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 poses one of the most challenging and troubling issues of the day.”
The White House said all five states represented have legislatures controlled by Republicans and Republican governors and some may call 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. On June 24, the court’s conservative majority, including its three newest justices appointed by President Donald Trump, 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 his 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 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.”
Representing Florida, incoming House Democratic leader Fentrice Driskell said the Republican-led state Legislature will not stop at its new 15-week abortion ban.
“I’m here with a heavy heart for Floridians,” Driskell said. “Gov. [Ron] DeSantis has already signed an abortion ban into law, a law that provides no exceptions for rape, incest, and life endangerment after 15 weeks.”
(The law does provide an exception to protect maternal life or health.)
“Now his allies are already looking forward to calling a special legislative session dedicated to ensuring total bans on abortions in Florida. And their way has been cleared by the Supreme Court of the United States.”
“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 continued.
“I am thinking specifically of the story of the 10-year-old abuse victim from Ohio and of testimony the Florida Legislature heard about an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant as a result of rape but no one knew until after 15 weeks. These are true stories of children who were raped and both of them would be denied care today under the law created by extremist politicians who are sheltering under the activism of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Driskell said.
Driskell said laws making it illegal for women to terminate pregnancy are equivalent to “government-mandated pregnancies.”
She added: “It is so important that the White House and all of America pay attention to what is happening in Florida. We are a microcosm of our country and, I believe, the best indicator of what’s to come and what we can expect from Republicans in 2022 and 2024.”
‘Unsafe and dangerous’
Nebraska state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said 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 refer 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.”