Remarks by Vice President Harris in a Conversation on Protecting Reproductive Rights

By: White House: Office of the Vice President 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  How was that?  How was that for a welcome home?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It is good to be home.  It’s good to be home. 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Well, we love having you in L.A.  Absolutely.  So, why don’t we get right to it?  This is an important moment in the time of our fight for rights.  So, tell us what it is like for you to be championing this issue?  How has it been?  I read off all of the meetings, all of the state legislatures.  You’re going around the country.  What’s it feel like?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It’s a combination of feelings that I think we all have about this.  And when I’m traveling the country, one of the feelings that I hear most is fear.  It’s fear.

But I’ll tell you, you know, here’s how I think about it: You know, people have asked me, “Well, what has caused you to focus a large part of your work on…” — as you said — “…the health, safety, and well-being of women and children?” 

And, as you know, I was raised by a mother who had two goals in her life: to raise her two children — my sister, Maya, and me — and to end breast cancer.  She was a breast cancer researcher, a scientist. 

And so, from my earliest days of life, I remember my mother being so passionate about women’s health and access to health, and it was always grounded, so much of her work, in the importance of women having dignity in the healthcare system — in the healthcare delivery system and — and having rights and having power over the decisions that were being made so that it would be theirs to make, whatever it was. 

And that’s how I was raised.  I mean, you know, I was raised hearing the phrase “mammary gland” all the time.  It was — it was just a common word in our household. 

And so, when I think about this issue and this fight right now, it’s an extension of that.  And so, to your point, I have been traveling the country in so-called red states and so-called blue states, talking with leaders on the ground — in particular a lot of state-elected leaders, legislators — about what we can do collectively to build up support for what we need to do, which is to empower women and restore their rights on this issue.

But it’s — really, it’s — it was unthinkable, I think, for so many of us.  We knew it might happen, but let — I mean, let’s just pause for a moment.  The highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, just took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America.

And if I may, I would like to put it in context to how I feel about this in the context of being Vice President.  So, as Vice President, in the last a year and a half, I have, as of now — my staff has counted — I have now met directly or by phone with 100 world leaders, presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, kings.  And here’s what I think we all know about what those experiences are like: The United States — we, as Americans — can walk in those rooms with a certain level of authority —

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  That’s right.

THE PRESIDENT:  — chin up, shoulders back — to talk in those rooms about the importance of democracy, the importance of rule of law, the importance of human rights.  And in that way, we have held ourselves out to be and have been considered a role model on these matters. 

But what we, as role models, all know is that when you are role model, people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say. 

And the point then is a realization that this issue is not only directly impacting the people of America, but when we think about autocratic governments around the world who can then look to their people and say, “Well, you want to hold up America and rights as an example of what we should do?  Well, look at what they just did.”  So, by extension, what just happened will invariably impact women around the world. 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  That’s right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, there’s a lot of fear.  But also, as we all know, we know how to fight.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Oh, yeah.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Because when you know what you stand for, you know what to fight for.  (Applause.) 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Celinda.

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  We do know how to fight.  So, what steps is the administration taking to protect reproductive rights?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, well — and, first, can I just say, it’s so good to be with the two of you on this stage?  It’s so good to be home. 

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  So good.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Celinda, you have been such an extraordinary fighter.  You and I’ve been in many of these rooms together in these past many, many months.  And I cannot thank you enough for being on the ground and the courage that it takes for our frontline folks, like you, to do what you are doing.  And to all of those who are here on the frontline, I applaud you.  Let us applaud them.  (Applause.) 

Because around the country and here, it is not without risk that you do what you do.

To Madam Congresswoman — (laughter).  It’s not a political event, I know.  (Laughs.)  You — you and I have worked together for so many years when I was AG and you were at the capitol — at the state capitol, and then in Washington, D.C.

You are a courageous, fearless fighter on so many of these issues.  And, in particular, what you have done throughout your career to be a strong voice for women, for children, for all communities, for the coalition: I thank you.  And it’s an honor to be on the stage with you as well.  (Applause.) 

And so, what we are doing as an administration is a number of things.  Through the Health and Human Services agency, led by a Californian, Secretary Xavier Becerra — (applause) — we are — we’ve been actually sending out a number of things that are really intended to make sure that there’s clarity in the midst of the confusion. 

