News Brief: Texas Abortion Law, Ida's Aftermath, Sackler Family Immunity
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Supreme Court says Texas can go ahead and implement a new law making most abortions illegal in that state.
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
In a 5-4 vote issued overnight, the high court refused to block the law from taking effect. Now, the law bans abortions after six weeks, which is before many people even know they're pregnant. And it allows private citizens to enforce it by filing civil lawsuits against anyone involved in helping someone get an abortion. But legal challenges still remain, and the law could end up back before the high court.
MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon has been following this closely and joins us this morning. Hi, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: Explain more about what the justices said in this decision.
MCCAMMON: Right. So in this 5-4 ruling overnight, the court's majority denied an emergency request from reproductive rights groups to block this Texas law. And that came a day after the law had been allowed to go into effect because the court did not immediately take any action. So now in this unsigned opinion, the Supreme Court majority says those groups did not successfully make their case on a number of what are essentially procedural questions. But the majority opinion adds that the decision, quote, "is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas' law" and does not prohibit future challenges to it.
So this means that lower courts will likely be asked to weigh in on a variety of questions going forward. For now, though, abortions are illegal in Texas after about six weeks. And Rachel, that's about 85% of abortions there. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. And anyone living in Texas or anywhere else, for that matter, can file lawsuits against anyone believed to provide an illegal abortion or help someone get one.
Finally, I should mention, there were some scathing dissents from the court's three liberal justices, who were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in dissenting. Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the court's order stunning. She called the law flagrantly unconstitutional and said justices had, quote, "opted to bury their heads in the sand." Justice Elena Kagan called the court's decision making, quote, "unreasoned, inconsistent and impossible to defend."
MARTIN: OK. So as you noted, this law actually went into effect yesterday before the Supreme Court had weighed in. What's just happening there with abortion clinics, with people who are trying to seek abortions?
MCCAMMON: Well, over the past 24 hours or so, we've been hearing reports of clinics in Texas turning patients away. Some have stopped offering abortions altogether out of concern about being targeted by this law. And all of them have been forced, at minimum, to dramatically scale back their abortion services. So as a result, some women will likely travel out of state, out of Texas if they can. There are groups that help with this. I spoke with several organizations in Texas that help provide funding for abortions for low-income people and sometimes with travel. Nikiya Natale is with one of them, the Texas Equal Access Fund. That's in north Texas. And here's what she told me.
NIKIYA NATALE: We have to get people out of state. So we're working very closely with our partners to get people out of Texas into neighboring states to get the abortion care that they need.
MCCAMMON: I also spoke with another leader of an abortion fund in south Texas who said that it is really difficult for some patients, especially in her area, where you have to drive at least nine hours to get to the nearest out-of-state clinic. So in reality, a lot of people will not have access to abortion right now.
MARTIN: What does all this mean nationwide, though, at this point?
MCCAMMON: Obviously, for the vast majority of people in the country's second-most populous state, abortion is illegal now. And so much still hinges on the courts. The Texas law is still being litigated, could end up back before the Supreme Court. There's another major abortion case before the Supreme Court, which centers on a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, which is before fetal viability. For decades, the court said states couldn't prohibit that, but that precedent appears to have taken a major blow with this decision in Texas.
MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: It's not a hurricane anymore, but Ida made its way through the Northeast last night and did some serious damage.
MARTINEZ: Yeah, the images out of New York and New Jersey are like that Jake Gyllenhaal movie "The Day After Tomorrow." I mean, there's video of water just gushing like a waterfall down subway stairs in New York and abandoned cars floating in several feet of water. The rain and wind was so bad that Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency and issued a travel ban all but shutting down the entire subway system. The National Weather Service issued its first-ever set of flash flood emergencies in the region last night, and the flooding at Newark airport was so bad that flights just had to stop taking off.
MARTIN: NPR's Jasmine Garsd is there in New York. Jasmine, what is the city like right now?
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Well, last night was wild. There were several reports of tornado touchdowns. We saw flooding on the streets. Subway stations flooded. And the subway ended up shutting down. The storm delayed the U.S. Open in Queens, where the rain started coming into the roofed stadium sideways. There are at least 10 dead in four states - in New York City, over 5,000 power outages; nearly 60,000 outages in New Jersey. The storm reached as far as Philadelphia, where tornados trapped people in their homes and tore trees down.
MARTIN: How much rain are we talking about here? What are the measurements?
GARSD: Newark International Airport got 3.24 inches of rain between 8 and 9 p.m. Newark airport was experiencing severe flooding. Like you mentioned, all flights were suspended. And Central Park got 3.1 inches within an hour. That broke the record set last week where we got nearly 2 inches. That was Tropical Storm Henri.
