Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to reestablishing federal abortion protections during a discussion with local and state leaders in Los Angeles on Monday, Oct. 17 – nearly six months after the Supreme Court nullified the national right to terminate a pregnancy.
The vice president, whose LA visit came days after President Joe Biden toured Southern California, discussed abortion rights with Rep. Karen Bass and Planned Parenthood’s vice president of public affairs, Celinda Vasquez, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on Washington Boulevard.
Harris, who was scheduled to speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser later Monday, framed the future of abortion rights within the context of the midterm election.
But she also touted efforts by the White House to support those receiving and providing abortions nationwide.
“The reality of it is that we have to protect these rights ultimately by having national legislation,” Harris said to a room of senators, house representatives, and other politicians. “There’s only so much that the executive branch can do on this — the court has acted, and now we need Congress to act, and we need people in Congress to recognize that responsibility.”
When the Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade and its 1992 ruling in Planned Parent V. Casey, which reaffirmed Roe, the justices took the rare step of reversing a long-standing legal precedent.
The court’s decision was at odds with a majority of Americans who favored preserving Roe, according to multiple opinion polls. That was seen at protests throughout Los Angeles County — and the nation — in the days following the decision.
But it was also the seminal victory that opponents of abortion rights, particularly religious conservatives, had spent decades trying to achieve.
Conservative activists have largely framed the court’s decision as returning authority to the states – not a national ban.
@VP Kamala Harris has arrived – she’s in #LosAngeles to discuss #abortion rights post-Roe & how a CA constitutional amendment, which is on the Nov. 8 ballot, can help further protect abortion moving forward pic.twitter.com/FlzdxOdgJw
— Kristy Hutchings (@krhutchings) October 17, 2022
But Congress has the power to codify either abortion rights or a national ban.
And in the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, 12 states have outlawed abortion completely, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. In those Republican-controlled states, abortion is illegal — and criminally punishable.
Abortion rights remain unprotected in three other states. And 15 other states have “hostile” attitudes toward abortion rights, CRR said, meaning those states have no legal protections for the procedure and officials there have expressed a desire to ban abortions.
The right to an abortion remains protected in 11 states, with nine of those – including California – having enacted laws to also expand access to the procedure.
That is the post-Roe landscape in which Harris, Bass and Vasquez – along with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, Sen. Alex Padilla and state Sen. Toni Atkins, who also spoke during Monday’s event – discussed abortion rights.
The Biden administration has launched several initiatives to help support abortion access nationwide, Harris said.
The Department of Justice, for example, has established a hotline through which abortion providers can report threats against themselves or their practice, Harris said. That department has also set up a pro-bono legal advice program to inform people about abortion options in a given state.
“The Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission are doing important work to check with the biggest (health care) providers to see what their privacy policies on their data retention policies are,” Harris said, noting that many women use apps to track their menstrual cycles or GPS services to find an abortion clinic — which could be used against them in some states.
“That’s extremely important,” the vice president added. “They’ve also set up a number for people to issue complaints around privacy violations.”
Roe’s reversal, meanwhile, has also fueled concerns about the future of other rights the court has previously affirmed — but that aren’t enumerated in the constitution.
The court has frequently used the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment to guarantee those rights not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, such as abortion, marriage equality and access to birth control.
Harris echoed those fears on Monday afternoon.
“(Justice) Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud,” Harris said. “They’re coming for the right to contraception, the right to marry the person you love.”
Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., to this point, have denied that.
But the GOP is currently in the minority in Washington – and that could change in November.
Most political observers say the Republican Party will likely take back the House of Representatives, and has a shot at the Senate.
“Elections matter on this one,” Harris said. “It’s going to be about whether — depending on the composition of the legislature — do they need to veto stuff that would (restrict) the rights, or are they going to sign legislation that is about preserving and expanding rights.”
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Bass, for her part, also said she was committed to fighting for abortion rights – even if she leaves Congress after Nov. 8 to take on LA’s top elected post.
“We passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which will protect the right to access abortion care throughout the United States,” Bass said, referring to a bill the House passed but the Senate rejected. “And it is just not on the federal level that we’re fighting back — it’s at a state level as well.”