And one of the things that HHS did that I think is very significant is sent out to pharmacies information about their legal requirement to administer medication as prescribed.  And — and I also applaud that agency for also having announced that they will investigate where there are any violations of the rules of conduct on that issue.

The Department of Education has been extraordinary.  Secretary Cardona has been doing some important work around making sure that that we protect students and their reproductive rights, including their ability to take leave from school for whatever reproductive healthcare they need, and make sure that there’s no discrimination in that regard.

The Department of Justice has been coordinating with a number of agencies as appropriate but has also set up, for example, a process of eliciting pro bono hours, because there are going to be so many folks who are on the ground doing the work who are not sure of the legal risks that they are taking in these various states.

They’ve also set up a task force, led by Vanita Gupta, who is a great civil rights lawyer, and they are pursuing whatever litigation is appropriate.

Also, through the Department of Justice, they’ve set up a hotline for providers, so there is an ability to report threats and things of that nature.

The FCC and the FTC are doing — the Federal Trade Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission — are doing important work to, one, check with the biggest providers to see what their privacy policies are and their data retention policies are.  And that’s extremely important. 

I think I have a website here, but I’ll tell you that the — that they’ve also set up a number for people to issue complaints and to register complaints around privacy violations, which is a big issue, because, of course, there are an assortment of mobile apps that folks use to monitor their menstruation cycle.  There are mobile apps that folks use to just get directions to go to a facility to get their healthcare, and we want to make sure that that information is not being violated. 

So, that is the kind of work that’s happening through our administration.

The President has signed two executive orders that relate to making a very clear statement that we intend to protect and defend the right that people have for travel and for access to emergency healthcare. 

The VA is doing great work, in terms of the number of women who are veterans, in ensuring that they will be able to have access to all of the care that they require — including the Department of Defense, because — think about it, if you’re a servicemember — and there are at least 300,000 women, I believe, who are in active service right now — you don’t have any choice where you’re deployed and could very well be deployed to a state where it’s been rendered illegal.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And so, they’re working through what they can do to ensure that the servicemembers are not subject to — to those kinds of threats to their healthcare and their independence.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Well, you know, Madam Vice President, this is kind of on the same lines of that.  I’m wondering what kind of stories you might be hearing from people.

You know, in another life, I worked in healthcare.  I’ve worked in the emergency room and also in primary care.  Every now and then, you hear a story in the news like a woman — a woman that has an ectopic pregnancy; or the 10-year-old girl; or a woman who is — if she carries the pregnancy to term, might not live.  As you’ve gone around the country, are you hearing stories like that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I am hearing those stories.  And those are the stories that are the public stories.  But as you and I know, what we’re hearing about only is just a fraction of what’s actually happening.  Many of you know: As a former prosecutor, the bulk of my career as a prosecutor, I was focused on violent — crimes of violence against women and children, and, in particular, I specialized in child sexual assault cases. 

The vast majority of those cases are not reported.  And the idea that laws would be passed, as it relates to people who have endured and survived such violation and violence, and to then say to them, “And you will also not have autonomy over your body on this issue” — it’s immoral.  It’s immoral.

As a former prosecutor having handled those cases, I can tell you the vast majority of those cases are not reported for a variety of reasons that have to do with the nature of it all, including it might be about a family member, it might be about someone who otherwise could harm that person or their family.

And what’s happening in these states on that and so many other related issues is abhorent: punishing women, criminalizing healthcare providers.  In fact, I’m going to — I don’t know if everybody in the audience can see this.

(The Vice President holds up a map.)

This is a map of the United States.  So, you don’t need to see — you don’t need to read the words to see the point that I’m going to make. 

So, you see all the different colors.  So, one of the colors on this map is — represents the states in which abortion is banned from conception with no exceptions.  One color is abortion banned from conception with an exception for rape, but not incest.  Another, banned from conception with exceptions for rape and incest.  There’s a 6-week ban on here, a 15-week ban, an 18-week ban.  You get the point.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Not incest?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Absolute —

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  No.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  But absolute confusion —

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yeah.  That’s (inaudible).

