Morning news brief
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Two federal judges issued a pair of conflicting rulings on Friday, creating uncertainty for future access to abortion pills.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
A federal appeals court is expected to weigh in soon, possibly within days. Meanwhile, providers and patients are trying to prepare for whatever comes next.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us now to talk about this. Sarah, so what's this mean for someone who wants access to abortion pills right now?
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Well, at the moment, A, nothing, but the impact is likely to become a lot clearer very soon, maybe this week. What happened first on Friday was that a federal judge in Texas issued a ruling ordering the Food and Drug Administration to suspend its approval of the abortion pill mifepristone nationwide. That's scheduled to go into effect this coming Friday. David Donatti is an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, and he says the judge didn't give a lot of detail about what that means.
DAVID DONATTI: So, for example, if medication is already in pharmacies and has already been prescribed, can those prescriptions be filled? These are questions that the lowest court order just does not answer.
MCCAMMON: But an appeals court could answer that question, and the Justice Department has appealed to the Fifth Circuit. We may hear from them this week. But if we don't, the judge's order would take effect.
MARTÍNEZ: And then I mentioned earlier that other abortion pill case in play. That's a decision from a federal judge in Washington state. How does that factor into this?
MCCAMMON: Right. Eighteen Democratic attorneys general sued the FDA to try to protect access to mifepristone. The federal judge in that case ruled also on Friday that, yes, the FDA should preserve access. His decision may offer at least some protection for access for people in those 17 states and the District of Columbia. But ultimately, this case probably ends up at the Supreme Court. And that, by the way, is where anti-abortion rights groups tell me they want it to go. They want to see this resolved at a national level. And they're optimistic that the high court will agree with the judge in Texas.
MARTÍNEZ: And abortion providers have got to be wondering what to do after these decisions. I mean, what are you hearing from them?
MCCAMMON: They're talking to their lawyers. They're preparing for multiple possible scenarios. And, you know, they've been doing that for months, really, since anti-abortion groups filed the lawsuit in Texas last year. The guidance these providers get could be different depending on where they are, whether they're in one of those states that was part of that Washington case I mentioned. Melissa Grant is CEO of carafem, which provides abortion pills at three clinics and through telehealth. Over the weekend, she told me they're looking really closely at what might still be legal after that seven-day waiting period is up.
MELISSA GRANT: It's going to be working closely with legal advisers in a really rapidly changing environment. That's what I foresee in the next seven days and likely beyond that.
MCCAMMON: Grant says carafem is also poised to increase capacity for surgical abortion if necessary at its clinics. But they only have so much capacity. A spokeswoman for another company called wisp, which provides abortion pills over telehealth, told me they're rushing to put together a plan to let patients stock up on mifepristone in advance of whatever might happen in court. And both of these companies, carafem and wisp, and many other providers also have been preparing to switch to a different regimen if mifepristone becomes unavailable. Most medication abortions in this country use mifepristone plus a second drug called misoprostol. But misoprostol alone is used around the world, and many U.S. providers are looking at switching to that approach if they need to. But some advocates tell me they worry misoprostol could be the next target for anti-abortion groups.
MARTÍNEZ: Sarah, if the FDA has to take the pills off the market, will patients have any other options?
MCCAMMON: You know, right now, many people are using alternative sources to get abortion pills, often online from overseas. And already more than a dozen states, including Texas, where this lawsuit started, have banned all types of abortion in most cases. You know, I talked to Elisa Wells with the group Plan C that provides information about some of those alternative sources. She says tens of thousands of people are getting pills this way. And she says that's likely to escalate, depending on the outcome of this case.
MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Sarah, thanks for providing clarity.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
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MARTÍNEZ: All right, there's still a lot we don't know about a major U.S. intelligence leak that's still unfolding.
FADEL: It involves dozens of classified documents on the state of the war in Ukraine, which have been posted on several social media sites.
MARTÍNEZ: For more on what this all could mean, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, this has been moving pretty fast the last few days. What do we need to know now?
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Well, multiple parts of the U.S. government - and we're talking about the Justice Department, the FBI, the Pentagon, intelligence agencies - they're all scrambling to figure out the source of these leaked intelligence documents. Now, we're talking about dozens of pages, mostly about the war in Ukraine, but it also has U.S. intelligence assessments on other parts of the world. It seems some of these documents were posted a month ago or more on the site Discord, which is popular among teenage gamers. And it more or less just sat there for some time before it spread to Twitter and Telegram, and then The New York Times broke the story last Thursday. Now, the U.S. government is trying to answer several key questions. Who did this? Is this one limited set of documents or is more material coming? And how extensive is the damage?
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, the who did this? - that's the mysterious part of all this. Anyone have any leads?
