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News brief: Supreme Court leak, Georgia primaries, kids and the war in Ukraine

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Democrats say overturning Roe v. Wade could erode much more than abortion access.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

And according to Democrats, gay marriage and birth control are just some of the civil rights under threat. So what would the legal basis be to overturn what has been a bedrock of American law for the past 50 years?

MARTINEZ: NPR political correspondent Danielle Kurtzleben is here to explain the legal and political ramifications. Danielle, let's start with the legal side of things. Are gay marriage and birth control linked to abortion in legal terms?

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: They are connected, and that's because under Roe, the court found that abortion is what's called an unenumerated right under the 14th Amendment. That means that is - that the Constitution protects the right, even if the Constitution doesn't explicitly say abortion is protected. Now, Alito, in this leaked draft, he argues that when the 14th Amendment was passed in 1868, American law didn't at the time recognize abortion as a fundamental right; therefore, abortion isn't a constitutional right. Now, I spoke to Mary Ziegler. She's a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. And she explained how this logic could carry over to a lot of other rights.

MARY ZIEGLER: Obviously, at the time the relevant part of the Constitution was written, same-sex couples could not marry. Interracial couples certainly couldn't marry. Birth control was being criminalized. And so the logic is, if that's how we determine where our constitutional rights begin and end, there's no reason that would stop with abortion.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, in this leaked draft, Alito does say that Roe is separate from all these other rights because it is specifically about fetal life. But that doesn't mean the court couldn't change its mind in the future.

MARTINEZ: And this has quickly become a central message for Democrats. What's the political logic behind that?

KURTZLEBEN: You know, I've asked a lot of people who support abortion rights how they feel about that argument because activists have criticized top Democrats, including Biden, heavily for seemingly being reluctant to even use the word abortion. So grouping it together with these other rights might read as reluctance or changing the subject. But Renee Bracey Sherman - she's the founder of abortion rights advocacy group We Testify - she explained to me that connecting abortion to other rights is about helping voters see abortion as a fundamental part of a landscape of rights that are all connected to each other and also about just educating voters.

RENEE BRACEY SHERMAN: A lot of people think, I might never need an abortion. And a lot of people think about all issues like, oh, I'm not trans. I'm not Black. Why does police brutality matter to me? But I think what people don't realize is how much something like Roe v. Wade is the bedrock of so many other things legally.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, we're all living together in the same space. Now, what do we know about how the argument will play out with voters across the nation in November? Because Democrats were expected to do poorly in the midterms. Could this possibly help them out?

KURTZLEBEN: Surprise, surprise - it's complicated. A majority of Americans do believe abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances. But a plurality are in that some category - they think there should be some restrictions. Pollster Tresa Undem told me that that is important because a lot of Americans also just don't feel very emotional about the topic of abortion, and it doesn't come up for them. But that might change if Roe is overturned.

TRESA UNDEM: That is going to break through to people. They don't have to read a political article. They're going to hear about it. They're going to be upset about it. They're going to be surprised by it - maybe not shocked, but surprised.

KURTZLEBEN: So the idea is people might hear that a right that they've been taking for granted for nearly 50 years could be taken away, and they'll be angry. Now, that said, we don't know how this is going to play out. But to be clear, there are much more immediate consequences. If Roe is overturned, greater abortion restrictions in many states would start immediately, well before November.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Danielle, thanks.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTINEZ: All right, let's see how a potential reversal on abortion rights is playing out in a state that's holding primaries in just a few weeks.

FADEL: And we're talking about Georgia. This key swing state holds its primaries on May 24.

MARTINEZ: WABE's Sam Gringlas joins us from Atlanta. So, Sam, what would abortion access look like in Georgia if this draft decision holds up in the Supreme Court?

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: Well, Georgia's Legislature is solidly Republican, and in 2018, they passed a bill banning abortion after roughly six weeks. That law would likely take effect pretty quickly if Roe is struck down. You know, Republicans have poured resources into state House races for, like, the last dozen years, and Democrats now admit that for a long time, they didn't really invest enough in these legislatures. I talked about that with Jessica Post. She runs the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

JESSICA POST: We need to do everything we can to win state legislatures. So I know folks right now may be giving to abortion funds. I would also say please support your Democratic state legislative candidates because they will be the ones deciding the fate of abortion in your state.

GRINGLAS: So say Democrat Stacey Abrams wins her campaign for governor here, without the Legislature there's just not a whole lot she can do to undo laws that are already on the books.

MARTINEZ: And we just heard Danielle Kurtzleben talk about how Democrats are shaping their midterm strategy around this draft opinion. How is that playing out in Georgia?

GRINGLAS: Well, Democrats think this ruling could energize voters. There's a Democrat running for attorney general here named Jen Jordan, and after this draft leaked, she sent off a tweet calling Georgia the next battleground for reproductive freedom.

