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‘We are on the right side of history,’ Harris says on Roe’s 50th anniversary


Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about reproductive rights on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023.


By KATIE ROGERS


Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday denounced “extremist” Republicans who are working to further roll back abortion rights in the months since Roe v. Wade was overturned, warning that “no one is immune” from efforts to curb access to reproductive health care.


In her speech, delivered on the 50th anniversary of Roe, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion, Harris said that a push by some Republicans to establish a nationwide ban should worry people who live in states where the laws are more permissive.


“People live in fear of what might be next,” Harris said.


Harris’ appearance in Florida, the nation’s third-most-populous state, comes as Republicans, fresh from winning supermajorities in the Florida Legislature, have discussed changing the timeline of the state’s abortion ban to 12 weeks of pregnancy from 15. After the Food and Drug Administration this month issued a regulation allowing the sale of abortion pills at retail pharmacies, Florida health officials warned pharmacists not to dispense the drugs.


The vice president was the highest-profile administration official to appear on a day when thousands of activists across the United States were preparing to rally and march for changes at the state level. Without the votes in the Senate to enshrine the protections offered by Roe into law, and with President Joe Biden unable to grant those protections through executive action, administration officials hoped Harris’ appearance in Florida could help sustain the sort of anger that became a driving force for voters during the midterm elections.


In her speech, at a nightlife venue called the Moon, Harris took aim at “so-called leaders” in the state for issuing what she called an extreme ban on abortions and rules that target both health care providers who perform the procedure and pharmacists who dispense the abortion pill.


“Today, we are fighting back,” Harris said.


She said Biden had signed a memorandum directing several agencies across the government, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, to assess how the federal government could better support health care providers and pharmacies in providing patients with mifepristone, a drug used to end pregnancies. Officials in states including Florida and Texas have moved to limit the availability of the drug.


“Let us not be tired or discouraged,” Harris said. “Because we are on the right side of history.”

Before the vice president’s speech, several activists, including Alexis McGill Johnson, chief executive of Planned Parenthood, spoke to a crowd that had spent the morning rallying against the state’s Republican governor — “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Ron DeSantis has got to go,” the group chanted at one point. In her remarks, McGill Johnson called the vice president one of the “fiercest fighters for reproductive freedom.” Harris has established herself as the administration’s leading voice on promoting abortion rights, a position she has embraced in recent months.


According to her office, Harris has hosted leaders from 38 states in events known as “convenings,” and has gathered dozens of legislators from 18 states to discuss abortion access. The event in Tallahassee was attended by physicians who said they had been restricted from providing health care, college students who were worried about losing access to reproductive care on campus and young girls whose mothers had brought them to see the first female vice president speak.


“It’s really distressing that they are facing a world where they’ll have less rights than me and my mom,” said Jessica Lowe-Minor, 39, who came to the event with her husband, Rick, and their two daughters, Charlotte, 4, and Madeline, 9. “We’re doing everything we can to help them understand what’s at stake.”


Lowe-Minor then turned to Madeline, who was tying her shoe, and asked her if the government should be involved in health decisions. “No,” the little girl said.


Kyla Hubbard, a 21-year-old student at nearby Florida A&M, attended the event in part because she and her friends were closely watching how the state government may continue to affect the availability of campus health organizations and resources from groups including Planned Parenthood. Hubbard said it was important for the vice president to come to Tallahassee because so many Floridians “aren’t supporting” access to health care.


“We’re learning our bodies; we’re learning ourselves,” Hubbard said. “We need access to those types of resources, so to have that be in the balance is very scary.”


At the back of the room, members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, fellow alumnae of the vice president’s close-knit sorority, sat listening to Harris. Freddie Groomes-McLendon, a retired administrator at Florida State University, said she was hoping that the speech would ignite the sort of grassroots activism the White House wanted to inspire.


“We have a very conservative governor,” said Groomes-McLendon, who is 88. “We’re hoping there’s something we can do.”

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