MYRE: No, not really. It's such an unusual case in many ways. There's no obvious suspect. You know, government intelligence agencies worldwide seek to conceal rather than reveal secret documents they might obtain, so they don't have an obvious motive to put them online. Also, some of these postings appear to be done by individuals hiding behind an online alias, and they just seem to be reposting versions that they came across elsewhere. One person appeared to be a young man in California who did not further identify himself. So it's simply not clear who might have stolen or leaked these documents and who originally posted them online.
MARTÍNEZ: So what's on these documents?
MYRE: So based on documents NPR has seen, they look to be briefing slides with lots of maps and charts. And these are put together daily for top Pentagon leaders and other national security officials. And they cover a range of countries. You see references to China, Iran, North Korea. But the focus here is clearly Ukraine and issues like struggles that Ukraine and Russia face in training fresh troops and keeping them properly supplied with weapons. But the key in these documents is that they provide details on issues like Ukraine's dwindling supply of air defense missiles. Now, these air defense systems have been very effective in keeping Russian fighter jets out of Ukrainian skies. And while this general issue is well known, these kinds of details could be very valuable to Russia.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, U.S. intelligence on Russia has been pretty good throughout the war. Could these revelations maybe undermine those U.S. efforts?
MYRE: Well, that's certainly a huge concern. This leaked material shows U.S. intelligence has clearly penetrated a Russian military on what appears to be a daily basis. And this allows the U.S. to share extremely detailed and timely information with Ukraine on when and where the Russians plan to attack. And that's obviously a huge advantage for Ukraine's defenses. Now, Russia will certainly try to make adjustments to better protect and disguise its military plans. And even with all this said, you know, both sides already have extensive intelligence on each other. So we just don't know at this point whether this new material leaking out will change the trajectory of the war.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you.
MYRE: Sure thing.
MARTÍNEZ: That trove of U.S. documents also included detailed information about Ukraine's warfighting capability as it battles Russian invaders.
FADEL: And the security breach occurred as Ukraine is preparing for a counteroffensive sometime this spring to reclaim land occupied by Russia.
MARTÍNEZ: Joining us now from Kyiv to talk about the Ukrainian response and the situation there is NPR's Joanna Kakissis. What, if anything, is the Ukrainian government saying about the leak, Joanna? I mean, are they worried that this information could maybe compromise them somehow?
JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, you know, publicly, Ukrainian authorities are downplaying the leak. But these documents provide, you know, specific details on problems facing the Ukrainians, including, as Greg mentioned, a lack of air defense missiles. They're also running low on artillery and ammunition, which isn't exactly a secret since Ukraine's defense minister has been asking for more shells for weeks. Some Ukrainian officials insist that some of these leaked documents may have been altered, an attempt at disinformation. We spoke to Roman Svitan. He's a colonel in Ukraine's armed forces reserves and a military analyst, and he blames Russia. He says Russia is trying to sow distrust between Ukraine and its most important ally, the U.S.
ROMAN SVITAN: (Through interpreter) We understand that it's the Russians who did this because, in some cases, they appear to have doctored information to show large losses of the Ukrainian army and very small losses of the Russian army. But it's not going to affect our friendship with the U.S.
KAKISSIS: And yet it's clear the leak has had an impact. For example, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CNN that Ukraine has already changed some of its military plans because of the leak. Remember, though, the documents did not paint a very flattering picture of Russian capabilities either. Some Russians are also crying disinformation.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. So we keep hearing about small, incremental Russian advances around the city of Bakhmut and also about this counteroffensive Ukraine is preparing. What's the latest on all that?
KAKISSIS: Well, so Colonel Svitan said that he does not expect the leak to affect the timing of the counteroffensive, which he says could start as early as in a week. Where will the counteroffensive be? The head of Ukraine's Security Council says that only five people on the planet know the answer to that question, and those five people aren't talking. But Ukrainian forces are widely expected to go south, toward Crimea. In the meantime, Ukrainian soldiers are still heading east, as you mentioned, to Bakhmut, which Ukraine has been defending for months. And both sides have taken huge losses there. Russian troops and private mercenaries control most of the city. The Ukrainians are hanging on, however. Colonel Svitan told us the strategy is to exhaust the Russians and protect nearby cities.
SVITAN: (Through interpreter) We have already lost Bakhmut as a city. It's totally destroyed. But we must keep the land. We will have many more losses if we don't.
MARTÍNEZ: You know, Joanna, this might be a moot question to ask you, but any talk at all - at all - of a negotiated settlement as a way to maybe stop the fighting?
KAKISSIS: Yeah. Well, you know, Ukraine has refused to publicly engage with the Kremlin since last year. And the Ukrainians have been saying all along that they won't negotiate until all occupied territory is liberated, including Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The Ukrainians are also saying that the Russians are reinforcing military fortifications in Crimea, a sign that they are getting ready for battle there.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Kyiv. Joanna, thanks.
KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.