MARTIN: Right. So speaking of Henri, that was just last weekend. How does this storm compare?
GARSD: It felt very similar in intensity. But the difference is last night was really unexpected. I, myself, was outside, and I had to figure out how to get home to Brooklyn where the streets were flooding. I don't think people were prepared for this one.
MARTIN: So we've talked about, you know, all the images and the subway shutting down. What more are officials doing?
GARSD: Well, it got so intense last night that before 1 a.m., the city of New York issued a travel ban in effect until 5 a.m. today. The governor of New Jersey declared a state of emergency as well. And this morning, New York is going to have to start repairing and cleaning up. New York Governor Kathy Hochul last night ordered state agencies to start preparing emergency response plans.
MARTIN: And it looks like the storm is headed into New England now. What are the expectations there?
GARSD: It's headed to Boston. Local forecasters are warning of a weak nor'easter - heavy downpour, and some areas could see 4 to 6 inches of rain.
MARTIN: All right. Thinking of everybody up there dealing with this. NPR's Jasmine Garsd, thank you.
GARSD: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: More than half a million people have died from an opioid overdose in the U.S. since 1999.
MARTINEZ: So many factors have led to that crisis - the doctors who were overprescribing, insurance companies that turned a blind eye and drug companies that downplayed the health risks. Now, one drug company has been at the center of this, Purdue Pharma run by the Sackler family. Yesterday, a federal bankruptcy judge in New York granted the family immunity from opioid lawsuits. Now, under the settlement, the Sacklers will pay more than $4 billion.
MARTIN: NPR addiction correspondent Brian Mann is with us. Hey, Brian.
BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel.
MARTIN: So, you know, as we noted, this company's been at the center of the addiction epidemic in this country, the Sacklers. Now the company's owners are going to walk away, it seems like. Right? What did the judge...
MARTIN: ...In this case say?
MANN: Well, Rachel, I think first it's worth noting that Judge Robert Drain spoke for six hours in this ruling, and he described this outcome as bitter. He complained that the Sacklers never offered an apology. He said the family should have paid more. But then Drain pivoted and said, in the end, this was the best deal negotiators could get under terms of the plan. As you noted, the Sacklers will pay roughly $4.3 billion, much of that money going to help people and communities. They'll give up control of this bankrupt company, Purdue Pharma. But they'll get this legal immunity while admitting no wrongdoing, and they're going to remain one of the wealthiest families in America.
MARTIN: What are the victims of the opioid epidemic saying about this?
MANN: You know, I'm hearing a real divide from people. I spoke with Cheryl Juaire, who lost both of her sons to fatal overdoses. And Juaire actually served on one of the committees that negotiated this bankruptcy settlement, and she supports it.
CHERYL JUAIRE: This plan will deliver billions of dollars to communities in need. All the money in the world is not going to bring my children back, but it might save someone else's.
MANN: And I also spoke about this with Ryan Hampton, who became addicted to OxyContin. He overdosed repeatedly. He said seeing the Sacklers avoid future lawsuits in this way really shattered his faith in the legal system.
RYAN HAMPTON: I also entered this case two years ago hoping for justice. But I can say, coming out of this, I have more grief than I did going into it because I feel meaningful justice, it just doesn't exist.
MANN: And I should say, Rachel, Ryan Hampton also served on one of the committees that helped negotiate this bankruptcy deal with Purdue Pharma. He resigned this week in protest because of the way this settlement turned out.
MARTIN: I mean, I don't have to tell you. Litigation over the opioid epidemic has been going on for years and years and years. So now that we have this ruling from Judge Drain about the Sacklers, I mean, is this final?
MANN: It's not quite yet. The state of Washington, one of nine states that fiercely opposed this settlement, has already filed an appeal. They did that quickly last night. The U.S. Justice Department has also said giving immunity from lawsuits like this to the Sacklers is unacceptable, so the DOJ is also considering an appeal. So while that process works out, the settlement is on hold. None of this money for treatment programs will start to flow. And this legal process could take months.
MARTIN: Have you heard anything from the Sacklers about this ruling?
MANN: Yeah. You know, the Sacklers did send statements to NPR. And they said they believe money from this settlement will help communities heal from the opioid epidemic. They again denied any wrongdoing. And one of the statements said - I'm going to read to you here - (reading) while we dispute the allegations that have been made about our family, we have embraced this path.
And one other interesting thing is Purdue Pharma, the company, will now be reorganized as a public trust completely separate from the Sacklers. The firm will keep producing OxyContin and other opioids, but now profits from those drug sales will go to help fund addiction treatment programs.
MARTIN: NPR's Brian Mann - he covers addiction for the network. Brian, we appreciate your coverage today and for so long on this issue. Thank you.
MANN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.