'Right side of history': VP Harris urges abortion rights supporters to continue fight on Roe anniversary
The Supreme Court ruled in June that there is no right to abortion in the Constitution, overturning Roe v. Wade. That decision shifted one of the nation’s most divisive debates back to the states.
- At least 13 states have now banned abortion outright; others have restricted access.
- Harris said the court's ruling means doctors can now go to jail in some states for performing an abortion.
Vice President Kamala Harris marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Sunday by imploring supporters of reproductive rights to keep up the fight even as some states are moving to limit access to abortion or ban it ought.
“Let us not be tired or discouraged,” she said in Tallahassee, Fla. “Because we’re on the right side of history.”
On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a constitutional right to abortion. Five decades later, the court's conservative majority delivered a stunning setback to the abortion rights movement when it overturned the decision last June, ruling there is no right to abortion in the Constitution.
That decision shifted one of the nation’s most divisive debates back to the states. At least 13 have since banned abortion outright, while others have restricted access to the procedure.
Harris said the court's ruling has meant that doctors can now go to jail in some states for performing an abortion and that women have been denied access to critical health care. She cited the cases of a 10-year-old rape victim in Ohio who had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion and a Texas woman who was suffering a miscarriage but was denied emergency room treatment because of the state's abortion ban.
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Harris called on Congress to pass legislation that would enshrine into federal law the right to abortion, asking: “Can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body? Can we truly be free if the doctor cannot care for her patients?”
Harris also announced that President Joe Biden will sign a memorandum aimed at helping people get abortions via medication, rather than surgical procedure. The memorandum directs members of his cabinet and administration to identify barriers to access to prescription abortion medication and recommend ways to ensure that doctors can legally prescribe the medication and that pharmacies can dispense them. The memorandum will also explore ways to see that women can access abortion medication from a pharmacy.
“We will never back down,” she said.
- Harris delivered her remarks in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. The venue was no accident: The state legislature passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The state Supreme Court is reviewing a legal challenge to the law. Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican, said she would support a 12-week abortion ban, while abortion activists are pushing for other restrictions.
- Biden, who has taken steps to protect abortion rights after last summer’s decision, issued a proclamation on Friday commemorating Roe v. Wade. “The court got Roe right 50 years ago,” Biden said, calling the ruling “a balanced decision with broad national consensus.”
- A federal law has almost no chance of passage in Congress, where Republicans control the House and not every Democrat is on board with unlimited access to abortion.
Harris has been leading the administration’s charge against new abortion restrictions. The nation’s first female vice president, who previously served as California’s attorney general, is a supporter of reproductive rights and has close relationships with liberal women’s groups.
In recent months, she has hosted leaders from 38 states for events that focused on attacks on reproductive freedom and convened nearly 200 state legislators from 18 states to discuss the fight at the state level, her office said.
Harris’ remarks served as a reminder that abortion access remains a priority for the administration beyond last November’s midterm elections, when the issue drove voters to the ballot box and enabled Democrats to perform much better than expected.
What they are saying
- "Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Americans, time and time again, have made their voices heard: women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference. Yet, Republicans in Congress and across the country continue to push for a national abortion ban, to criminalize doctors and nurses, and to make contraception harder to access. It’s dangerous, extreme and out of touch." – President Biden
- “On the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion, contraception, and other forms of reproductive health care are under attack in our nation like never before because the Supreme Court undermined nearly half a century of precedent protecting women’s access to this critical care. As a result, our daughters have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers, and women seeking care are being put in dangerous situations with heartbreaking results.” – Xavier Bacerra, Health and Human Services secretary
- “Since the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe, the number one question we’ve heard from our supporters has been: What can I do? For months, the answer was get out and vote. And we did in historic numbers. Now, we have a foothold to fight back and a bigger army of allies to work alongside us. Today, the next stage of our work begins in earnest. Our goal is simple: freedom for everybody – nothing less.” – Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America
- "What is the most ambitious we can be?" – Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, on her organization's focus on state legislation
- "With the overturning of Roe, the need to stand up for life in our communities has reached a new level of importance. As states take up the issue of whether life will be protected, many good people of our country have seen the issue of abortion migrate from Washington into their own backyards. The need to end abortion in our communities has never been greater.” – Brian Westbrook, executive director of Coalition Life
Why it matters
With the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the Biden administration has few options to safeguard abortion access.
Legislation to enshrine Roe v. Wade’s protections into federal law has stalled in Congress. The Democratic-controlled Senate doesn’t have the votes to pass the measure. Even if it did, the bill would almost certainly die in the Republican-controlled House.
Biden has taken some executive actions to protect reproductive rights, including protecting access to contraception and abortion services, safeguarding patients’ privacy over health data and making legal representation available to women who travel out of state to get an abortion. Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced that pills to terminate an early pregnancy would be available at many more pharmacies, including large chains and mail-order companies.
Absent other options, the administration’s most effective recourse may be keeping the issue in the minds of voters as states move to ban the procedure or impose additional restrictions.
Other administration officials have been traveling the country to highlight the importance of abortion access. On Thursday, Becerra visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in Minnesota, where lawmakers are working to expand reproductive health care, and met Friday with advocates and providers in Wisconsin, which no longer allows abortions.
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Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.