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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump has taken a position on abortion - well, sort of.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: You must follow your heart on this issue. But remember, you must also win elections to restore our culture, and in fact, to save our country.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In other words, now that Trump has emerged from the Republican presidential primary, he's basically saying, leave it up to the states. That video posted on his social media platform yesterday is the clearest attempt yet to address an issue that has cost Republicans votes since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in 2022.

FADEL: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro joins us now. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So will Trump's abortion announcement help him, hurt him?

MONTANARO: He's in a tough spot on this issue because it's his justices that made it possible for Roe to be overturned. He knows that.

FADEL: Right.

MONTANARO: And in the video you played, he even thanked them. Trump knows this issue has hurt Republicans in election after election. Here's Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts polling for NPR.

LEE MIRINGOFF: Trump is very much aware of the mobilizing effect of the Supreme Court actions in favor of the Democrats. And I think he's trying to find some kind of position that is more tolerable and is less of a negative for his campaign.

FADEL: So a political calculation here?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I mean, pretty much. You know, whether it works, though, is another question. I mean, his position still leaves Republicans without a firm stance on what they should believe when it comes to abortion rights. That's something that they've really struggled with as states have come up with their own laws, in many cases in Republican states, very restrictive laws that have all but cut off access to abortion for millions of women, particularly in the South.

FADEL: So Trump is also saying Republicans can now move on and focus on other issues like immigration and inflation. I mean, will Republicans just move on because Trump says so?

MONTANARO: Well, Trump is essentially abandoning the issue himself, saying that there's nothing to see here. But it's pretty unlikely that the country simply moves on. You know, Biden, his campaign is going to do everything it can to remind voters that it was Trump's justices who made the current chaotic state on abortion rights possible. You know, and it came out with a new ad just yesterday highlighting a Texas woman who says she almost died after a pregnancy loss and was denied an abortion to prevent infection. No doubt about it, you know, this is a major issue, a major motivator for millions of voters. Again, here's Marist's Lee Miringoff.

MIRINGOFF: There's little doubt that when you look at suburban women, when you look at women with a college education, it's having an impact beyond all other things in this race.

MONTANARO: So you hear there beyond all other things in this race, so there's no waving this away. Remember, this is the first presidential election since the Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling that got rid of Roe.

FADEL: Right.

MONTANARO: And it's one reason that we're seeing shifts in our latest poll, not just with college-educated white women, but with white men as well.

FADEL: So what are the shifts?

MONTANARO: Well, Biden is struggling with younger voters and Latino voters, groups that he did well with in 2020, but he's being buoyed by college-educated white voters. They're essentially keeping him in this election right now. And that's a big change from years past. The biggest shift was with college-educated white men. Trump won them by three points in 2020, but our latest survey showed that Biden was ahead with them by more than 20 points. Now, is that abortion rights? Is that Trump's language? Is that January 6? Maybe it's all of the above. But the fact is, there used to be a place in the Republican Party for someone who was fiscally conservative, socially liberal, wanted a strong hand when it came to foreign policy and American leadership. But that's just not the case anymore. And this resorting along educational lines in particular has become more and more cohesive.

FADEL: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thank you, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: The Vatican is drawing scrutiny for a newly released document that lays out what it calls threats to human dignity.

MARTÍNEZ: That list includes war, poverty, abortion and the suffering of migrants - all very familiar stances to those who follow the Catholic Church - then it goes further. The document describes surrogacy, gender theory and what it calls sex change as, quote, "grave threats" facing humanity today.

FADEL: Joining us with more is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hi, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So how does the Vatican define, quote, "human dignity"?

DEROSE: Well, the document describes it as this inalienable character of being human. Because a person exists, he or she has intrinsic value, and people have this value regardless of the circumstance of their life - poor, undocumented, male or female. It references the Bible as describing human beings made in God's image. In fact, the document says, each person's dignity comes from the love of the creator, quote, "who has imprinted the indelible features of His image on every person."

