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Judge Hears Case That Could End Access To Abortion Bill; Russian Fighter Jet Forces Down U.S. Drone Over Black Sea; "Hurricane Hunters" Following Storms On Both U.S. Coasts; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2023 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good Wednesday morning to you, I'm Jim Sciutto.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: And I'm Erica Hill.

This hour, a major abortion case underway in Texas. And depending on the outcome there could actually cut off nationwide access to the most common method of abortion in the United States. This case specifically evolved -- involves rather, a drug used in a medication abortion.

As of 2020, research shows abortion pills account for more than half of all U.S. abortion and miscarriage health care in this country. The Trump appointed federal judge who's at the center of this battle already facing scrutiny. We're going to take you live to Texas. We'll tell you more about why.

SCIUTTO: Plus, U.S. officials now expressing concern after a Russian fighter jet collided with an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone. The drone then brought down crashed into the Black Sea. Washington's message to Moscow this morning.

Plus, keeping a close eye on the markets, the Dow down just over 500 points. Now, this despite good data on inflation. We'll explain what's behind those numbers at the stock market.

But we do begin though in Texas where arguably the biggest legal battle over abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court is happening now. CNN's Rosa Flores is in Amarillo, Texas with more. Rosa, one judge there in Amarillo could have national implications here.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This judge has a lot of power. Jim, let me start with what's happening right now. In the building that you see behind me in this courthouse. There is an injunction hearing that just started. It was scheduled to start at 10:00 A.M. Eastern.

And what's happening right now is the plaintiffs, who are a coalition of anti-abortion groups, are asking the judge to block an FDA-approved medication called Mifepristone. This is a medication for abortions that has been approved by the FDA for more than two decades.

Now, the plaintiffs are arguing here that this drug is not safe, that the approval process was completely flawed. The FDA, of course, argues against that, saying that that's not the case. But here is what is so impactful and so controversial here. And that is that if this judge rules against the FDA, this would be a judge, who is not a subject matter expert in this case, telling the FDA, who is the subject matter experts in this case, they are the scientists, they are the ones that Congress entrust in approving medication for use by the American people.

It would be a judge telling scientists what to do, which would be unprecedented which rolls so many other questions into play here. Because then, what happens? How does that actually happen in practice? Because the FDA has processes, procedures, protocols to be able to do that.

So now, does that then start which could take weeks or even months? Now, there are a lot of questions about what will happen today in the courtroom. Electronics are not allowed. So we can't give you a play by play of what is happening. Normally, we're able to do that in some cases, not in this case. We will not be inside the courtroom. So we will not be able to bring you those updates quickly.

Now, one of the big questions is, could this judge rule from the bench today after this hearing is completed? The answer is yes. But will he? I don't know because of the secrecy around this case, I kind of doubt that that will happen, because the judge was worried about what he said. And what he told parties was a barrage of threats. He was concerned about security. And so we really question if he is actually going to make a decision today. But again, that is up to the judge. We won't know until that happens.

Now, because of all that secrecy, there's been an outpouring of and an outcry by media and also legal experts talking about transparency here and judicial transparency and being actually having an opportunity for individuals and people to fly to Amarillo, which, guys, it's in the middle of nowhere, to be able to be present.

Now, I should leave you with this. We're expecting protests here today by the Women's March. I talked to them yesterday. One of the things that they're very concerned about is if this starts with abortion medication, where does it end?


FLORES: Guys, back to you.

HILL: It's an important question and it shows why there's so much focus on this case. And all of those questions, as you point out, are so important, Rosa, from journalists from legal experts as to the secrecy. Security concerns can be dealt with, but why the secrecy. Rosa, I'm so glad you're on the ground for us. Thank you.


SCIUTTO: We'll speak about the impact of this with Dr. Katherine McHugh. She's a practicing OB/GYN who provides abortion services in Indiana. Doctor, thanks for taking the time this morning. KATHERINE MCHUGH, OBSTETRICIAN-GYNECOLOGIST: Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, first of all, medication abortion, they account for more than half of all abortions in this country. A ruling here, by this one judge in Texas, could end up cutting off access to this drug, even in the 31 states where it's legal. Tell us what impact that would have for women in this nation and including your patients.

MCHUGH: You know, the fact that we have so many decades of safety data, the evidence is there that this is a safe drug. Mifepristone and the combination of Mifepristone with Misoprostol has been proven to be both safe and effective.

The impact of overruling the FDA is approval of Mifepristone is far reaching. And one of those impacts is simply that we will be confused, both doctors and patients, will not know if we can trust the national guidelines which tell us to follow the standard of care, the practice that has been set forth by our national organizations, or whether we need to listen to a judge who, as the previous reporter said, is not a subject matter expert. It causes incredible confusion. It's not good for patients, it's not good for people.