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — which also creates an environment that is ripe for misinformation, disinformation, and predatory practices.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yeah.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, in addition to what I’m seeing around the country, there’s fear.  There’s also just absolute and utter confusion about what are — for any individual: What are my rights?  And that is something that, we as opinion leaders, of which there are so many here, we have to continue to use our voice and our platform in a way that informs people about their rights with an — with a full appreciation that it’s so confusing they may not be aware.

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  So, you’ve touched upon this, but how else do you see the fight for reproductive freedom impacting the everyday lives of Americans?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  (The Vice President reaches for the map.)

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  Right, so —

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  (Laughs.)  So, okay.

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  — just a little expansion. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I love Venn diagrams.  Okay?  (Laughs.) 

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  Just a little expansion. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I really do.  I love Venn diagrams — you know, the three circles — sometimes there are more.

So I asked my team,  “Do — do me a Venn diagram on — from which states are we seeing attacks on reproductive healthcare, voting rights, LGBTQ+ rights.”  You would not be surprised to know that there is a significant overlap.  Right? 

So that’s what — so when we talk about who’s being impacted, well, you know, if you read the Dobbs decision — or you don’t need to, I’ll just tell you — Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud: They’re coming for the right to conception, the right to marry the person you love.

But I do see in, then, this moment, another thing in that Venn diagram, which is the reminder about the importance of coalition building, of bringing together all those folks who have been fighting forever on reproductive healthcare and maternal mortality, something that Karen Bass has been a leader on, bringing together the folks that have been fighting forever on voting rights, bringing together all the folks who — who are responsible for the victory on marriage — but we still have so much more work to do — and building our coalition.

Because here’s the thing: There was a movement that was started generations ago that culminated in Roe v. Wade.  We are now the ones that are responsible for picking up that movement.  And as with any movement in our country that has been about progress and the expansion of rights, one of the most productive ingredients of those movements has been the coalition and our commitment to building that coalition and growing it, for a number of reasons, one is that we all have so much more in common than what separates us.  But the other is, almost everyone should understand what rights of theirs are subject to and now exposed to attack.

And on this point — my final point on this would be, we need to take back the flag on this.  Because this is absolutely about freedom and liberty. 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  This is about freedom and liberty, which are foundational notions for the existence of our country.  These are founding principles that we, as Americans, hold dear: freedom and liberty.  And that means all of us are susceptible.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  And for freedom and liberty, we need to hold on to the House and the Senate, I’m just saying.  (Applause.) 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, it’s not a political event, but that doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth.  (Laughter.) 

So, in fact, so, 22 days, there’s an election.

REPSENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s a — that’s a fact.  It is a fact that there is a bill in Congress that the congressmember was a part of leading — the Women’s Health Protection Act — which would codify, which means put into law, the protections of Roe v. Wade.

The Court took it away; Congress can put it back.

The President of the United States — our President, Joe Biden, has said he will not let this thing called the “filibuster” get in the way of signing that law.  All of those are facts.

It is also the fact that, in order for that bill to get to the President’s desk so he can sign it into law, we need two more senators.  We need to hold on to what we have, and we need two more senators.  That is a fact.

It is also fact, by the way, that in that same context, the President has said he will sign into law the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  (Applause.) 

Two more senators.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  I could think of two.  (Laughter.)

You know, along with this, in terms of, you know, understanding that the Dobbs decision was about the right to privacy and, Madam Vice President, you know, I’m not a lawyer, but I do wonder, like: How far could they go?

I mean, you know, Jim Crow laws?  I mean, could business say, “Well, it’s my right to only allow certain people to come in”?  How far — what are the implications?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  I mean, I think you should — that everything that you can imagine, you should assume is possible.

It was unimaginable that the court of Thurgood Marshall would do what this court just did.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.  Right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And — and that’s, again, why I think that the point that you made about, you know, who is vulnerable to this moment: Everyone is vulnerable to this moment.

And we just — we have to understand that, I think, in so many ways, we are living in unsettled times. 

You think about it on the global stage, there is a war in Europe.  You know, for 70 years, there was an assumption that, in spite of the differences among nations, that there was still certain international rules and norms, including the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity.  But with Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine, we see that we can’t necessarily take that for granted. 

Unsettled times.  Unsettled times.

