New Planned Parenthood president sits with CBS News for first interview as debate over abortion rages

By Kate Smith

/ CBS News

Planned Parenthood's new president: "We are very concerned about Roe"

Washington, D.C. – Two weeks into her new role as the head of Planned Parenthood, Alexis McGill Johnson says she's worried about the mounting restrictions that limit abortion access — and stands ready to fight back.

"All of these things are chipping away at women's reproductive freedom," Johnson told CBS News reporter Kate Smith, in her first interview since being named acting president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "What's at stake is our ability and our access to control our own lives through our own reproductive choices."

The extended interview will air later Tuesday on CBSN.

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Johnson's new role at Planned Parenthood comes at one of the most critical — and uncertain — moments for abortion access since Roe v. Wade effectively legalized the procedure in 1973. State lawmakers have introduced more than 300 pieces of legislation restricting abortion access — more than in any other year, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group.

Many of those bills contain language directly in conflict with Supreme Court precedent, intended to challenge and potentially dismantle federal abortion protections.

"We are very concerned about Roe," Johnson said. "We have a court that hangs in the balance."

In the first six months of 2019, six states passed so-called "heartbeat" bans, laws that prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, something that typically happens around five or six weeks into a woman's pregnancy. Alabama went a step further, passing a law that bans the procedure in nearly all cases.

Planned Parenthood has been on the front lines, challenging many of those laws in court.

Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson and CBS News reporter Kate Smith. CBS News

"I'm the face of an organization that stands up for people who need access to sexual and reproductive health care. And I stand proudly in saying that. And I stand proudly in saying that reproductive health care and sexual freedom should include abortion," Johnson said. "I think we need to take away the stigma from thinking about abortion as anything other than basic health care."

On July 16, Dr. Leana Wen was abruptly ousted as Planned Parenthood's president. Her comments regarding the departure called into question the role of the organization: Is Planned Parenthood a political organization or a health care clinic? In her interview with CBS News, Johnson said that they don't have the luxury to choose.

"It's a false choice," she said. "We are primarily a health care provider…and the idea that we can provide that access depends on our ability to keep our health centers open. We're not political by nature, but we've been politicized. And that fight has actually been our focus to ensure that our health centers stay open."

First published on July 30, 2019 / 7:00 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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