Vice President Kamala Harris presenting a diploma to a graduate of Tennessee State University in Nashville on May 7. (Photo: John Partipilo)
WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris met Friday with Democratic state legislators from Indiana, Florida, South Dakota, Nebraska and Montana to discuss ways to protect reproductive rights.
“The U.S. Supreme Court took away a constitutional right,” Harris said, adding that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was one of the most pressing issues facing the country.
The White House said all five states represented have legislatures controlled by Republicans and Republican governors and some may be calling special sessions soon to either ban or further restrict abortion.
The roundtable followed President Joe Biden’s executive order earlier Friday announcing his administration’s plans to protect access to reproductive health care services, including abortion. The court’s conservative majority overturned the constitutional right to abortion established nearly 50 years ago.
Biden has directed the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary to make sure abortion medication is as widely accessible as possible, among other directives.
Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta said that his state made headlines last week for being a safe haven for a 10-year-old girl from Ohio — who was denied an abortion in her own state after she was raped — to receive an abortion in Indiana.
Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has declined to comment on the state law’s impact on the case, but said it was “gut-wrenching” that a man raped a child.
“However, our ability to provide life-saving health care to women may come to an end soon,” GiaQuinta said. “Republicans have signaled a plan to limit abortion access at the end of this month.”
GiaQuinta said he’s prepared to fight for reproductive rights “to secure the basic freedoms and protections that have been stripped away by the Supreme Court’s regressive agenda.”
South Dakota House Minority Whip Rep. Erin Healy said her state’s trigger laws have put in place strict abortion laws since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the court. She said the Republican-controlled legislature is planning to have a special session to strengthen the state’s abortion statutes.
“We have been hearing that legislators may try to restrict physicians in other states from providing an abortion to South Dakotans,” she said.
She added that she’s heard “that Republican legislators may try to restrict freedom of traveling across the state for reproductive health care.”
The incoming Florida House Democratic leader, Fentrice Driskell, said the Republican-led state legislature is planning to hold a special session to completely ban abortion in the state, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
“As we brace for that onslaught, I’m thinking specifically of women of color, women with disabilities and women who have limited financial means on whom these bans will have a disproportionately harsh impact,” she said.
Driskell warned that what’s happening in Florida is “the best indicator of what’s to come and what we can expect from Republicans in 2022 and 2024.”
Nebraska state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said that multiple bills have been brought in the legislature in her state to completely ban abortion.
“We know that banning abortions does not prevent them,” she said. “It only makes them unsafe and dangerous.”
Montana state Sen. Diane Sands said she’s been an advocate for access to safe reproductive health since before Roe v. Wade was decided and helped referred those who needed access to abortion in Washington state.
She said the Montana Legislature is thinking of calling a special session, and looking to rewrite Montana’s constitution to define someone as a person from the start of conception “because they know it is the sole barrier to achieving their goal to make abortion illegal.”
“We are not going back to the dark ages on any of these issues,” Sands said.
The White House’s messaging has been that voters should select pro-choice candidates.
“Based on the reasoning of the court, there is no constitutional right to choose — the only way to fulfill and restore that right from women in this country is by voting,” Biden said earlier Friday. “We need two additional pro-choice senators and a pro-choice House to codify Roe at federal law.”
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