JEN JORDAN: This was not going to be front and center, obviously. You know, we were talking about pocketbook issues and consumer protection and voting and all that kind of stuff. But sometimes you don't pick the fight; the fight picks you.

GRINGLAS: One more voice to bring in - Jeanna Kelley. She just signed up to volunteer with Jordan's campaign, spurred by this news, and she's already done a shift texting women voters.

JEANNA KELLEY: I can't do anything else about this but vote and encourage other people to vote. But it really did feel good to be able to connect with women and say, hey, you know, we would love to have you join us in supporting this candidate.

GRINGLAS: We don't know how much overturning Roe would actually move the needle come Election Day. You know, persistent inflation or some other issue could totally outweigh everything else in the end.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, sure. How are Republicans, actually, responding in Georgia?

GRINGLAS: Let me just play you some tape from this week's Republican debate for lieutenant governor. All the candidates on stage were asked if they're satisfied with the restrictive abortion rules Georgia has already passed or whether they would want to do more. Here's what they said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ATLANTA PRESS CLUB")

JEANNE SEAVER: I would love to ban abortion.

BRAD MEANS: Just ban it.

SEAVER: Yes, sir.

MEANS: And, Mr. Miller, your thoughts?

BUTCH MILLER: Ban it.

MEANS: Ban it. For you, Mr. Jones?

BURT JONES: Ban it.

GRINGLAS: Republican David Perdue, who is challenging sitting Republican Governor Brian Kemp, says he would pursue an all-out ban, too. Kemp hasn't weighed in on that, but he might feel compelled to call for a total ban as well. That could bite him in November, though, when he needs a broader swath of Georgia voters to keep his seat in office.

MARTINEZ: That's Sam Gringlas, political reporter at WABE in Atlanta. Sam, thanks.

GRINGLAS: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE WAR ON DRUGS SONG, "PAIN")

MARTINEZ: All right, turning now to Ukraine, where it's been 71 days since Russia's invasion began.

FADEL: And as many since Russia started its assault on the southern city of Mariupol. The last Ukrainian holdouts are trapped in the Azovstal steel plant. Overnight, the remaining soldiers' commander released a video in which he described the situation as dire, but he also said they will continue to resist, even though Russian troops have breached Ukrainian defenses there. Russia says it will commit to a three-day cease-fire, but previous truces have failed.

MARTINEZ: Let's talk to NPR's Brian Mann, who is in Lviv in western Ukraine. Now, more than 150 people have been evacuated from that plant so far. They arrived in Zaporizhzhia, where aid workers assisted with food and supplies. Brian, have there been any new evacuation attempts? And actually, what's the latest on the plan itself?

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Yeah, those efforts are always underway, but no broader successes so far, A. My colleague Joanna Kakissis said just this morning people are trickling in. They're coming mostly in private cars right now. And heavy fighting there has really prevented aid organizations and the Ukrainian government from establishing a broader cease-fire. One of the Ukrainian commanders at the plant today sent a message saying it's been the second day since the enemy broke into the area of the plant. Heavy and bloody battles are being fought. So the situation clearly is grim there. And Ukrainians, of course, are watching this closely. It's a symbolic part of this war.

One other symbolic thing that's happened here - last night, we heard about the death of a well-known Ukrainian journalist. Oleksandr Makhov has been killed. President Zelenskyy paid tribute to the 36-year-old father who also recently proposed to his fiancee from the front lines. Makhov has covered the war in the east for years. He was a veteran soldier. So again, a really key moment for people here, hundreds of Ukrainians sharing stories about him and his character.

MARTINEZ: Brian, you've been looking at how this war is affecting Ukrainian children and teens. What are they telling you?

MANN: Well, you know, they're terrified. They're frightened. I've been in front-line city Mykolaiv talking with them. I met one little boy, Arthur, who saw the ceiling collapse in his family's apartment after a missile struck. You know, the Red Cross is trying to help these kids, trying to provide counseling and support, but they're just in a very tough environment.

MARTINEZ: And the U.N. says young people who flee the fighting also face a danger of human and sex trafficking. What have you learned about that?

MANN: Yeah, experts and NGOs I've been speaking to are really worried about this. After Russia invaded Donbas in 2014, there was a real crisis then, as young women and girls fled, hoping to find safety and were victimized. Just a few days ago, I met a young woman who was evacuating without her parents because they're needed for the war effort. Nika, who's 17 years old, hopes to reach Poland by herself. Here's what she told me about the danger.

NIKA: I read a lot about it 'cause I'm a feminist, so I know a lot about it. And I'm worried about it, too, about all the women that are in danger now.

MANN: What Nika told me is that there are just no good answers for people like her during this war. Whether they stay or go, they're in danger. I don't know how to deal with that, she said. So, you know, what we're seeing here, A, is a horrible situation for these young people and, of course, also for their parents.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Brian Mann in Lviv. Brian, thanks.

MANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.