it’s time to order in.
Juanita Tolliver: Priyanka. I love that you love mess. I love that about you.
Priyanka Aribindi: And those are the headlines.
Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today.
Juanita Tolliver: If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Skip drinks with Jeff Bezos and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just the tiny cretin menu at Balthazar like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe.
Juanita Tolliver: I’m Juanita Tolliver.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
[spoken together] And stand up for candy corn.
Juanita Tolliver: Yes!
Priyanka Aribindi: Listen. The most maligned.
Juanita Tolliver: The most underappreciated, the most unprotected. Okay, let me stop. Malcolm does not want [laughter] his speech for Black women to be used on candy corn.
Priyanka Aribindi: No, certainly not.
Juanita Tolliver: But– [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: Certainly not. [laughter] [music break] 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 Jon Millstein and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.