Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday delivered the Biden administration’s most forceful defense of reproductive rights since POLITICO reported on a draft majority opinion showing the Supreme Court has voted to strike down Roe v. Wade.
“Some Republican leaders are trying to weaponize the use of the law against women. How dare they? How dare they tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body?” said Harris, speaking at an EMILY’s List conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington. “How dare they try to stop her from determining her own future? How dare they try to deny women their rights and their freedoms?”
Harris had been scheduled to speak at the gala before news emerged of the court’s draft ruling. But after the disclosure, both the event and her speech took on heightened urgency. A White House official told POLITICO the speech went through multiple revisions on Tuesday in preparation for the spotlight.
The justices’ draft opinion could hold major ramifications as voters head to the polls for primaries and then again in November — elections that will determine which party holds power, from state legislatures to governors’ mansions to the U.S. Congress. Most voters back abortion rights, according to a December 2021 POLITICO/Morning Consult poll. While 52 percent of respondents said abortion should remain legal in most or all cases, 36 percent said abortion should be banned in most or all cases. And 45 percent said Roe should not be overturned, compared with 24 percent who said it should be.
The vice president outlined the midterm stakes in her speech, calling attention to the work of EMILY’s List, which aims to elect women who support abortion rights. She then painted a picture of the choices facing voters.
“Which party wants to expand our rights? And which party wants to restrict them? It has never been more clear,” Harris said. “Which party wants to lead us forward? And which party wants to push us back? You know, some Republican leaders, they want to take us back to a time before Roe v. Wade.”
Harris also warned that the threat doesn’t stop with abortion rights.
“At its core, Roe recognizes the fundamental right to privacy,” she said on Tuesday. “Think about that for a minute. When the right to privacy is attacked, anyone in our country may face a future where the government can interfere in their personal decisions. Not just women. Anyone.”
That line from Harris’ speech is in sync with what President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday, saying that “the idea we’re letting the states make those decisions, localities make those decisions, would be a fundamental shift in what we’ve done. It goes far beyond the concern of whether or not there is the right to choose.”
The president added that a final ruling striking down Roe from the Supreme Court would affect “other basic rights: the right to marry, the right to determine a whole range of things. A number of the members of the court have not acknowledged that there is a right to privacy in our Constitution.”
Harris on Tuesday vowed to “fight” against what she called an attack on women’s rights and, ultimately, an attack on democracy.
“Let us fight for our country and for the principles upon which it was founded, and let us fight with everything we have got,” Harris said.
Administration officials and the president have been reticent on whether the White House would call for a carve-out in the filibuster to codify abortion rights into law. A bill that has passed the House would do just that. But it failed in the Senate, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reaffirmed on Tuesday that he would not support nixing the filibuster for any legislation.
Still, Democrats and abortion rights activists are looking to the White House to continue sending Harris out to frame the debate. Halie Soifer, a former Harris aide and the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said the publication of the draft opinion served as a “wake up call” to the country about how close Roe is to the chopping block. Soifer added that the administration shouldn’t be “shy” about putting Harris out there.
“I think that if tonight is any indication, she will be one of the leading voices on this issue, if not the leading voice on this issue,” she said.
After Harris’ speech on Tuesday, it’s expected that the vice president will be leaned on to talk about the issue, though the White House wouldn’t say how much she’d be addressing it publicly.
“She’s going to talk about it as appropriate,” a White House official said. “It’s something that she feels very strongly about.”
Protecting reproductive rights is an issue Harris has been working on and speaking out on since her time in the Senate. And as a presidential candidate, she criticized the lack of discussion on abortion rights during the primary debates.
On Tuesday night, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told PBS on Tuesday night that the Senate would be voting on a bill next week. But there are concerns within the party on how far the White House and Biden will be willing to go with legislation that, at this point, doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate.
“Part of how we got here: the right is extremely focused on their 50 year strategy to overturn Roe v Wade. But they also won the culture war when a Democratic president with a Democratic Congress and Senate can’t say the word abortion,” Alencia Johnson, a Democratic strategist who worked on the Biden campaign and at Planned Parenthood told POLITICO.
Johnson added that the disclosure will likely force the administration’s hand, adding that the administration needs to, “Let [Harris] loose. Biden, if you don’t want to do that. You have a vice president who literally this is her issue. Let her be as strong on this as she has been on maternal mortality and voting rights and so many other issues because she can.”
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