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Haley Attempts to Clarify on Alabama Embryo Ruling; Robin Marty is Interviewed about the Alabama Embryo Ruling; Sailor Accused of Espionage; Trial over Student's Hairstyle to Begin. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 22, 2024 - 09:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, couples struggling with infertility are facing a new reality in Alabama, and people around the country are watching. The state's largest hospital has paused it's in vitro fertilization treatment just days after the state supreme court ruled that frozen embryos are children and protected under state law. The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system is the first in the state to pause IVF procedures. In a statement the system said, quote, "we must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard care for IVF treatments."

Hundreds of thousands of Americans rely on IVF and other fertility treatments every year. A Pew survey last year found that 42 percent of adults have used fertility treatments or know someone that has. It's so many people older than 35, especially.

The Alabama decision promises to inflame political passions that we've seen since the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade and we're already seeing new impacts on the campaign trail.

CNN's Kylie Atwood, covering Nikki Haley, who is trying to navigate this.

Kylie, what's happening?


So, yesterday, Nikki Haley was asked if she agrees with this Alabama Supreme Court ruling in a conversation with NBC. And she responded by saying that she believes that embryos are babies, giving an indication that she does agree with the ruling. But what she didn't do in that conversation was talk about the other part of the ruling that says that those who destroy those embryos can be held liable criminally.

And so yesterday, in a conversation last night with CNN, she sought to clarify her position on this. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't say that I agreed with the Alabama ruling. What -- the question that I was asked is, do I believe an embryo is a baby? I do think that if you look in the definition and embryo is considered an unborn baby. And so, yes, I believe, from my stance, that that is.


ATWOOD: So, Nikki Haley is threading the needle very carefully on this one, John, like she has done with the issue of childbearing, of abortion. In the past she has called for a national consensus on abortion. She hasn't said that she would back any national ban on abortion based on a set number of weeks.

The other thing that she's doing in these conversations is talking about her own personal story. The fact that she was able to conceive one of her children using IVF, but she's avoiding, at least until this point, really talking about the chilling effect that this could have on families who would look to use IVF and now are concerned about doing that. She told CNN last night that the goal is always to do what parents want with embryos. So, we'll have to see what more she has to say on this in the coming days, of course, leading up to the South Carolina primary here.


BERMAN: Look, you can see Republicans struggling with this. They want to come off as anti-abortion, but at the same time to jeopardize this treatment that is so essential for so many would-be parents across the country, you can see the difficulties that Nikki Haley is having there and why I think a lot of Republicans are struggling with it this issue.


Kylie Atwood, thank you so much.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and the direction that this could be heading. That 42 percent, John, was really startling.

BERMAN: That's for all struggling with fertility, yes.

BOLDUAN: A Pew survey last year found 42 percent of adults have used fertility treatments. And IVF is a large part of fertility treatments like that.


BOLDUAN: It's really remarkable.

So, Alabama's high court ruling, it does mean an uncertain future for many people in Alabama. It's very quickly having a real impact after three miscarriages and over two years, $20,000 invested into IVF treatments, one Alabama woman just learned that her journey to try to grow her family may now be coming to an end. Listen.


GABRIELLE GOIDEL, IVF PATIENT: I've been waiting over two years to be pregnant. So, I - there is no world where I could see me stopping this process right now.

All we want is to just have the American dream and have a family and I never thought that this would be something that would be seen as immoral.


BOLDUAN: Let's talk about the real impact, the uncertain future that this ruling has created. Joining us right now is Robin Marty. She's the executive director of the West Alabama Women's Center. She's a women's health advocate.

Robin, thank you so much for jumping on.

What do you see? Let's talk about the state's largest hospital, the University of Alabama at Birmingham health system. The fact that they are pausing IVF treatments, at least for now. What is the real impact of this health system doing so?

ROBIN MARTY, WOMEN'S HEALTH ADVOCATE: Well, it's an impact not just for IVF, but it is a warning for all people to understand that when this decision came down, it wasn't saying embryos are -- frozen embryos are being treated as potential children and so it is a legal risks to do anything that might harm them. What they're saying is that frozen embryos, like all other fertilized eggs and beyond, are being treated this way.

So, while we're looking at this through a lens of what this means for IVF, the reality is, this is opening all doctors who deal with any sort of pregnancies to have to reevaluate how they do this because any wrong move could open them up for a potential criminal or civil lawsuits.

We've known that this was coming. We've been waiting for this action, and now it's starting to play out.

