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Fatima Goss Graves on a Violent, Post-Roe America
Fatima Goss Graves on a Violent, Post-Roe America
This week on "The Tent," Daniella and Fatima Goss Graves discuss abortion rights and how white supremacy fuels gun violence.
Part of a Series
This week, Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, joins Daniella to reflect on how white supremacy and toxic masculinity fuel gun violence; the economic and health impacts the United States will see if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade; and ways to channel our outrage into action. Daniella also shares what the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, means to her, and why—two years after George Floyd’s murder—the country needs comprehensive police reform.
Learn more about the podcast here.
Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger. The fight for abortion rights in this country is just getting started. Today, we’re talking to Fatima Goss Graves of the National Women’s Law Center, who is on the front lines of that fight. We’ll be looking at the landscape of state abortion laws, the secondary impacts of banning abortion, and ways that we can all take action in this dark moment.
But first, we have to get to some news. This last week in America has left me at a loss for words, which, if you’ve listened to this podcast with any frequency over the past few years, you know that’s rare. Last week, I started off the pod by offering my condolences to the families of those who have lost loved ones in a different mass shooting—that one in Buffalo, New York, when a white supremacist murdered 10 innocent Black people at a grocery store on a Saturday afternoon because of the color of their skin. I said then that I was sick and tired of offering my thoughts and prayers to another community impacted by the scourge of senseless gun violence in this country that is uniquely American.
But here I am today, when some of the Buffalo victims haven’t even been buried yet, and I’m having to start off the show yet again by offering my condolences because of another mass shooting—this one in Uvalde, Texas, where at least 19 children under the age of 10 and two teachers were murdered. They were gunned down at Robb Elementary School, which taught second to fourth graders that was just two days away from summer vacation. It’s the worst school shooting in Texas history. It’s the deadliest mass shooting so far this year. It comes on the heels of the mass shooting at Parkland High School that killed 17 people in Florida in 2018, and the horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, where 20 children and six adults were murdered in cold blood.
I want to be crystal clear about this: These tragedies, they did not have to happen. These little children did not have to die. Here’s President Biden in his speech to the nation on Tuesday night:
President Joe Biden, remarks from a May 24 speech: I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage. I spent my career as a senator and as vice president working to pass commonsense gun laws. We can’t and won’t prevent every tragedy, but we know they work and have positive impact. When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down. When the law expired, mass shootings tripled. Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone?
Gibbs Léger: President Biden is right. We know that there are things that we can do to make these shootings so much harder to commit. We know we need to prohibit individuals who have been convicted of crimes from purchasing or transferring guns. We know we need to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines like those used by the shooter in Uvalde and in so many other mass shootings in this country. We know we need to require background checks like the ones in the House bill that’s been waiting for the Senate to take it up, that are supported by 80 percent of Americans. And we know we also need to crack down on ghost guns, unregistered and untraceable homemade weapons.
But we don’t have it because of greedy, selfish Republicans—Republicans like Donald Trump and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who will speak at an NRA [National Rifle Association] meeting in Texas this week, just three days after innocent children were murdered in the same state; Republicans like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of the MAGA Republican senators who continues to halt progress on universal background checks, who’s also speaking at this week’s NRA meeting. It’s extremist, gun-crazed Republicans who prevented us from acting back in 2012 when those 20 innocent little children were gunned down in Sandy Hook, or when those students at Parkland were murdered in 2018, and who continue to literally stick to their guns as we witness a string of mass shootings from New York to Texas.
So, we know that unless we do something in this country to pass commonsense gun reforms that are overwhelmingly supported by the public, this won’t stop. I’d give it a couple of weeks—if we’re lucky—before I have to start off this podcast by, yet again, offering my thoughts and prayers to more families who’ve had the lives of loved ones ripped away too soon; to more families who are staring at an empty bed at home because their kid didn’t come home from school that day; to the families who don’t get to watch their kids grow up, graduate from high school, go to college, start families of their own, because they were senselessly and preventably shot and killed by a murderer and their gun.
