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VP Harris urges federal abortion protections on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Vice President Harris was in Tallahassee, Fla., yesterday to give a speech on abortion access.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We know this fight will not be won until we secure this right for every American.

INSKEEP: It was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the decision by the Supreme Court that established a constitutional right to abortion, which did not quite last 50 years. NPR political reporter Deepa Shivaram was traveling with the vice president. Good morning.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note last year's court decision threw this fight mainly to the states. So what has the administration been doing at the federal level?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. The top line from Vice President Harris' remarks yesterday was announcing a new memorandum that the president signed. It directs agencies in the administration, like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice, to look into how they can protect access to medicated abortions. And Harris yesterday also warned that because of certain abortion restrictions, people have lost basic access to care and medications. And she called on Congress to codify Roe v. Wade, though, with this Congress, that's not going to happen.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

SHIVARAM: But overall, her speech was a continuation of what Harris has been doing for the last several months on this issue - trying to rally advocates and stakeholders all over the country and show solidarity. She took the stage yesterday wearing green, which has become the color of the reproductive rights movement.

INSKEEP: Well, how did those advocates respond?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, there were people from all over Florida who came in for this event, some people who took nine-hour bus rides from other parts of the state to come. And people were pretty fired up. There's already restricted access to abortions in Florida. And the Republican-led legislature is trying to pass more restrictions in the coming year. But Harris told the crowd not to be tired or discouraged in their fight because they are, quote, "on the right side of history." And for the advocates I talked to, they felt a sense of relief. They had this feeling that there was someone from the White House coming and joining them in this fight. One person that I talked to who was at the event yesterday said that she felt there was a boost in morale after Harris' speech because Florida often feels like a lost cause on reproductive rights. And that kind of enthusiasm and mobilization is exactly what the White House is trying to lean into. They want people engaged on this issue the same way they were going into the midterm elections last year.

INSKEEP: Was giving this speech in the capital of Florida aimed in any way at the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who is thought to be considering a presidential run in 2024?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. Doing the speech in Tallahassee was strategic. We were just a few miles from Florida's Capitol building and the governor's mansion. And while Harris didn't mention DeSantis by name, she did take a word that he often uses, which is freedom, and tried to flip the script.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARRIS: Can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting) No.

HARRIS: Can we truly be free if a doctor cannot care for her patients?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting) No.

HARRIS: Can we truly be free if families cannot make intimate decisions about the course of their own lives?

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting) No.

SHIVARAM: And Harris went on to refer to officials who are restricting abortion access as so-called leaders and said they were attacking the very foundations of freedom. So it was interesting to see how she kind of took on DeSantis without actually calling him out. And so far, we haven't heard a response from the governor.

INSKEEP: NPR political reporter Deepa Shivaram, thanks so much.

SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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