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Now: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments In Abortion Pill Case; Biden Expected To Comment Later Today On Bridge Collapse; Officials: Ship Dropped Anchor As Safety Measure Before Impact. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired March 26, 2024 - 11:30   ET




KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Prevent them from possibly ever having to do these kinds of procedures, everyone else should be prevented from getting access to this medication. So, why isn't that plainly overbroad scope of the remedy, the end of this case?

ERIN HAWLEY, REPRESENTING ALLIANCE DEFENDING FREEDOM: So, with respect to the premise of that question, Justice Jackson, I don't think our doctors necessarily are able to object, for two reasons. One of these is the emergency nature of these procedures. As the FDA acknowledges, many women do go to the emergency room.

And if we just think about what that might look like, take Dr. Francis. She's on the labor and delivery floor supervisor.

JACKSON: I don't -- I'm sorry, I don't want to hypothesize. Tell me in her declaration where she talks about not being able to object or pose a conscientious objection.

HAWLEY: She talks about, Your Honor, being an --

JACKSON: I mean, can you point me to any place in the declarations where the declarant states that they attempted to object but were unable to?

HAWLEY: No, Your Honor, for two reasons. One, these are emergency situations. Respondent doctors don't necessarily know until they scrub into that operating room, whether this may or may not be abortion drug harm. It could be a miscarriage, it could be an ectopic pregnancy, or it could be an elective abortion, Your Honor.

In addition, the government simply cannot get its story straight on Intella. If you look at the district court brief, in that case, we just heard that the church Amendment applies. And while we've been loved for this court to adopt that position, they told the district court the very opposite.

JACKSON: All right, let me ask you this. If we were to find that there are conscientious objections that, say hospitals, take them into account, and these doctors do have a way to not do these kinds of procedures, should we in this case on that basis?

HAWLEY: No, Your Honor. We would welcome that holding on. But it's not broad enough to remedy our doctors' harm.


HAWLEY: Because these are emergency situations. They can't waste precious moments scrubbing in. I don't know -- (INAUDIBLE)

JACKSON: No. I'm saying -- I'm saying, assuming we have a world in which they can actually lodge the objections that you say that they have. My question is, isn't that enough to remedy their issue? Do we have to also entertain your argument that no one else in the world can have this drug or no one else in America should have this drug in order to protect your clients?

HAWLEY: So again, Your Honor, it's not possible given the emergency nature of the situation.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Our CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid is live outside the Supreme Court for us. Paula, a very consequential case following the Dobbs decision, obviously, that's why we're talking about this today. Tell us about these ongoing arguments, how the justices are focusing on those arguments, and I suppose you're getting a lot of tells in terms of the breakdown of the court.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. At this point, a majority of the justices appear skeptical of the question of standing. Does this group of anti-abortion doctors and advocates have this standing or the right to bring this lawsuit? That's what most of the hearings so far have been focused on. And, Jim, even though this is, of course, an incredibly consequential high-stakes issue. But legally and politically, this is sort of an off-ramp for the justices. If they decide that look, you don't have standing, they don't even have to get into the larger questions about restricting access to Mifepristone.

Now, the group that brought this lawsuit, they argue that they do have standing because they say they could be called to offer medical treatment to someone who has had complications from Mifepristone, something that they would object to. But the government dismisses that saying, look, you don't have any real harm here. This is completely hypothetical. And have asked the Justice Department to "put an end to this case."

Now, the most -- the first few questions that even the conservative justices had during this hearing were about this issue of standing. Let's take a listen to what Justice Alito wanted to know.


SAMUEL ALITO, U.S. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: Could you provide a more specific answer to the first question that Justice Thomas asked you? Is there anybody who could challenge in court the lawfulness of what the FDA did here?

HAWLEY: In this particular case, I think the answer is no.

ALITO: Well, that wasn't my question. Is there anybody who can do that? Let's start with the states that intervene below.


REID: Justice Alito clearly does not like the idea that no one would have standing here. But it appears that whatever opinion we get likely in late June, will focus on this question of standing. Now, as of a few moments ago, the conservative advocacy group was up and they were facing tough questions, both from conservative and liberal justices about this question of standing.

But, Jim, we also heard from a lawyer for drug manufacturer Danco, the manufacturer of Mifepristone. And there were a lot of questions, especially from conservative justices about the limits or oversight for the FDA's regulatory authority because this is a case that has far-reaching implications potentially, not just for people who want Mifepristone before the FDA and other medications that it has approved. So, this is definitely one of the biggest cases on the docket this term.


ACOSTA: Absolutely. Another flashpoint in the cultural wars in this country and particularly over abortion rights. Paula Reid, thank you very much. Let's continue this conversation with our panel, CNN Medical Correspondent Meg Tirrell, CNN Chief Legal Analyst Laura Coates, and CNN Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams.

Meg, let me start with you because there's been a lot of discussion at the High Court today about the safety of Mifepristone. How safe is it? Break that down for our viewers. My understanding is that it is highly safe.