Enough is enough. I can’t take this bull[censored] anymore. You shouldn’t be able to take this bull[censored] anymore. All of our political leaders in Washington, including those who are funded by the gun lobby, need to grow a spine and start acting with some god[censored] courage to fix this fixable problem that no other country in the world has. Let me say that again: This [censored] doesn’t happen in any other god[censored] country. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) put it poignantly in his speech Tuesday on the Senate floor to his fellow colleagues.
Sen. Chris Murphy, May 25 remarks on the Senate floor: What are we doing? Why do you spend all this time running for the United States Senate? Why do you go through all the hassle of getting this job, of putting yourself in a position of authority, if your answer is that, as the slaughter increases, as our kids run for their lives, we do nothing? Why are you here?
Gibbs Léger: When the news broke of the shooting, I was out with my kid at an indoor playground. School had let out early on Tuesday, and I was there with some other parents. And I was working, a couple of people were working. And I started getting alerts from colleagues that a shooting had happened—it went from two kids killed to 14 kids to 18 to 19. I sat there, and I helped craft some statements, and I fired off some angry tweets. And I just looked at my son and all his friends who were just running around playing, as they should be, innocently unaware of what their parents were dealing with at the table across the room. And when he went up to bed that night, we just sat there and snuggled. It was almost like he knew that I needed that.
Look, when Sandy Hook happened, I know exactly where I was. I didn’t have a child then. It was right before Christmas, and I was shopping at the Pentagon City Mall. And when I went in, I had heard that there was a shooting. And when I came out, I saw that the death toll was—I think—19 at that point, and I started weeping. I don’t have to have children to understand that the death of innocent children is horrific. I didn’t need to have a kid of my own to feel like my heart was breaking into a million pieces, because I’m a human being with empathy. But now that I do have a child, it makes it that much harder. It makes the work that we do here at CAP so important.
But it makes it harder to look my colleagues in the eyes and say it will get better. We can do it as a country. We can do this because we know we have to do it. But it keeps [censored] happening. And so, all I can do is hug my child extra hard and do all that I can to protect him and keep him safe. And sending him to school should be one of the things that keeps him safe, and it’s [censored] up that we live in a country where that’s not the case. My other friends who raised their kids in other countries—first world, second world, third world, whatever—they don’t have this problem. Yeah, they have other problems. Every place has problems, but they don’t worry about their kids being murdered at school.
What the [censored] is wrong with this country? And when are we going to get our [censored] together and do something? How many more innocent children have to be killed before we do something? Biden was angry when he spoke, and he’s right to be angry. I need to see the anger that [Rep.] Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), representative from Arizona, was expressing on Twitter on Tuesday night. I need that anger from all of our elected officials, that people are afraid to send their kids to school in this country. And then they should do something about it. And if it means that you name and shame every person who votes against background checks—if you name and shame people like [Sen.] Joe Manchin (D-WV) and [Sen.] Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who are more interested in upholding the vestiges of racist procedures and the filibuster than changing that rule—so that this law, that is supported by 80 percent of Americans, can get passed? Name them and shame them, because I am sick and tired of talking about this.
We put these people in elected office to do something for us. That’s what they’re there for. Just like Sen. Murphy said: Why are you there? If you’re not there to make the hard choices to keep this country safe, then please, step aside. Get the [censored] out and let somebody else come into office, because what you’re doing clearly isn’t working. And you can save your thoughts and prayers for somebody else because I am not trying to hear it.
Now, I want to hold some space for another important commemoration. It’s been two years since George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis. Two years ago, people across this country took to the streets in his name to demand an end to the brutality and violence police officers inflict on Black people in this country. I really wish I could say it made a difference. But, like with gun violence in this country, we are still lacking in meaningful progress. The Senate failed to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act back in 2021, or any legislation that confronts systemic racism, creates long-lasting accountability, and rebuilds trust between police and the communities they serve.