The Voting Rights Act, guided by the United States Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder, a decision they rendered in 2013, and then you look at what happened in 2020, which is historic numbers of people voted in the midst of a pandemic, including an historic number of young voters, and almost immediately thereafter — because that scared people —

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.  (Laughter.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — there are children here — they started passing laws making it illegal to give people food and water if they’ve been standing in line for hours to vote; passing laws making it intentionally more difficult for people to vote.  Unsettled times.

We thought the issue of voting rights had been settled. 

Unsettled times.  In this year of our Lord 2022, taking away a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own body.

So, I think we have to listen to the words of Coretta Scott King.  You’ve heard me paraphrase her so many times on this.  She famously said: The fight for civil rights — which is the fight for justice, it’s the fight for equality, fight for freedom — the fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Because let’s always remember that these rights will not be permanent if we are not prepared to be vigilant.

And in that way, this is so much about a democracy.  I think about democracy in this regard.  I think — I think of democracy as there’s a duality to it, in that, when it is intact, it is strong in terms of what it does to create a system that preserves and fights for rights, civil rights, human rights.  So, there’s an aspect to it that is about strength in terms of what it can do to lift people up.

On the other hand, it’s very fragile.  It’s extremely fragile.  It will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it.  And so, fight we will.

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  You have touched upon many of these topics, but how are you seeing the intersection of attacks on — well, no, I think we already — we already did that.

But we have an expert here — our congresswoman worked on the floor — a maternal morbidity expert, and all of the things.  What — what is the administration doing to address the maternal mortality crisis, which, we know, we you’ve done a lot of work previously?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Celinda.  Maternal mortality — and, again, I recognize and thank Karen Bass for her work as a leader on this for so many years.

In America today, Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth.  Native women, twice as likely.  Rural women, one and a half times likely.  And as it relates to, for example, the experience of Black women, it is unrelated to their educational level or their socioeconomic level.  It is very clear it literally has to do with the fact that when she walks into that clinic or that doctor’s office or that emergency room, she is not taken as seriously.

And so, there is a lot of work that needs to happen that also understands and appreciates that, for so many of these women — for example, women in rural America — are living in the midst of healthcare deserts.  There’s no hospitals.  I — I have somebody that’s very close to me whose relative just died, just weeks ago, in connecti- — during childbirth, and the baby died, in rural America.  Because there was nowhere, where she lived, to get her the kind of care that the complication required.  Right?

So, this is a big issue.  But the idea that in this country, at this time, it is still such an issue of the proportion.

And so, there are a number of things.  One, when I was in the Senate, we had a bill that would address the bias in the healthcare delivery system and require training of healthcare providers — of all types of healthcare providers.  And I wrote into it, in particular, that the trainers would include doulas, who — (applause) — yes — who provide some of the best care and could teach a few things to others.

We are doing the work as an administration of — you know, I’m very proud of this — we have lifted this issue up to the stage of the White House, actually convened a group of leaders to come to the White House to present on this issue. 

We have done the work of also extending in states Medicaid coverage and encouraging, in extension — can you believe?  Okay, so Medicaid — (applause) — Medicaid covers, but we’re changing this — only two months of postpartum care.  Two months.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  You better not have a problem. 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  You just gave birth to a human being.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  So, there is — so we’re extending it to 12 months — right? —

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Excellent.  That’s great.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  — for all that that requires and it requires, you know, the details of pelvic examinations.  It requires the details of whatever kind of healthcare that might be, you know, in any level of the body.  Healthcare — for mental healthcare, physical.

And so, this is some of the work we are doing, and — and it’s a good start.  There’s more work to be done, also recognizing that the disparities exist based on also lack of access to transportation, lack of access to all types of healthcare, in addition to maternal healthcare.  Because there is so much of this that also can be attributed to unique stressors, right?

Take, for example, the fact that poverty is trauma inducing.  And what that might mean, in terms of the unique stressors that low-income women are facing that can have an impact on their pregnancy. 

And so, all of this work is being done by our administration in conjunction with the Congress.  We have the “Momnibus” — we called it the “Momnibus.”  An omnibus bill.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Yes.  Yes, that’s great.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And we —

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  That was a great effort.  Members of the Congressional Black Caucus that led that effort.  

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Exactly. 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  You know, when you were talking about maternal mortality, especially amongst Black women, when Beyoncé and Serena Williams get into trouble —

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Right?