HILL: It's confusing, as a practical, if we look at the science here, at least from what I've read, and I'm certainly not a medical professional. But even in reading more this morning about certain studies that have been done, the reason that this combination is so important is because these two drugs, Mifepristone being one of them, work better together.

If only one of the drugs then was approved, what does that mean for a woman who either chooses to have an abortion or may need one? I think we need to remind viewers constantly that often in the case of a miscarriage, a woman's body does not fully expel that pregnancy and they need either a surgical or a medication abortion.

MCHUGH: Really important points. So this medication, Mifepristone, is not just used in abortion care, it is also used for miscarriage management, as you mentioned, and also in other medical settings. So taking away an approval for a medication because an extremist group doesn't like what it does is ridiculous.

We know that Mifepristone is not required for abortion or for miscarriage management, but it makes it work better. And one of the things that it does is that it makes the whole process faster and more effective. It makes it so that fewer people will need to have procedural interventions or longer symptoms.

What effectively taking away this medicine would do would be to make people suffer longer with consequences or with side effects of medications or miscarriages and increase the chances that those patients -- that those patients would need to be seen at a hospital or have interventions there.

HILL: Doctor -- go ahead.

SCIUTTO: Please go ahead, Erica. HILL: This is when it's tough to be in two different studios, right, Jim?


HILL: When we -- when we look at this, you know, Rosa just raises a question. She's been talking to people and they're asking, where does this end? When you look at the possibility here that this FDA approval could essentially be overruled, you talked about the confusion for doctors. What else is missing from that conversation as we talk about abortion in this country, as we talk about healthcare?

MCHUGH: That is it right there at the very end. This is a healthcare matter. Abortion is healthcare, nothing more nothing less. Abortion does not need to be legislated by a court, by a single judge who doesn't have expertise in this matter.

This is a decision that should be left to the individual pregnant person to make that decision with their family, with their close loved ones and with their doctor. This doesn't need to be decided in a court.

HILL: Dr. Katherine McHugh, thank you --

SCIUTTO: Well, Dr. Katherine McHugh, well, both thank you. Thanks so much. It's such an important issue with huge natural implications.

MCHUGH: Thank you so much for having me, guys.

HILL: This morning, the U.S. says it may not ever be able to recover that $23 million unmanned military drone, this after Russian fighter jet forced it down over the Black Sea. The White House is calling this incident unsafe, unprofessional, and reckless. Moscow says the U.S. has no business flying drones near Russia's border.

SCIUTTO: Well, we should note this took place over international waters. CNN national security reporter, Natasha Bertrand, she's at the Pentagon. CNN senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson, he's in Eastern Ukraine.


Natasha, first to you. John Kirby, NSC spokesperson, does say the U.S. unlikely to recover the drone, but also dismissed Russia's denials that they had any sort of interaction with this drone. What do we know this morning?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, Jim. So a couple of updates this morning. The first and most significant, arguably, is that John Kirby, the White House spokesperson for the National Security Council, did say that it is unclear at this point whether the U.S. is going to be able to recover that drone from the Black Sea because the waters are very difficult to get to.

And we are told that there are currently no real naval assets in the area that could potentially try to get that drone. So take a listen to what Kirby said this morning.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We're still assessing whether there can be any kind of recovery effort mounted. There may not be.

We did the best we could to minimize any intelligence value that might come from somebody else getting their hands on that drone.


BERTRAND: So the White House taking pains this morning to emphasize that they are trying or they have tried to minimize the potential intelligence collection capabilities by Russia if they were to seize this drone, which of course is kind of lying in the Black Sea at the moment.

But they're also saying that they do not believe at this point, that the drone is likely to be recovered at all. I mean, the U.S. issued a statement yesterday saying that the drone was essentially completely lost.

But in other -- in other news, the Pentagon is also saying today that they believe that, you know, this is not necessarily -- that this was not -- that this was a reckless and dangerous act by the Russians. However, no one is vowing any real consequences for this. They have sent a very short message to the Russian saying that this is unacceptable, especially because the drone -- the Russian planes did clip the drone and did hit the propeller, causing the U.S. military to force to bring -- to be forced to bring that drone down.

But the Russians also saying that they do not want confrontation with the United States. So while the two countries are going to continue to operate over the Black Sea and in the region, you know, raising the risk here of a potential confrontation in the future, does not seem at this point, like things are going to escalate very sharply from here. Jim, Erica.