And now, Republicans are jumping right back into the same old rhetoric. They’re blocking efforts to invest in community policing and mental health—ironic, considering they’re quick to blame gun violence on mental health. They’re actually passing laws, like in Alabama and Ohio in recent weeks, that make it easier for violent criminals to acquire and carry guns. And they’re blaming Democrats for crime as a way to win elections, while using rising crime rates they helped cause as an excuse to do nothing on police reform.
There’s a lot of bad news and a lot of Republican bull[censored] that I’m talking about today. But there have been some steps forward. Just this week, President Biden signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to revise their use-of-force policies and creating a national registry of police officers fired for misconduct, something that maybe would have prevented 12-year-old Tamir Rice from being killed by a cop for playing with a toy gun in an open carry state.
We’re also seeing cities and towns across the country investing in community policing programs and ending qualified immunity for police officers. Cities including Denver, San Francisco, and many others have started programming deploying nonemergency mental health professionals and social workers as first responders on low-level calls. But there’s only so much we can do without help from Congress. As we mark the second anniversary of Floyd’s death, we need a national standard of police accountability, and we need it now.
If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. And remember, we’re now posting transcripts for “The Tent” each week. The link will be in the description as soon as each one is available. Stick around for our interview with Fatima Goss Graves in just a beat.
Fatima Goss Graves is the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, and a founder of TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. She has worked with the Law Center for more than a decade in various capacities, working on issues including income security, health and reproductive rights, education access, and workplace fairness. She received her Juris Doctorate from Yale Law School and clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Fatima, thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”
Fatima Goss Graves: Oh, I’m happy to be here.
Gibbs Léger: So, I need to start with the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas that killed 21 innocent souls, most of them children under the age of 10. And this, of course, comes on the heels of another horrific mass shooting in Buffalo, where a white supremacist sought out and murdered 10 people because they were Black. This is an incredibly dark moment for our country, and as the mom of a young boy, I am not just outraged, I’m terrified. So, can you start us off by just giving us your thoughts on what has happened in Texas and in Buffalo?
Goss Graves: Yeah, and I, you know, have just been wrapped in grief for the families and for everyone, really, in this country. And you know, you can’t help but hug your own kids a little closer and hug your elders a little closer, when you think about the shooting in Buffalo. We are in terrifying times. And it’s sort of grief on top of grief. And so, the one thing I have been thinking about is that the lesson can’t be that we give up, that we begin to think that nothing is possible. In fact, that’s sort of the design. That’s how white supremacy works. It makes you think that you have to follow the systems and norms that put power in the hands of just a few. And part of our task right now—and it is a hard task—is remembering that we can be better than this and that change is possible. So, I just have grief and love for so many people right now. But also, I am forcing myself to hold on to hope and power.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah. And, you know, I know that the Law Center does a lot of great work on education issues. So, you know, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the claims, you know, that came immediately, like clockwork, by some on the right, who say that what we need to do is put more guns in schools or fortify our schools to, I don’t know, I guess be like prisons, and that will make them safe.
Goss Graves: Now, the irony is a lot of our schools already feel like prisons for the young people who are in them. And not in service of them or the adults in the building. And at Robb Elementary, there were actually law enforcement that tried to interrupt and weren’t successful. So, I’m not sure the answer is more arms here.
There are some answers that feel very clear. We have an absolute gun problem in this country that has only gotten worse on purpose. As guns have become more accessible, more prevalent, things that would have been resolved in ways that don’t involve guns are now involving guns. But I also know—and this is a harder issue to tackle, and so I’m guessing you’re not going to see as many people racing to it—but we actually have to take on the toxic masculinity that is also driving some of these mass shootings, and the spaces where it thrives, especially online, whether it is, you know, Fortnite or 4chan or the many almost exclusively male spaces where misogyny is casual and hate grows and thrives like a mushroom. People don’t like to have that conversation, because it feels hard. But if you talk to anyone day to day about the thing that they’re thinking about and what it is that they’ve been worried their children had been doing during this pandemic, it’ll start to come out in whispers. We have to take that on, too.
