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Forecast podcast: High-stakes court ruling threatens abortion access in US and FDA’s authority

A woman with short brown hair speaks at a podium in front of a statehouse. She's surrounded by supporters, some of whom hold signs.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Rebecca Bratek discuss the high-stakes court ruling threatening access to medical abortion in the United States, plus more on India’s top court taking up same-sex marriage, Russia’s detention of a Wall Street Journal reporter, Cuba’s parliament appointing the country’s next president and the start of Turkey’s gas flow from the Black Sea. 

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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, David Wyllie, Irene Villora, Alex Moore and Rebecca Bratek.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com

Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is April 13.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got India’s top court taking up same-sex marriage, Russia’s detention of a Wall Street Journal reporter, Cuba’s parliament appointing the country’s next president, the start of Turkey’s gas flow from the Black Sea and a look at the high-stakes court ruling threatening abortion access in the U.S.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

India top court to start hearing same-sex marriage case

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: India’s Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments in a landmark same-sex marriage case on Tuesday.

The hearing comes about 4.5 years after the the court formally ruled that gay sex would no longer be considered a criminal offense, with the new decree outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

Of course, three weeks ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling political party formally expressed its opposition to the recognition of same-sex marriage, arguing it would cause “complete havoc […] in accepted social values.” 

A day later, India’s top court said that the issue was of “seminal importance” for it to be decided by parliament alone, and ruled it would begin hearing detailed arguments by a larger panel of judges on April 18.

Now, Modi’s government has continued to push for the Supreme Court to oppose legalizing same-sex couples. And while a survey showed that about 37 percent of India’s population was accepting of homosexuality as of 2019human rights organizations continue to document attacks by government and security officials targeting members of the LGBT community.  

If passed, the landmark case would not only grant marriage equality to all of the country’s 1.4 billion residents, but would also pave the way toward achieving equality in adoption and inheritance.

Russian court to hear appeal on detention of WSJ reporter

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: Russia’s Moscow City Court is expected to hear an appeal Tuesday by the lawyers of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

Gershkovich, who is expected to be held through May, was arrested in late March and accused of spying while working as a journalist in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, an allegation vehemently denied by the Journal. 

Governments, news organizations and human rights charities have called for his immediate release, with the U.S. government designating him as “wrongfully detained,” a special status akin to being a political prisoner.

Now, the court will decide Tuesday whether to uphold his detention or move him to a different form of holding, such as house arrest or bail. 

A spokesperson for the court could not confirm whether Gershkovich would appear and said that proceedings may take place behind closed doors, with only the final decision required to be communicated to the public.

Cuban parliament appoints country’s president

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Cuba’s National Assembly will hold a session to appoint the country’s president on Wednesday.

Cuba’s Council of State called a parliamentary session to start a new legislative year for the National Assembly after 470 seats were filled in last March’s elections

During the session, lawmakers will discuss a list of candidates proposed during an internal vote held earlier in April and will appoint a president and a vice president for the country. 

They’ll also appoint a parliamentary president and vice president, a chairman for the Council of State, the next prime minister and a cabinet proposed by the president.

Now, the appointment of the next president will take place in a chamber with no opposition representation and no official candidates. 

Current President Miguel Díaz-Canel could win a second five-year term, which is the maximum time allowed by the country’s new constitution. 

Díaz-Canel, who was appointed in 2018 to replace Raúl Castro, was the first civilian to reach the country’s presidency since the revolution.

Gas flow from Black Sea expected to begin

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Turkey will begin receiving natural gas from a pipeline in the Black Sea next Thursday.

Turkish Petroleum announced the completion of the subsea pipeline from the Sakarya Gas Field last week and transportation from the Black Sea to Turkey is set to begin following an opening ceremony. 

Authorities say the total gas reserves found in the Black Sea comes to some 710 billion cubic meters.

Now, officials in Turkey say their Black Sea gas reserves are worth over $500 billion and have the capacity to provide all homes in Turkey with gas for 35 years. 

Authorities add that they expect the gas find to fill the country’s needs for up to 20 years. 

Previously, Turkey was highly dependent upon imports from Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan.

Abortion pill rulings

Information compiled by Rebecca Bratek

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the recent court rulings on the abortion pill. For more on that we’ve got Factal Senior Editor Rebecca Bratek.

JIMMY: Hello, Rebecca.

REBECCA: Hello. 

JIMMY: You know, I know there’s a lot you’ve got to cover today so let’s just jump right into this. To start, can you catch us up to speed on the situation with the abortion drug? 

REBECCA: Yeah, definitely. So, it’s a little bit confusing, but on Friday a federal judge in Texas invalidated the FDA’s approval an abortion drug, mifepristone, which has been commonly used to induce abortion in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. This drug has been on the market for over 20 years in the U.S. – even longer abroad. And, you know, this court challenge came from a conservative group that argued that the drug isn’t safe and it shouldn’t be used anywhere. The same day another court in Washington state issued a separate ruling that prohibits the FDA from pulling the drug from the market in at least 17 states and Washington, D.C. And this is where it gets super confusing, because now we have these two opposing rulings out there. The Justice Department has appealed to block the Texas judge’s ruling, which is supposed to take effect on Friday, though it’s unclear if that’ll happen; you know, if either case is enforceable. Some Democrats are urging the Biden administration to ignore the Texas ruling, though they’ve kind of said we’re not likely to do that, we’re going to listen to the law. And you know, this all comes just months after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade, which ended federal protections of a woman’s right to abortion care. And this is all to say, mifepristone is one of two drugs used for abortion, the second being misoprostol. They’re typically used in conjunction, though they can — either of them can be used on their own.

