Mar 11, 2022

‘The Cruelty is the Point,’ Planned Parenthood leader says in SXSW keynote targeting Texas abortion law

Reporting Texas

Hours after the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s controversial Senate Bill 8 abortion law will remain in place, Planned Parenthood’s president delivered a searing rebuttal to the ruling Friday at South by Southwest.

“It’s about control. It’s about power,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The cruelty is the point.”  

“All of our avenues to stop this horrible ban in Texas are gone,” McGill Johnson said. “It’s a devastating day for the people of Texas.” 

McGill Johnson, accompanied by actress and podcaster Busy Philipps, spoke to an estimated crowd of 1,200 SXSW attendees at the Austin Convention Center. McGill Johnson served as the conference and festival’s first keynote speaker since its return to an in-person event after a two-year COVID hiatus. 

The crowded ballroom of mostly-masked badge holders listened quietly as McGill Johnson, outlined plans by other states to follow Texas’ lead in creating laws that deputize citizens to enforce abortion restrictions. The so-called “bounty hunter provision” offers at least $10,000 to plaintiffs who file and win lawsuits against doctors, clinics, patients and others found to violate the law’s various restrictions on abortions.

“It’s a perverse incentive that reduced abortion by 60% in Texas,” McGill Johnson said. 

The Texas Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling Friday created an impasse for abortion rights activists seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the restrictive law signed in September 2021 by Gov. Greg Abbott. The court found that state officials cannot enforce the abortion restrictions —  only civilians can — and therefore the state cannot be sued, leaving the law intact and open to enforcement by private citizens. 

Since going into effect on Sept. 21, 2021, the complex law has all but outlawed Texans’  constitutional right to abortion care. As a result, Planned Parenthood said its clinics in the surrounding states of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado and Missouri saw an 800% increase in abortion patients from Texas between September and December of 2021.

Referencing a map highlighting the 26 other states following Texas’ lead in creating new abortion restrictions, McGill Johnson painted a bleak picture for abortion access across the United States. “This is what a post-Roe reality would look like.” 

McGill Johnson said that if the additional states succeed in further restricting abortion care, 36 million people would be affected. “Our ability to make decisions about our own bodies is clearly under attack,” she said. 

McGill Johnson pointed out a problematic gap in information. “We need to let people know that any restrictions, any bans on abortion, pre-viability, are unconstitutional,” she said. 

She also pointed to a gap in empathy. “The people who are most impacted are also folks for whom we have the least empathy for in society, people who have significant burdens,” McGill Johnson said. “That’s the devastation of these bans: the impact on so many communities that are already facing systemic hurdles or burdens.”

When asked by Phillips what people can do to support abortion access, McGill Johnson pointed out that the industry leaders and creatives who attend SXSW hold the tools to help raise awareness for reproductive justice through creative storytelling and corporate policy. 

McGill Johnson referenced Salesforce’s commitment to relocate employees concerned with accessing reproductive care as an example, and the crowd erupted into applause. 

Storytelling is why filmmaker Kat Broyles was in attendance for the keynote address. “I think it’s incredibly important for filmmakers to be making content about abortion in Texas.” Broyles directed her own film about the subject, “Moon Dogs.” 

In closing, Phillips asked McGill Johnson a crowd-sourced question, “Other than organizing, what actionable items can we do individually to help the women and the people in Texas and across the country? 

“Supporting abortion funds in the states where we are going to start seeing increased need is incredibly important,” McGill Johnson said.