Gibbs Léger: Yeah, totally. I was thinking this morning about how these mass shootings that keep happening, it’s not women carrying these out. And you know, it is a hard and tough conversation, but, like, we have to be able to do the hard things if we want to get to the bottom of this.
So, you know, switching gears, I want to talk about Roe and the future of abortion in America. And it is not lost on me that the very Republicans who oppose any measure that could have prevented these children’s deaths are also the ones who are leading the so-called quote-unquote “pro-life movement.” With the Supreme Court appearing poised to overturn Roe as soon as next month, we’re seeing attention turn to state abortion laws as a result. And many states, as you know, have trigger laws on the books, which will ban abortion within 30 days of the official decision. And states like Oklahoma have already moved to pass more restrictive abortion bans. States are talking, you know, about bans that’ll go as far as to restrict access to IUDs or IVF [in vitro fertilization]. So, can you start us off by breaking down this landscape for us? You know, where do you think we will see these types of restrictions, and how bad are they? Because I do think that some people are still kind of lulled into this sense of, “That might happen, but people, if they really want an abortion, they’ll still be able to get one.”
Goss Graves: So, I should begin by saying I don’t disagree that people will always need and seek abortions. That has been true always, that people need and will seek abortion care. The question on the table is whether it will be legal. Will you go to jail for it? Will your life be upended? Will you be able to do it in a way where you are healthy? And do our lives matter? And that is the thing that I think is kind of hard, because for a lot of people, if you need health care, you just go get it. They can’t even fathom what it must be like to want and need to seek health care and to know that doing so comes with potential criminal penalties, with a cost beyond your imagination: Leaving your community, having to set up child care, get off work, all understanding that there’s so much risk, all self-created.
So, what’s happening right now is a self-induced coming public health crisis and crisis in our laws, and I’m happy to talk about both. We expect as many as 26 states to ban abortion. About half those already have trigger laws in place. Other states will do things like come back with special sessions. There’ll be a few states that wait until next year. But in a year, the landscape of abortion access will look dramatically different in this country. And that will look in different ways. It won’t be all the same law. And we have seen states racing each other to outdo each other with the most draconian: Maybe I’m gonna have criminal penalties for both providers and patients; maybe I will try to ban you from leaving the state altogether; maybe I will go after contraception. You know, the list is long about what they will do. But all of it is about controlling our bodies, our lives, our futures, and our ability to determine whether or not we are pregnant, whether or not we stay pregnant, and whether or not we actually are parents.
So, it’s a rough road, but it’s not a road that began overnight. We have been facing and beating back efforts to chip away at the 50 years of legal abortion in this country, efforts that made abortion access hard to get for many people. Many people had to drive far, many people struggle to find care and had to deal with laws that were designed to shame them or unnecessary medical procedures just to get access to abortion care. This new phase is going to involve criminal penalties. This new phase will criminalize pregnancy loss. And this new phase will deepen the already uneven access to health care.
And it will come with giant risk. Already, there is a giant maternal mortality crisis in this country, most so for Black women, right. Black women: three to four times more likely to die from childbirth. And that number will not be well served by these laws that have nothing to do with the health of pregnant people. That’s not why they’re passing these laws. These laws are about controlling the decision-making, the lives, the futures of women in this country.
Gibbs Léger: So, the Women’s Health Protection Act was struck down in Congress once again. There’s been some talk of different ways that maybe we could codify Roe or protect abortion on the federal level. You know, at the same time, Republicans are threatening to impose a national abortion ban. You know, what is the likelihood that we’ll actually see any kind of federal or national action on either side of this issue?