FADEL: And then it details grave threats, as it says, to that dignity. What are those?

DEROSE: Right. It talks about poverty and how unequal distribution of wealth denies humans God-given dignity. It also describes war, the abuse of migrants, sexual abuse, violence against women, all of them affronts to dignity and therefore reasons to not wage war, to care for migrants, etc. Again, these are not new issues for the Catholic Church. But then it also lists these issues surrogacy, gender theory and what it calls sex change.

FADEL: So what's the reaction been to this? Because it seemed like the Vatican was moving kind of in a different direction. I mean, just last year, Pope Francis allowed priests to bless people in same-sex relationships.

DEROSE: Well, I think the Vatican would say this is not a change, but rather it's just an extension of already existing teaching. As far as reaction goes, conservative Catholics seem largely pleased, especially after years of their thinking Pope Francis was too interested in LGBTQ rights. And the church does still allow priests to bless people in same-sex relationships, as you said. But people who've been working for LGBTQ rights in the Catholic Church are very unhappy with this new document. Francis DeBernardo is with New Ways Ministry.

FRANCIS DEBERNARDO: It shows no evidence that they have examined new scientific, medical, psychological understandings of gender, which have been very healing and, really, very holy for some people.

DEROSE: DeBernardo worries that in a church already losing members, even more people will leave Catholicism over this document.

FADEL: So how is the Vatican explaining its rebuke of gender theory?

DEROSE: Well, Leila, what gender theory argues is that a person's gender identity or self-understanding can be different from the sex that person was assigned at birth. If God creates people in His image, as this document says, and creates them good, how could a person be born the wrong gender? It's like saying God made a mistake. The church argues that there are two genders, male and female, for good reasons, among them procreation.

It says the concept of human dignity can be misused to justify what it calls arbitrary proliferation of new rights, and it describes those rather as individual preference. And that language echoes what we often hear from those who oppose transgender rights, that being trans is a choice. And of course, that's something most medical and psychological groups dispute.

FADEL: NPR's Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Missouri plans to execute a man tonight who shot and killed two of his family members nearly 20 years ago. That's despite an unusual coalition advocating against his execution.

MARTÍNEZ: Brian Dorsey pleaded guilty to a crime that shocked the residents of New Bloomfield, a small city in the central part of Missouri. The victim's 4-year-old daughter was found at their home after the shooting. She was unharmed.

FADEL: St. Louis Public Radio's political correspondent Jason Rosenbaum has followed this case from its beginning and joins us now. Hi, Jason.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Hello.

FADEL: So there's no question that Dorsey killed his cousin Sarah Bonnie and her husband, Benjamin Bonnie. So what is this group arguing? Is it a push against the death penalty itself?

ROSENBAUM: There are two main issues. The first is that Dorsey's attorneys were paid a flat fee of around $12,000 by the Missouri public defender's office, which his current lawyers say incentivized these other attorneys to do as little work as possible. And they point to how the original attorneys pushed him to plead guilty without trying to get the death penalty off the table.

FADEL: And the second legal issue?

ROSENBAUM: It's whether Dorsey was in a drug-induced psychosis when he committed the murders, and if he was, his attorneys argue he wouldn't fit the confines of first-degree murder and therefore isn't eligible for the death penalty.

FADEL: So tell us about this group that's trying to get his sentence commuted to life without parole. Who were they, what were their arguments?

ROSENBAUM: A former Missouri Supreme Court judge, some corrections officials who oversaw Dorsey in prison, and several GOP lawmakers opposed to the death penalty are trying to stop his execution. And they say that Dorsey was a model prisoner and even was trusted enough to cut some corrections officers' hair. And this dovetails with the argument that he's rehabilitated and just doesn't deserve the death penalty. And they wanted his sentence commuted to life without parole.

FADEL: So knowing Dorsey did, in fact, kill these people, I imagine this entire debate might be painful for Sarah and Benjamin Bonnie's family members.