TIRRELL: I mean, this is a drug that's been on the market in the United States since 2000. In other countries since a decade plus, even before that. So, there's a lot of data about the use of these medications. They're 95 to 98 percent effective and the side effect rate is something like 0.3 percent. We also know from studies that use via telehealth, which is an increasingly popular way to get these medications has been shown to be as safe and effective as getting these medications in person.

There's a lot of questions here about whether changes in this case are going to change the way people need to report side effects to the FDA or even eliminate the need to report side effects to the FDA. That seems to be kind of missing the overall point. You know, the FDA is monitoring side effects constantly. Hospitals are reporting side effects to every drug that's out there if they come about. The FDA pulls drugs off the market if they see in the data in the real world that they are not safe, or even if they have not borne out in clinical trials to be effective.

So, there's a lot of questions here about is the FDA infallible. There are a lot of already mechanisms in place around the FDA and how it works with medicines.

ACOSTA: And, Laura Coates, I mean, how significant is this case in the grand scheme of things? Obviously, because of the Dobbs decision, we're talking about this today. And depending on how this case is ultimately decided, you could see a further chipping away at abortion rights in the United States.

LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: This is about access. Access to one of the parts of a two-dose regimen to have medication abortion, which was compromised -- comprises more than half I think of abortions in this country, a medical -- medication abortions. This is about whether or not you're going to have access to this drug.

Now, there's already been some course corrections for medical graduates and they're going to use just one of the drugs instead of Mifepristone, which is not the most effective strategy. You can tell me if I'm wrong about this.

TIRRELL: No. 90 percent -- (INAUDIBLE)

COATES: 90 percent. Correct. Right. And it was -- it's problematic. The other part of this is that it has very sweeping consequences. Remember, the Dobbs decision said this ought to go back to the states.

Well, the states were divided. Nearly half had these bans. The other talks about putting in place ways to protect reproductive rights. And so, returning to the States would not be an issue.

The Supreme Court ruled in this way. It would have the nationwide consequences of it. It would have an impact on miscarriage care. It would have an impact on being able to shut down telemedicine in this area, about being able to make it only available up to the seven-week mark as opposed to a 10-week mark or even a 12 under the World Health Organization's global decision about how long you could actually prescribe and use it.

And so, this has really becomes -- but mostly, they can't just apply their logic to one drug. If they think the FDA is problematic, well, there's a whole lot of drugs out there in the market right now --


COATES: That would fall victim as well.

ACOSTA: Yes, you have to wonder what the implications are for the pharmaceutical industry in this country. And, Elliot, I mean, what stands out to you in these arguments this morning?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. ACOSTA: I mean, what we are hearing from the justices, you do get a sense of the conservative supermajority in that breakdown that's on the High Court right now.


ACOSTA: It's sort of unmistakable.

WILLIAMS: So, a few things. One, tipping up on that last point, were the Supreme Court to rule sort of limiting or curtailing access to Mifepristone. That'd be I believe, the first time that the Supreme Court with respect to the FDA, stepped into the administration and distribution of a particular drug. So, it'd be quite historic in that sense.

Now, the thing that really stands out to me and this was the clip that got played a second ago, is standing and this idea of who is actually harmed. And just so people understand, it's a bit -- it's a critical element of the law, one needs to be injured in order to bring a lawsuit. And so, an example.

If I were to go outside and see two people assaulting each other, it may bother me, it may -- I may not like it, but I can't sue one of them for assault. I was not the person who was harmed. Even if I disagreed with what had happened there. Only those two people have the ability to do so.

Here, the argument being made, and I think that justices are starting to pick up on and agree with a little bit, is the idea that none of these organizations who brought this lawsuit were harmed in any way. And this was Justice Alito's question, well, who could? And I guess the question is, well, maybe nobody for this particular suit.


WILLIAMS: And so, it'll be interesting to see what the court does with that.

ACOSTA: And, Meg, Mifepristone's use really skyrocketed during COVID, right? I mean, that is one of the aspects of all of this is that its use went up during COVID. A lot of telehealth goes on in this country. And Mifepristone was being -- I guess, post-Dobbs being sent to states where perhaps abortion had been restricted rather significantly, which I'm sure -- I'm sure fired up the anti-abortion forces out there. And I have to assume that that's part of the reason why we're here today listening to these arguments.




TIRRELL: I mean, with Dobbs, of course, the access to abortion in the U.S. was severely limited. I mean, 14 states have almost banned abortion completely outright. Those states technically, folks living there are not allowed to have medication abortions, either.

There are groups outside the United States. One is called Aid Access, that's one of the main ones that will send medication abortion, and they have told us that they will continue to send medication abortion to women on patients who need it, regardless of whatever happens at the Supreme Court because they believe in this access. They're outside the U.S. The FDA has asked them to stop. And they've said we're not going to stop. They're going to keep going.


WILLIAMS: What all of this shows is how open the Supreme Court -- the door the Supreme Court opened after Dobbs --


WILLIAMS: To a world of legal questions over who has access to abortion weeks during pregnancy -- that it may happen, birth control, medical abortion --

ACOSTA: Right.

WILLIAMS: The morning-after pill, anything else is sort of an open legal question.

ACOSTA: Questions about contraceptive care.