Goss Graves: Well, you just saw it fail in the Senate, it passed the House, right. So, the House has passed this bill, and like a lot of things, it has failed in the Senate. The Senate has failed to act. And so, one lesson I think that people need to be clear about is a 50-50 divided Senate, with the vice president available to break ties, is not enough power to do even some basic things. It’s not enough power to protect the right to vote, it’s not enough power to protect abortion access in this country. And that is discouraging for people. They don’t want to hear that. And I think we are at a time when no leader can sit back and just say, “Well, nothing to be done here,” that the Senate is going to be in trouble as this country is more and more in trouble.
So, that’s one thing. But I have to say that we should listen when [Sen.] Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says that they will put in place a nationwide ban on abortion. I’m listening to it the same way I believed that Trump would appoint justices that would ban abortion. He said, “My justices will overturn Roe v. Wade.” I believed it then. That’s what they’re on track to do. When Mitch McConnell says we will put forward a nationwide ban, we should believe that that is the agenda, not some other agenda that he’s holding a secret. We should believe the agenda that they’re telling us. And so, if you’re someone who’s listening, thinking, “Oh, I feel so bad for those folks in Texas, and maybe I feel bad for those folks in Mississippi, and those few other states that are going to ban abortion,” you should know, first, it’s half the states that are poised to do it pretty quickly, and second, the next step is a nationwide ban. We are not safe from this agenda.
Gibbs Léger: And when you think about where that would place us in terms of our position in the world, both with guns and with this, we’re an outlier. You know, my sister lives in Italy—pretty religious country, pretty Catholic—and they just don’t have this type of—this debate isn’t happening over there. And I just really want listeners to hear what you just said, and to listen when Mitch McConnell opens that mouth and says that he wants to do this, that trust and believe this is what they want to do.
Goss Graves: I think most people around the world are trying to figure out what is going on. How is it that we are even having a debate about whether or not we’re going to punish doctors and patients and force people to stay in their states? I sometimes wonder what is going on.
Gibbs Léger: So, I want to be clear that abortion currently is not illegal. And in many states, it will remain legal, even if Roe is overturned, Mitch McConnell notwithstanding. That being said, in those places where it might become illegal, you know, we’re potentially going to be seeing a lot more babies born. So, as we think about that, and I think I know the answer to this question, but are we prepared in terms of child care, paid parental leave, and other support systems that children and families need?
Goss Graves: Yeah, I’m so glad that you made the point that abortion is still legal. The Supreme Court has not yet struck it down. The draft leaked opinion was a draft, and it was leaked. It was not the formal business of the court yet. And at the same time, we’ve had an experiment where abortion has effectively been banned in the state of Texas for now nine months. So, we know a little bit about what will happen. We know that some people will be able to travel, usually those with more means. We know that that is going to be much harder, though, when you’re talking about coordinating travel for half the states versus one state. And we also know that some people will self-manage their own abortions. That will happen. And we know some people won’t get abortion care. And I do not think we are ready, as a country, to grapple with what that means, both for the health of the person who has to stay pregnant when they don’t want to—their physical health, their mental health—and for the well-being of children in this country.
And, you know, I’ve never been the type to really use the term “pro-life,” because I’ve been confused why that is a mantle only tied to abortion conversations. But I’m super clear that after the mass shootings that have been met with silence, no one gets to use that term. No one who’s not spending every single day actually ensuring that children get to live and breathe and grow up gets to use that term. And we are absent the range of things that actually make motherhood more possible, whether it is paid leave, or child care, or the security of knowing that you can actually grow and support your family, or whether it is knowing that you can have communities of safety. We are absent what families need to thrive.
Gibbs Léger: So, this is obviously, you know, like I said, a really dark moment. And I know that a lot of us are looking to channel some of our outrage. And you know, we always tried to be solution-oriented here on “The Tent” and leave our listeners with some hope. So, can you share some thoughts with our listeners about how they can get engaged, how they can get involved? Like, people are really frustrated and they want to take action. What can they do?