HILL: Ivan, when we look at drones, they have played such an integral part in this war in Ukraine. How was the drone though that was down to different -- the role of that drone versus what's being used on the battlefield there?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTENTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. The MQ-9 Reaper that the U.S. Air Force was operating, it can carry weapons. In this case, it was described as a reconnaissance drone. It's very different, I think, from what we see a lot in the skies, particularly over the frontlines here in Ukraine, in Eastern Ukraine.

Both militaries are constantly doing aerial surveillance and reconnaissance, trying to find targets on each side. In some cases, they're using -- they're using military unmanned aerial vehicles. But in a lot of cases, they're simply buying the kind of drones that you or I could purchase to fly around in our neighborhoods and doing things like in some cases, rigging them up with cameras to be able to get a live feed, but in other cases, to drop things like individual grenades on enemy targets with very lethal results.

We know of more militarized, unmanned -- UAVs. We know -- it's public knowledge that the U.S. has provided these kinds of Switchblade kamikaze drones, which are designed to dive down and impact and blow up and cause as much damage as possible.

The Russians had been using these Iranian made Shahed kamikaze drones, also. And we've also seen the usage of civilian unmanned aerial vehicles that can go far beyond the frontlines. Just a couple of days ago, I was given exclusive access to what the Ukrainian military says was a drone made by a Chinese company that was carrying a 20 kilogram bomb that was designed to throw shrapnel and that they were able to actually to shoot it down with rifles, with Kalashnikov assault rifles. And I'm working on that report right now.

All of this just goes to show that there's a lot of stuff flying in the rounds in the air, some of it very lethal, and it's an integral part of this deadly, deadly conflict. Back to you guys.

SCIUTTO: And, of course, you have crewed surveillance aircraft as well, which I know you and I have flown on before. The danger is you have a crewed aircraft coming in touch with another one and the chances of escalation expand.

Ivan Watson, in Ukraine. Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon. Thanks so much for both you.

Still to come, despite some good signs, inflation may be cooling. Markets looking down this morning, down steeply, not quite as fast are down as they were earlier but still close to one and a half percent.


Coming up I'm going to speak to the former president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank as to what's going to happen now on interest rates and more.

HILL: Plus, extreme weather from coast to coast. The first nor'easter of the season just hammering New York and New England with snow. Three feet in some places and maybe even a little bit more today. Hundreds of thousands of customers in the dark out West. It is the record breaking rainfall in parts of California that we're watching. The threat there, far from over. We're going to speak with a hurricane hunter who's been inside these storms collecting data will join us live.


SCIUTTO: U.S. stocks taking a hit this morning down, well, just about 500 points this morning. Not quite as far down as it was, but boy, it's a lot of red there. The dramatic drop coming the same day as new economic data actually showed encouraging signs on inflation.


HILL: CNN's Matt Egan is with us. So the drop that we're seeing this morning, that is, as I understand it, not necessarily related to this new, pretty encouraging positive data on inflation. This is related to an international banking issue that is also not connected to the bank failure in Silicon Valley. Did I lay that out?

MATT EGAN, CNN BUSINESS AND ECONOMY REPORTER: That's perfect. So I couldn't have said it better myself. I think that the point here, though, is that, you know, confidence is a fragile thing.

HILL: Yes.

EGAN: And the bank failures from the last few days in the United States have clearly shaken confidence. And this is a fast-moving story where sentiment is swinging pretty quickly, because just yesterday, we saw banking stocks race back to life. We saw the stock market rise, but it's a totally different story this morning. What we're seeing is regional banks in the United States. They're down on First Republic America citizens financial. But what's so interesting is that even some of the big banks.

Now, Credit Suisse is down sharply. That is a bank in Europe that has been in trouble for some time. They've been in turmoil. But even some of the big U.S. banks, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase down sharply. I think that investors are worried about whether or not there's another shoe to drop in terms of this pressure on the banking system.

There's just so much that we don't know right now, which is part of the problem. Even some of the titans on Wall Street don't know. I mean, look at what Larry Fink, the CEO of the world's biggest asset manager said, he said, "We don't know yet whether the consequences of easy money and regulatory changes will cascade throughout the U.S. regional banking sector, akin to the S&L crisis with more seizures and shutdowns coming."

Now, it is --

HILL: Ouch.

EGAN: Yes, exactly. We don't know. Now, it's important to separate out the impact on investors and customers. Because, you know, if you're a customer of a bank, you're safe up to $250,000. That is the FDIC insurance limit per bank, per borrower.

And if anything, the last few days has shown the federal government is willing to rescue depositors above the $250,000 limit, which is what they did with Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. So it is important that I think, you know, people kind of take a deep breath and calm down.