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  — when they’re in the delivery room, we know this is a huge problem.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  That’s exactly right.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  The idea that you have high rates of maternal death in the United States of America is an outrage in and of itself. 

How about a few words on contraception, in terms of what the administration has done?

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, we have done some good work in terms of making clear that there is a right to contraception.

But, you know, I mean, to your point about what’s at risk, they pulled it back, but you saw what happened with the University Idaho — right? — which was — which was the issue was that the university — they pulled it back, so it’s no longer the case — but had essentially said that they would not provide contraception at the university. 

And you mentioned earlier that the convenings that I’ve been doing, one of them was with university presidents.  And I brought them in because, of course, they’re — the 18- through 24-year-old population is most at risk on this issue.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Right.  That’s right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And I brought them in and asked them, “Well, what’s your plan?” 

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  (Laughs.)  And they said? 

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  And it was a good and productive meeting.

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  What did they say?

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  (Inaudible.)

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  It was a (inaudible) meeting.

But, you know, for example, “What’s the plan?”  And I’ve just recently convened a bunch of extraordinary college student leaders, just in the White House, in my office, last week.  Just brilliant.  They’re brilliant.  They’re so good.  Like, the future of our country is so bright if they’re leading.  And — and — (applause) — yes.

And so, they — but we were talking about — for example, universities, colleges, community colleges, any, you know, educational institutions for educating after high school — what are they doing about privacy protocols as it relates to their health clinics? 

What are they doing as it relates to absenteeism, because they may be in a state where she has to go to another state to receive her abortion care? 

What are they doing in terms of — many universities, for example, will have — this might not be the right word — but bereavement funds, right?  So if a student has a death in the family and they can’t afford the transportation, that there’ll be assistance with that. 

Well — well, maybe we should be considering the fact that there are going to be students who can’t afford to leave the state and pay tuition and pay for books and pay for dorms, right?  And how are they thinking about that approach?

And so those issues have come up.  In connection also has been the issue of contraception and what are they doing to ensure that they are complying with the law but, at the same time, doing everything they can to fulfill a right that their students have.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Well, Madam Vice President, I know you have so many places to go.  We would love to keep you here all day.  So we want you to come back again soon.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Of course.

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  But maybe you can share some final thoughts.  Final thoughts about today, where you’re going, where you been.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Well, a few things.  You know, one of the — you know, the additional facts — if we don’t have the issue in California, we have an — we have extraordinary members of Congress.  Mayor Garcetti is here.  Rob Bonta, the Attorney General.  Alex Padilla, the senator.  Toni Atkins, who convened a bunch of state legislators for a previous meeting that I did in San Francisco.

But elections matter on this one, as with everything else.  When I’m traveling the country, I remind folks: Elections matter in terms of who your local prosecutor is.  If you’re in a state that has criminalized this, that matters. 

Who your governor is matters.  Governor Newsom has done an extraordinary job on this.  Because it’s going to be about whether, depending on the composition of their legislature, do they need to veto stuff that would be bad and restricting rights, or are they going to sign legislation that is about preserving and expanding rights where they’ve been taken away in particular.

And so, 22 days.  And the reality of it is that we’re going to have to protect these rights ultimately by having national legislation. 

And there’s only one path to getting there.  There’s only so much that the executive branch can do on this.  We have three coequal branches of government.  The Court has acted, and now we need Congress to act.  And so we need people in Congress to recognize that responsibility.

So I’d urge everyone to just remember that and to talk with your friends and your neighbors, in particular in states where these rights are being attacked, and to remind them.

And then my last point would be just to repeat: I think the coalition-building piece on this is so extraordinarily important.  You know, this is an intergenerational movement.  This is a movement among so many people who are allies, who are — who are in this together for so many reasons.

So let’s just stay committed to it all and know that this moment was meant for those of us who are here to recognize we cannot afford to throw up our hands on this; we got to roll up our sleeves.

Thank you all.  (Applause.)

REPRESENTATIVE BASS:  Roll up our sleeves!  Thank you.  Thank you so much.  It’s an honor to have you here.  Thank you.

MS. VÁZQUEZ:  Gracias, Madam Vice President.

END                3:28 P.M. PDT


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