BOLDUAN: It also, in the - in the immediate and long term, you also wonder, you heard from one woman in Alabama whose -- her journey is over two years trying to grow her family and -- through IVF. And what would it -- what does it mean for families in Alabama if IVF services - let's -- just sticking specifically there, even though I know you're talking about the and beyond here, but if it is -- is brought to a halt in a major way long term because of this.

MARTY: There is the immediate impact, which is that those who are undergoing fertility treatments may not be able to continue to build their family as they will. And one thing I want to point out is the reason -- one of the reasons why this attack is happening is because although often were interviewing families that are man and woman, mother and father, the -- IVF is used extensively for LGBTQ people to be able to build their families as well. And that's something that's a threat in Alabama. Long term, we need to start asking questions such as, if a frozen embryo is considered a person and that any action that causes harm to them could be seen as a criminal or legal assaults, what happens to all of those embryos that are currently in storage now? Are they all going to be at a point where they cannot be donated to science? Obviously we're hearing that they cannot be destroyed. Will they have to all be implanted? And what happens if families say they don't want to implant all of their embryos?

This has opened up a whole new legal saga that we can only begin to imagine the end results of.

BOLDUAN: So, for some context for folks, I mean this uncertainty that we're kind of talking about here is something that you and your colleagues at your clinic really had to wrestle with in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision in 2022 when the states near total ban on abortions went into effect. What does this hospital system, what do these doctors and patients, what do they now need to consider given your experience -- recent experience and what you all had to wrestle with?

MARTY: One of the things that they need to think about is that this isn't just a standpoint of, is this going to be a problem for performing this sort of procedure, but it's going to have long term impacts on them financially. Doctors are now going to be even more worried about the potential for criminal action, which is something that they could lose their license and their livelihood over.


University system will have to look at what their insurance is going to look like. Are doctor malpractice insurance going to go through the roof, which is likely because now they're open to a whole new batch of lawsuits. This is financially going to put infertility treatment out of reach for most people in Alabama, frankly, even if it does become something that they can somehow modify to make something safer under the guise of the new rules from the supreme court.

BOLDUAN: Yes, there's a lot of questions that remain with this ruling. So wild and uncertain.

Robin, thanks for coming on. Appreciate your time.


BERMAN: New this morning, a U.S. sailor accused of espionage. What he was allegedly trying to share with foreign parties.

And moments from now, a Texas trial begins asking the question, can a school repeatedly punish a student over their hair? How this has become a civil rights issue.


[09:45:23] BERMAN: This morning CNN is learning new details about a decorated U.S. sailor now accused of espionage and facing court martial. The U.S. Navy says Chief Petty Officer Bryce Pedicini took classified documents and transferred them to a government at least six different times.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon.

Oren, I -- forgive me if I butchered his name, but tell us what happened here.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So here we're looking at Bryce Pedicini. And according to Navy prosecutors, he is now charged with 14 counts of espionage and the transfer of classified information, as well as other charges. Prosecutors say from November 2022 and over the course of the next several months Pedicini took classified information and gave it to a foreign government, both when he was in Norfolk, Virginia, and then later when he was stationed in Japan on board the USS Higgins.

Pedicini has a long and successful career in the Navy. He enlisted back in 2008. He served on three different destroyers. He got three good conduct metals and a national defense service medal. He was most recently promoted in August of 2022 to chief fire controlman, a critical role on board a U.S. Navy warship.

But several months later, Navy prosecutors say he began taking classified information and transferring it to a foreign government, at least six different times from November 2022 and over the course of the next several months. It was in May of the following year, 2023, that Navy prosecutors say he took pictures of classified information on a Sippar (ph) screen, a classified system screen, and was ready once again to transfer it to a foreign government, although the charging document doesn't say specifically what foreign government. That part it leaves unnamed.

It was at this point that Pedicini was taken into custody, and he has been held since May 2023 in pretrial confinement awaiting the court martial here as that process moves forward.

John, I will just point out that much of this played out as the Jack Teixeira, Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, was alleged to have been leaking classified information online. In fact, the sheriff was arrested in April 2023, just one month before Pedicini here.

So, the military is still looking at how to secure its classified information, which can be difficult if someone is determined to leak that information.


BERMAN: Yes, indeed. And it does beg questions about which foreign government Pedicini was trying to transfer this information to.

LIEBERMANN: Of course.

BERMAN: Oren, great reporting. Thank you very much.


BOLDUAN: So, did a high school student -- did at high school discriminate against a student by repeatedly punishing him over his hair? This has now gone to trial. You're looking live outside the courthouse in Texas. That is the student we're talking about right there, Darryl George. We're going to take you there next to show you exactly what this is all about.