SCIUTTO: It's an important distinction. Deposits are one thing, protected by the government up to $250,000. Although the governor said, they'll go even higher. Stock prices are different, though, of course, they have impact as well.

Tell us more about these new inflation numbers, PPI, producer price index. That was a significant drop. EGAN: Yes, absolutely. You know, despite these inflation numbers, it's

so interesting that we've seen the market come down. But on the economic front, you know, producer prices unexpectedly dropped between January and February. Also, on an annual basis, it cooled off to 4.6 percent.

If you look at the chart, this is a major improvement from early last year when this metric was nearly 12 percent. We've seen eight months in a row of cooling off. Now less encouraging were some of the retail sales numbers out that show that American shopping kind of slowed down a bit between January and February. Retail sales fell by 0.4 percent. That's significant -- been significant, because remember, consumer spending, that's the biggest driver of the U.S. economy, but I would note that that comes after a big increase in January.

Now the question is, what is the Federal Reserve going to do with all of this? Because we've got inflation cooling off, consumer spending taking a dip, and all this pressure on the banking system.

SCIUTTO: I mean, shows how difficult it is to get a soft landing, right? I mean, to get it perfectly right. That's a tall order. Matt Egan, thanks so much.

HILL: This morning in the United States, it is a tale of two storms, one on each coast, really slamming the East and the West Coast. You've got this late season nor'easter which dumped more than three feet of snow on parts of New York and New England. And in some areas, storms and done, more snow on the way.

Meantime, in California, it's the rain of the powerful winds from yet another atmospheric river, leaving nearly 200,000 customers without power there.

SCIUTTO: Two separate storm systems, and they're being closely monitored by Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters. We're joined now by one of them, Major Chris Dyke.

Major, I always talk to folks like you who fly into the storm as opposed to the opposite direction as very brave. Tell us what it's like. Put us in the copilot seat as it were -- what it's like to track these systems and fly through it?

CHRIS DYKE, 53RD WEATHER RECOGNIZANCE SQUADRON: Sure. Good morning. Thanks for having me. So, you know, we -- when we were flying these winter storms, they're a little bit different than what we're typically used to with the hurricanes, but we still experienced a decent bit of turbulence. I was flying the East Coast storm a couple days ago and we were experiencing like the moderate turbulence, but more consistently throughout the flight rather than the hurricanes which are kind of sporadic


HILL: You were watching all of this weather, this winter, these late storms hitting the East Coast that what feels like nonstop atmospheric rivers on the West Coast. Are you seeing just based on your experience? Are you seeing changes in these storms as you're flying into them? They feel more severe. They certainly feel more frequent.


DYKE: Well, you know, each storm is kind of different, and each scenario kind of sets up for itself. But I will say that our crews have been pretty busy flying these things. We went from a hurricane season that extended into November to picking right up with the atmospheric rivers. And now with the East Coast storms as well. So we've been definitely busy.

SCIUTTO: Atmospheric River, in addition to being a good band name, I've always thought. We use this term a lot when we're describing these, you know, these events? Can you explain what that looks like from above as you're up in the air? What's the experience like? How can people visualize that?

DYKE: Sure. It's basically what you see when you're looking out the window. It's just a sea of clouds and moisture. You know, these atmospheric rivers are transporting a ton of moisture from the Pacific Ocean onto the West Coast, the U.S.

And so when you look out over it, it's just nothing but clouds all around you, as you're flying through and taking the samples.

HILL: So in terms of those --

SCIUTTO: Well, listen -- go ahead.

HILL: Oh, I'm sorry. Just quickly. In terms of those data samples, what are you learning? How is that used? And do we see it in some of the weather forecasts we may see every day?

DYKE: Oh, absolutely. So with the data that we're collecting, we're using these instruments called Dropsondes, and they collect everything from temperature, dew point, wind speed, direction of pressure, and they report that back to the aircraft, and we're collecting those at strategic points where the models may not have as fine tuned to a resolution on what's going on.

So we collect that data to help boost the accuracy of the model. And not only does it help the West Coast, but it also helps throughout the entire U.S. as the systems move across.

SCIUTTO: Wow. Well, listen, stay safe up there. We appreciate what you do, Major Chris Dyke.

DYKE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, this afternoon, North Carolina's Supreme Court is reconsidering two election-related cases that could have big implications on voting rights. We're going to have details on that.

Plus, several GOP lawmakers have criticized Governor Ron DeSantis for him saying the U.S. doesn't really need to be supporting Ukraine. Could this become a defining issue in 2024? That's ahead.