ACOSTA: I mean --

COATES: Absolutely.

ACOSTA: That's what was the concern about Dobbs was that it opened up a Pandora's box.

COATES: Yes. I mean, they reference a woman's point, the Comstock Act.


COATES: This is 19th Century regulation says you cannot mail things that are illicit or immoral --

ACOSTA: Obscene. Yes.

COATES: Obscene in some way. And there are those who believe that these very drugs would qualify in that category. But that was, again, a 19th-century law that we don't want to just like venture back to.

But the real issue here you're thinking about all of it is at its core, they are not going to try to decide this case on whether they think abortion ought to be legal or not. They're going to try to look at this through the idea and lens of --

ACOSTA: Yes. COATES: Should the FDA have given this authority, or should it be rolled back? It'd be much more of an agency administrative role they want to play because I think they're well aware in this Supreme Court about public sentiment, opinion, and the idea of forum shopping to get a particular result on an issue that is very, very dynamic, and very, very controversial.

ACOSTA: And very much on the minds of voters heading into this general election cycle.


ACOSTA: All right. Laura, Meg, and Elliot, great discussion. Very important issue. Our thanks to Paula Reid outside the Supreme Court, as well.

Coming up next. More on the breaking news. President Biden is expected to address the Baltimore bridge collapse in just a short while from now. We'll bring you the latest on all of this after a quick break.



ACOSTA: All right. Breaking news. We are learning that President Biden is expected to speak a little bit later today about the Baltimore bridge collapse. CNN's Kevin Liptak is over at the White House for us. Kevin, what more are you learning?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, expected to hear from President Biden before he leaves for an event in North Carolina with the vice president on health care. And we will hear from him after the president convened a meeting of senior officials to discuss this incident. And we are hearing from the White House that the president directed all federal resources that are required to go towards this search and rescue effort that's underway in Baltimore.

And the one thing that we've been hearing consistently from officials across the federal government today is that there was no nefarious intention behind this act. That it was an accident. And I think that's the message that really the top officials on President Biden's team are trying to get across.

We also understand that the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, will be on the ground in Baltimore later today as he works to assess the situation there. Certainly, the focus right now is on the recovery effort. And from the White House's perspective, they are deploying Coast Guard resources to try and search for those who may be unaccounted for. But eventually, this will also turn into a repair effort on this bridge, this major thoroughfare in Baltimore on I-695. That's something that I think that the federal government will likely play a role in as well.

But you saw that photo President Biden tweeted of himself in the Oval Office speaking with senior members of his team about this collision. You saw Tom Perez there, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, a map of the incident. And certainly, we are expecting to hear more from President Biden about this in a little bit, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Kevin Liptak, thank you very much. Let us know if there's anything more that we can add later on. And we'll be right back.



ACOSTA: Right now, we are learning more about what led to the bridge collapse in Baltimore after a massive ship ran right into it. The Singapore Maritime and Port Authority says the ship dropped its anchor as part of an emergency procedure before impact. That was after it had a momentary loss of propulsion. CNN's Pete Muntean is in Baltimore. Pete, what are you picking up on?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: What we're hearing so clearly now is this narrative of a ship that was careening out of control towards the -- one of the major pilings of this truss bridge 8000 feet long here across the Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland. We are on the Dundalk side of the Port of Baltimore. This ship was coming out of the port.

Very early this morning about 1:00 a.m., about 1:24 is one of the problems became immediately apparent to the crew. And you could see the ship still in the Patapsco River behind me. That is the ship that was on its way to Sri Lanka.

95,000 gross tons. That was the gross tonnage of the ship. A lot of inertia and a lot of mass going at eight knots, according to investigators here who've spoken to us and also to the media.

That's a lot of inertia going for that piling. And you can see that the bridge folded essentially like a cheap suit. It came down in really big chunks as this crew was working on top of the bridge doing deck repair work, repairing potholes.

We know the short -- the search is very much underway. But what was very clear right now was that this crew had a lot of difficulty commanding the ship. There was a pilot onboard the ship that is a local expert who comes on board the ship especially in a major port like this to help navigate the ship through the local waters if the captain of the ship and the rest of the crew of the ship is unfamiliar with the territory here.


And so, that pilot was in command. According to state transportation secretary Paul Wiedefeld telling me a short time ago, that pilot was able to help guide the ship but clearly not guided free of this piling. In the video, you can see the lights flicker a few times. That apparently led to a propulsion issue on board the ship. And then the bow of the ship careened to the right as it was headed southwest out of this Patapsco River mouth here, and then into that major piling causing the bridge to come down. So, a lot of significant findings here as this surge is still underway, Jim. And this investigation, only just beginning. Of course, they will want to know exactly what the crew saw and what their indications were that things were going wrong on the bridge.

ACOSTA: That's right. And the NTSB is on its way to the scene right now. President Biden will be speaking on all of this later on today. Pete Muntean, thank you very much for your terrific work this morning.

And thank you very much for joining me in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta. Stay with CNN for continuing coverage of the stunning bridge collapse in Baltimore. "INSIDE POLITICS" starts after a short break. Have a great day.