And panda diplomacy. It is back, friends. Two new pandas from China are destined for San Diego.



BOLDUAN: Very soon this morning at trial in Texas is going to be getting underway. And this is all about whether a school district there can keep punishing a black high school student over his hair. Darryl George is his name. He wears his hair in locks, and he's been repeatedly disciplined over a period of months for refusing to cut his hair in compliance with the district's dress code. A dress code his family says is discriminatory.

Now, just moments ago, George spoke outside the courthouse about what his locks mean to him.


DARRYL GEORGE, STUDENT SUSPENDED OVER HAIRSTYLE: It means a lot to me. It's my roots, you know. It's how I - it's how I feel closer to my people, how I feel closer to my ancestor, you know. I started my dress (ph) for a reason. And that's just to feel close to my people.


BOLDUAN: CNN's Rosa Flores is following this for us from Texas. She joins us now.

Rosa, what's this all about?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, let me start with this because the technical legal question here, Kate, that's going to be discussed and argued inside the building that you see behind me is the following, is the length of hair protected under the Texas law that bans hair discrimination. But as you heard just there from Darryl George, it is about so much more than that for him, his family and its supporters.

So, let me get you up to speed about this because today's trial is a culmination of a month's long legal battle between Barbers Hill Independent School District and Darryl George over his hair, over the length of his head. This 18-year-old boy has been suspended for months over the length of his hair. Now, I want to take you through this because what the policy actually

says is important. It allows locks hairstyles, but it restricts the length. And here's what the length -- what it says about length. Quote, "boy's hair will not extend below the eyebrows, below the earlobes or below the top of a t-shirt collar."

Now, last September the school district filed a lawsuit asking a judge to make a determination if the school's policy was abiding by the Crown Act. That's the law that I was talking about. It's a state law that was passed last year that bans hair discrimination.

Now, George's family and George, you just heard from him just moments ago, he was talking about, this is about his roots. This is about his ancestry. Other supporters have said, this is racial discrimination.

But here is what the school's superintendent has said. Now, he took it a step further, taking a full add in "The Houston Chronicle" last month that said, among other things, and I'm going to quote here, "the problem with relaxing standards without any regard to academic implication is the precedent it creates. Our military academies at West Point, Annapolis and Colorado Springs maintain a rigorous expectation of dress.


They realize being an American requires conformity with the positive benefit of unity, and being a part of something bigger than yourself." It's that phrase, being an American requires conformity, that has triggered a lot of people in this country. In fact, there was a protest yesterday -- we have video of this -- very close to the superintendent's home where some of Darryl's supporters were outside. They set up a salon and they were braiding hair. And these were individuals who were supporting Darryl, not just here from Texas, but from other states as well.

Take a listen.


DR. CANDICE MATTHEWS, SPOKESPERSON FOR DARRYL GEORGE: We are here today with justice for Darryl George. This young man should not be punished for his hair. His hair is protected by state law.


FLORES: And, Kate, that's the question that is going to be at the center of this trial. And it's going to start here soon, Kate. So I'm going to let you go because I need to go inside.

BOLDUAN: All right, we're going to get an update and see what happens as court gets underway.

Rosa, thank you so much.


BERMAN: A reporter on the run right there.

Today in Florida, Tiger Woods' son Charlie will try to qualify for his first PGA tour start. The 15-year-old must advance from today's pre- qualify event and then from another one on Monday. The Cognizant Classic happens next week. Tiger Woods won 82 PGA tour titles and entered this professional event as a 16-year-old amateur back in 1992.

This morning, panda diplomacy is back. Thank God. China will send two giant pandas to the San Diego Zoo. There is no timeline for their arrival, but the zoo hopes the pair could arrive by the end of the summer. The bears have long been a symbol of diplomacy and friendship between Beijing and Washington. This will be the first panda loan by China to the U.S. in two decades.

So, the first American moon landing in 52 years, kind of. So, not since Apollo 17 in 1972 has a U.S. spacecraft made a lunar touchdown, but in hours the private spacecraft Odysseus could change that. NASA will live stream the landing, which is expected to happen just after 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.


BOLDUAN: Now, I - weren't we just talking about the Sea of Tranquility and the sea of something else in the landing and Japan doing that. I'm confused. We're going to get back. We'll fact-check it. But I don't - I'm not questioning John. I just want that stated for the record.

Coming up for us, did you wake up to an SOS on your cell phone this morning? Thousands of people did. A major service outage up-ending AT&T's network across the country. The latest on the cause and the fix, coming up.