Vice President Kamala Harris railed against efforts in Washington and in Republican-led states to restrict abortion on what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, invoking fundamental American values such as freedom to make the case for protecting abortion access despite the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate constitutional protections for it.
Leading the administration’s response on commemorating Roe on Sunday, Harris methodically detailed fights throughout history for certain liberties, such as civil rights and the right to vote for women, and tied that to access for abortion, which Harris called the “fundamental, constitutional, right of a woman to make decisions about her own body.”
“Can we truly be free if families cannot make intimate decisions about the course of their own lives?” Harris said in a fiery speech before a boisterous crowd of 1,500 people in Tallahassee, Florida. “And can we truly be free if so-called leaders claim to be quote, I quote, on the vanguard of freedom while they dare to restrict the rights of the American people and attack the very foundations of freedom?”
Women’s marches demanding the protection of abortion rights were set to draw thousands of people across the country on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that established a federal right to an abortion.
Harris outlined the consequences of abortion restrictions: The 10-year-old girl in Ohio who became pregnant after a rape but had to travel out of state for an abortion. A 35-year-old Texas woman who was denied treatment three times for what turned out to be a miscarriage, and developed sepsis, nearly killing her. A 14-year-old in Arizona who initially could not obtain medication to control her chronic arthritis, because that medication also can cause pregnancy loss.
“The right of every woman, in every state in this country to make decisions about her own body is on the line,” Harris said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How dare they. How dare they?”
The decision for Harris to speak in Tallahassee, the state capital, reflects how the battle lines have shifted since last summer. Now that there’s no more national right to abortion, battles over the issue w ill play out in individual statehouses rather than in the halls of Congress or before the Supreme Court. White House officials this past week convened top lawmakers from eight states to discuss pending legislation.
In addition, after performing better than expected in November’s elections, Democrats see abortion as a key issue for their party in 2024, when control of the White House and both chambers of Congress will be up for grabs at the same time. In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis may seek the Republican presidential nomination, the first step to challenging President Joe Biden, who has been preparing for a reelection campaign.
Ahead of her speech, Harris told abortion rights advocates on a conference call Sunday that they should keep up their energy as they push back against restrictions in Republican-led states and work on behalf of candidates in local races who support abortion access.
“We are fighting for something. History is going to show we are on the right side of this issue,” Harris said. “So let us not be deterred, let us not be overwhelmed. This is not a time to throw up our hands. This is a time to roll up our sleeves.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Florida is critical because its rules for abortion are less restrictive than its neighbors, making it a relatively safe harbor for women in the region who are trying to end their pregnancies. But more restrictions could be considered by the Republican-controlled state government.
DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for comment.