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Right To Life chair responds to overturning of federal abortion rights

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today's decision happened to come just as the oldest anti-abortion rights group in the country met for its annual convention.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

CHANG: That was how it sounded at the National Right to Life Committee's convention in Georgia this morning in a video posted on Twitter by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter. Dozens of people clapped, some hugged each other, all underneath hotel ballroom chandeliers.

Earlier today, I spoke with Linda Bell, the chair of the NRLC's board of directors in Atlanta. She is also the president of Florida's Right to Life chapter.

CHANG: I started by asking her if the celebratory mood we just heard was still palpable at the convention.

LINDA BELL: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, many of us knew the decision was forthcoming, but we didn't necessarily think it was going to happen today.

CHANG: What was it like the very moment that the decision came down this morning?

BELL: Oh, my gosh. So you're going to be amused because we heard yelling and screaming, and the first thing I thought is, oh, no, someone broke through, and they're coming to hurt us. And all the sudden, someone ran in the room, burst in the doors and screamed, Roe has been overturned. And we just started screaming and clapping, and everybody was crying. I mean, we were weeping - weeping. Somebody that I was speaking with afterwards said, we are never going to forget where we were on this day.

CHANG: Truly. Well, looking ahead, there is still more work to be done by your group, right? Like, just last week, I know that NRLC released a legislation model that it wants individual states to adopt now that Roe has been overturned. Can you very briefly explain what this model is?

BELL: What this is - this is written by a wonderful general counsel who's been before the Supreme Court multiple times, and this is model legislation that we know will be adapted for different states.

CHANG: A lot of abortion rights opponents have long argued for sending this issue back to the states. So why try to interfere with any states where there are voters who overwhelmingly still want to preserve the right to abortion?

BELL: And they will. So this decision today basically stated - and Alito brilliantly was writing - that the abortion is neutral - the Constitution is neutral on abortion, and that in 1973, it was a very politically motivated decision, and it was not based in law whatsoever, and it was very poorly decided - very wrongly decided - and it was literally made up out of whole cloth. So by returning it to the states, we're not - nothing's going to change in a state like...

CHANG: So you're not pushing this model legislation to states where the majority of people do want the right to abortion to be preserved?

BELL: We will push this legislation to anybody that wants it - to any state that wants it.

CHANG: I do notice that your group's legislation proposal, it doesn't call for any exceptions in cases of rape or incest, but it would not seek to ban abortions in the case where a mother's life is in jeopardy. That's correct, right? I've characterized that correctly?

BELL: That is correct.

CHANG: OK, so...

BELL: So what National Right to Life has is model - they call this our model legislation.

CHANG: I understand. So will you seek to stop any states that have zero exceptions for abortion?

BELL: No, that wouldn't be our job. That's why each particular state is going to have the ability and the right to pass legislation that is reflective of that particular state. That's the way the Constitution was written, and that's the way it's intended.

CHANG: Why not have your model legislation call for exceptions in cases of rape or incest?

BELL: Our model legislation has always been, since the inception of our organization, a life-of-the-mother exception. It always has been. But we've never considered - if a state decides to put in rape, incest and life of the mother, we've never gone against them, and we've never considered that anything but pro-life legislation.

CHANG: May I ask you, in the states where abortion remains legal, there will be an influx of people seeking abortions in those states, and...

BELL: Possibly.

CHANG: ...Facilities may be flooded with too many people, and there will be some people who will be forced to carry their babies to term because they can't access an abortion. What is the plan for your organization to provide for those people who now are forced to carry their babies to term?

BELL: See the term that you're using - forced to carry their baby to term - that is a - that is basically a red flag term. There are so many services out there right now - in existence right now - to help women. We are already there.

CHANG: Is there a plan for people who had wanted to seek an abortion but now will be unable to have an abortion? Is there a plan to help those people going forward?

BELL: There is.

CHANG: What is that plan?

BELL: There is. Well, I'm not going to tell you the whole plan, but there is. And every single state not only has plans, but are working on continuing those plans.

CHANG: Is stepping up resources part of your legislative proposal?

BELL: It will be.

CHANG: Linda Bell, chair of the board of directors for the National Right to Life Committee. Thank you very much.

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

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.