JIMMY: So where do things stand now? What’s the latest?

REBECCA: Yeah, so as I said, the Justice Department is looking to appeal the decision from Texas. So an appeals court is going to hear their challenge asking the Fifth Circuit to make a decision by noon today that’ll allow the federal government to, you know, have more time to figure out what to do with these rulings. So, what the federal government is really trying to do is pause the order until the Supreme Court, you know, can make a decision on the constitutionality of this order that would remove the approval of this abortion drug. The Justice Department argues that the Texas decision will irreparably harm not only patients who are seeking abortion care, but also the healthcare system. And, you know, businesses, whether those are pharmaceutical businesses or other medical related businesses. The drug’s distributor also has appealed to the Fifth Circuit to block the decision for at least 14 days.

JIMMY: Can you talk a little bit about the reactions to all this?

REBECCA: Yeah, definitely. And it’s pretty mixed, right? So what we’re seeing happen after these rulings is a lot like what we saw after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade a couple months ago. Democratic lawmakers and activists are arguing that this decision is not one that is rooted in safety or in law, but it’s, you know, a political one. And you have on the other side, conservatives and Republicans, you know, kind of keeping a little bit more quiet about how they feel in the same way that they did after Roe vs. Wade was struck down. They don’t really want to rock the boat right now. This abortion drug, mifepristone, has been on the market, as I said, for more than two decades, even longer in some foreign countries, including France, and is regarded as a very, very, very safe drug with very few side effects. And then if there are side effects, they are very manageable. And a recent Pew Research Center study found that more than half of American adults actually believed medical abortion – the ones that are carried out by the use of prescription pills, like the one that is being blocked – they, these adults, believe it should be illegal. And when we’re looking at abortion care in the United States, more than half of abortions occur using the prescription method, not the more invasive medical procedure you typically think of when you think of an abortion. And you know, at least three states have announced they’re stockpiling mifepristone so the two-dose medical abortion processes can continue. While other states, you know, they’re trying to explore their options and they’re trying to decide, you know, if this drug becomes effectively illegal, how will they enforce it? Some abortion providers are also preparing to switch to the single-dose regimen, which is again the misoprostol, which can be used on its own, usually just typically in a higher dose.

JIMMY: Well, Rebecca, before we go, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

REBECCA: Yeah, so what comes next is a bit hazy, as we do have these two opposing orders right now – the one from Texas and the one from the Washington court. They contradict each other and they can’t both be enforced at the same time so the FDA really does have to, you know, get a better read of what it should do. So whether that’s getting – winning their appeal that, you know, they don’t have to enforce the Texas ruling, or, you know, finding out the legality of the Washington ruling, whether, like that does apply to, you know, how they distribute this drug. So now, it’s really up to the higher court, which in this case right now is the Fifth Circuit, to make a decision on what happens next. The Supreme Court in its ruling that struck down Roe vs. Wade kind of seemed to prepare for these types of challenges. The judges in their decisions at the time stated that the court believes abortion rights should be decided by the states – so that abortion is a state’s issue, so… And you know, if the Supreme Court kind of upholds that notion that they outlined in their decision on Roe vs. Wade, it will not likely allow the Texas judge to impose its order on the whole country, which the order currently does. The order takes away the approval of mifepristone nationwide. But again, the Supreme Court leans conservative these days and it’s unclear, you know, what happens there, if the case does make it to the Supreme Court. And it’s unclear what could happen if, you know, any other challenge is brought to the Supreme Court about abortion. So until the Texas order goes into effect, medical abortion is still legal in states that allow it and access to mifepristone is unchanged. The order does go into effect Friday night into Saturday morning, but until then – until a court makes a decision – people still have access to that drug. And you know, as I said before, if the order does go into effect, states will then have to decide how they’re going to prosecute patients who do still use the drug for medical abortions or even other medical issues that they use the drug for unrelated to pregnancy. The drug is used commonly for women who have fibroids or other reproductive system issues that, you know, you do not have to be pregnant to use it, much like birth control. And you know, if the appeal is not granted today, the decision brings about new, broader unanswered questions about the FDA’s regulatory process as a whole. And whether the agency is more open to similar attacks from other conservative groups or, you know, other groups that, you know, want to change something that’s in our laws.

JIMMY: Well, Rebecca, I promised you we’d end on time today, so I think we’ll leave it there for now, but thank you so much for getting us caught up to speed. I appreciate it.

REBECCA: Of course, thank you for having me. 

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, David Wyllie, Irene Villora and Alex Moore. Our interview featured editor Rebecca Bratek and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: Governor Maura Healey announces measures to protect access to mifepristone at a press conference in front of the Massachusetts State House on April 10, 2023. (Photo: Office of Governor Healey / Flickr)

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