Goss Graves: Well, I have to begin by saying that I have never met someone who’s a civil rights lawyer—someone who comes with my background—who believes that, in the end, we lose. Like, you know, it’s sort of in our bones. The reason we do this work is that we believe that something better is possible. If we work for it, if we gather with others, if we organize, if we continue to develop ideas and strategies, we had to invent things before they even existed. It hasn’t been that many decades where we have had the security of even our most basic rights in this country. So, the thing that I want to tell folks is we need you now more than ever.
You may be feeling discouraged or frustrated, or angry, even, with your leaders. And all those feelings are right and genuine, but I am calling on you to put it in the work. And there are so many ways to get involved. You can get involved by supporting abortion funds to help assist the many people who are going to have giant needs when seeking access to care. Support your local fund. You can get involved by telling your own story; 1 in 4 women have had abortions. More have had other types of pregnancy loss. It’s time we destigmatize abortion and the range of reproductive health care in this country. You can help others tell their story. You can work to destigmatize our basic health care, bodies, and lives.
And you can demand that your leaders do more. You can demand that the states that you are in do everything they can do to expand access to abortion, that you are voting on it, that you will hold them accountable to it. And you can do that at the state, local, and the federal level, even if you think they have failed you in the past. And finally, I just want to name that we are going to need folks for a long-haul fight. It did not get undone in a day, and it won’t be rebuilt in a day, either. So, part of what I’m asking folks to do is to decide that you are a part of a longer movement for justice and freedom and autonomy. And you will be with us in this work not just today but going forward.
Gibbs Léger: Well, amen to that. And I really want to thank you for taking some time on this really heavy day to come and talk about, you know, the really important battles we have coming up. So, Fatima Goss Graves, thank you so much for the work that you do. And thank you for joining us on “The Tent.”
Goss Graves: Thanks for having me.
Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. I know this was a tough episode, but an important one, and I appreciate you making it to the end. As always, go back and check out previous episodes. Before we go, just want to talk about a couple of things. One, it’s big week for primaries, particularly down in the South: Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas all voted on Tuesday.
And as much as I’d rather just talk about Stacey Abrams and how amazing she is, let’s just quickly touch on the fact that a bunch of MAGA Republicans won their primaries. Even in Georgia, where Donald Trump backed the other guy, [David] Perdue, Brian Kemp won decidedly, but be clear: Brian Kemp is a MAGA Republican. Those two were literally, like, just fighting each other to see who could be more like Trump. So even though Trump’s candidate lost, Trumpism, MAGA-ism, still won in Georgia.
Same thing: Whatever is gonna happen in the Pennsylvania Senate GOP primary, it’s still going to be the same. A MAGA Republican won Pennsylvania governor, on the Republican side, he’s a super, super MAGA—he was actually at the January 6 insurrection and worked with the Trump campaign to try to overturn the results. So bottom line: It’s not your father’s Republican Party anymore. The MAGA Republicans have taken over. They’re extreme, they’re out of step with most Americans, and you should just be aware of that. And like I always say, continue to watch this space because these midterm elections are going to be a doozy.
In the land of, I think, some good news, it looks like we are getting closer and closer to getting COVID vaccines for the under-5 set, which to all my fellow parents, I feel your pain. My child was able to get vaccinated in February, and the amount of relief that I have felt was indescribable. So, I keep my fingers crossed. And hopefully, it looks like maybe next month, we might get some approvals for both Pfizer and Moderna for kids under 5. And the FDA and CDC said that children who are from 5 to 12 can also get a booster shot. So, trust and believe, soon as my child is eligible, we’re going back to the grocery store to get a shot, and he can get a lollipop, which is obviously his favorite part of getting immunized.
Take care of yourselves. It’s a lot. I don’t know any other way to say it. Like, there’s a lot happening in the world that is bad and feels awful and feels, at times, hopeless. But as Fatima said, you have to hold on to some hope. It’s crucial to hold on to some hope, because that’s how you keep going. So, I hope you find that bit of hope and keep going, and we’ll talk to you next week.
“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibson Léger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. Tricia Woodcome is our booking producer, and Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.
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Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.