ROSENBAUM: Oh, absolutely. And some of their family members have found the arguments about his rehabilitation deeply off-putting and have argued no amount of good behavior in prison can erase the wave of trauma Dorsey inflicted. And State Representative Tony Lovasco, a Republican who wanted the governor to commute Dorsey's sentence, says he understands why those arguments wouldn't resonate with people who knew and loved the Bonnies.

TONY LOVASCO: They don't probably care all that much about someone's rehabilitation because they're still hurting. I understand that completely. I don't minimize that, but I think it's important that we focus on the technical aspects of the case and the criminal justice system, and really how this fits into public policy at large.

FADEL: But Dorsey is set to be executed tonight, right? So these arguments haven't worked?

ROSENBAUM: No. And the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously rejected an attempt to stop Dorsey's execution, pointing out how some of his actions during the murders, including loading and reloading a shotgun and stealing some of the Bonnies' belongings, showcased intent.

FADEL: And what about Missouri's governor, Mike Parson? Where did he land on this? Did the group want him to intervene?

ROSENBAUM: Yes. He's a Republican with an extensive law enforcement background, but he denied pleas to commute Dorsey's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He said in a statement the pain Dorsey brought to others can never be rectified, and carrying out Dorsey's sentence according to Missouri law and the court's orders will deliver justice and provide closure. So Dorsey is set to be executed in Bonne Terre tonight at 6 p.m., and the death penalty remains an option in Missouri for the foreseeable future.

FADEL: St. Louis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum. Thank you, Jason.

ROSENBAUM: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: And finally today, tens of millions of people across the U.S. watched yesterday's solar eclipse.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOOD SIZZLING)

MARTÍNEZ: Now, for some, the day started with tailgating. Steve Riden (ph) cooked up bacon for his kids as they waited in northern Vermont.

STEVE RIDEN: We're actually in a parking lot of an old mall. There are families around us playing cards. There are kids running around, there's dogs, and there is not a cloud in the sky here in Saint Johnsbury, Vt., today.

FADEL: And just before totality, the sky turned gray, the wind died down, and people got quiet.

RIDEN: It is remarkable how dark everything is getting right now. It went from a warm, sunny day to now...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, my gosh. I think it's happening. It's happening.

(CHEERING)

RIDEN: Oh, my God. Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Look. Take off your glasses.

RIDEN: Whoa, whoa.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, my gosh.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: That looks awesome.

RIDEN: I've never seen anything like that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: This is wild.

RIDEN: This is unbelievable.

MARTÍNEZ: The sound of wonder. Now, some made plans far in advance. Will Pedigo (ph) and his family got hooked after the eclipse of 2017.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNOW CRUNCHING)

WILL PEDIGO: We booked a farmhouse in Schuyler Falls, N.Y., almost two years ago. And now I'm standing out in the middle of a field in about six inches of snow with crisp, clear blue skies.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Look, look, the sunset. There's the 360 sunset.

PEDIGO: Oh, look, all the way around. Sunset everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Oh, wow, all the way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: There's a 360 sunset.

PEDIGO: Wow, this is unreal. And the stars are out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I know.

FADEL: Six-year-old Simon Giles (ph) from Pittsburgh packed snacks for a road trip.

SIMON GILES: I'm skipping school to drive to Buffalo to watch with my grandparents and uncles.

MARTÍNEZ: Another family, Gina Montana and her daughter, Jahia Montana Forbes, traveled from New Orleans to Terrell, Texas.

GINA MONTANA: That's Jamie Foxx's hometown (laughter). And we have our glasses and our matching T-shirts and matching earrings with little suns on them.

FADEL: And they witnessed their second totality together from a field of wildflowers.

MONTANA: This is so amazing.

JAHIA MONTANA-FORBES: It's amazing and beautiful. We can see the corona. The middle of the sun is completely black.

MONTANA: There's a planet. I don't know if it's Venus or Jupiter. We're citizens of the planet Earth and we pray for peace, peace of mind, peace throughout the world. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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