WASHINGTON (AP) – Vice President Kamala Harris protested efforts in Washington and in Republican-led states to restrict abortion on what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v Wadeinvoking core American values such as the freedom to advocate protecting access to abortion despite the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate constitutional protections for it.
Leading the government’s response in commemorating Roe on Sunday, Harris methodically detailed struggles throughout history for certain freedoms, such as civil rights and the right to vote for women, and linked this to access to abortion, which Harris called ” fundamental, constitutional right of a woman to make decisions about her own body”.
“Can we be truly free if families cannot make intimate decisions about the course of their own lives?” Harris said in a passionate speech before a raucous crowd of 1,500 in Tallahassee, Florida. “And can we be truly free if so-called leaders claim to be, quote-unquote, at the forefront of freedom while daring to restrict the rights of the American people and attack the very foundations of freedom?”
Women’s marches demanding protection of abortion rights were expected 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 the federal right to 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 developed sepsis, nearly killing her. A 14-year-old teenager from Arizona who was initially unable to obtain medication to control her chronic arthritis because this medication can also cause her to miscarry.
“The right of every woman, in every state in this country, to make decisions about her own body is at stake,” Harris said. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: how dare they. How dare they?”
Harris’ decision to speak in Tallahassee, the state capital, reflects how the battle lines have shifted since last summer. Now that there is no longer a national right to abortion, battles over the issue ill throw away in individual statehouses and not in the halls of Congress or before the Supreme Court. White House officials last week brought together top lawmakers from eight states to discuss pending legislation.
Furthermore, after a better-than-expected performance in the November election, 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 Governor Ron DeSantis May Seek Republican Presidential Nominationthe first step in challenging President Joe Biden as he prepares for a re-election campaign.
Ahead of his speech, Harris told abortion rights advocates on a Sunday conference call that they should keep their energy up as they fight restrictions in Republican-led states and work on behalf of candidates in local races that support access to abortion.
“We are fighting for something. History will show that we are on the right side of this issue,” said Harris. “So let us not be dissuaded, let us not be subdued. This is not the time to raise our hands. It’s time to roll up our sleeves.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Florida is critical because its abortion rules are less restrictive than those of its neighbors, making it a relatively safe haven for women in the region who are trying to stop abortion. pregnancy. But further restrictions may be considered by the Republican-controlled state government.
DeSantis’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Biden, in a statement on Sunday, said that “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 nationwide abortion ban, criminalizing doctors and nurses and making contraception more difficult to access. It’s dangerous, extreme and out of reach.”
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has worked with Biden, said the White House strategy on abortion had three goals.
“You can create an atmosphere and put pressure on these states to make it harder to pass draconian restrictions,” she said. Also, Lake said, “you can set the contrast to 2024” and “you can use that as a great motivator for people to vote.”
Democrats concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade reshaped the political landscape for last year’s election, rejuvenating the party’s chances when analysts expected a Republican defeat.
Democrats have still lost control of the House and extended their majority in the Senate by just one vote, meaning legislation that would create a national abortion right remains out of reach.
There are concerns that Biden and his administration have exhausted their executive stock options.
The Food and Drug Administration announced this month that abortion pills would become more widely available in pharmacies and by mail. Pills can also be obtained through a virtual consultation instead of going to a doctor’s office.
A legal battle is raging in a Texas federal court, where abortion opponents have filed a lawsuit to overturn the drugs’ decades-old approval.
“The government is really looking at existing federal law and trying to leverage it,” said Lawrence Gostin, who directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health at Georgetown Law.
Not all the government’s ideas worked. Biden announced last year that states could apply for exemptions to use Medicaid dollars to pay for women’s travel for abortions. No waiver has been requested.
In every state, the fight to protect access to abortion is taking place in the courts, with active litigation against abortion restrictions in 14 states, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The nonprofit health organization found that advocates generally take one of three approaches to raising legal challenges against abortion laws, claiming the laws violate state constitutional protections, infringe on some states’ guaranteed rights to make choices of care health care or block religious freedoms.
It’s unclear which legal arguments might be most successful, with states’ superior courts deciding how affordable abortion will be. Meanwhile, abortion opponents are looking for ways to use the courts to further restrict abortion.
Renee Bracey Sherman, founder and executive director of the group We Testify, which advocates for women who have had abortions, said she was disappointed that Biden did not do more.
“The fact that he is missing during this public health emergency is really embarrassing,” she said.
Senator Tina Smith, D-Minn., joined Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., last year in urging Biden to formally declare a public health emergency.
Biden never did, but Smith said she was satisfied with the measures he gave.
“I would be hard-pressed to point out something they didn’t do that they could have done in a public health emergency,” she said.
Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.
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