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On 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Kamala Harris urges federal abortion protections

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1973 US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday.
Don Vonmoore
AFP via Getty Images
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1973 US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, in Tallahassee, Fla., on Saturday.

Vice President Kamala Harris commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by imploring Americans to work to enshrine abortion rights into law.

"For nearly 50 years, Americans relied on the rights that Roe protected," Harris said at a speech delivered in Tallahassee, Fla., on Sunday. "Today, however, on what would have been its 50th anniversary, we speak of the Roe decision in the past tense."

The landmark Supreme Court decision on Jan. 22, 1973, guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion for nearly half a century. The U.S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade in June, which immediately rolled back abortion rights in almost half of the states, and led to many more restrictions. In speaking in Florida, Harris, the nation's first female vice president, delivered a speech in a state which passed a 15-week abortion ban into law.

In her speech, Harris spoke directly to the anti-abortion rights policies implemented by Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, and state officials.

After the Food and Drug Administration changed a rule to allow retail pharmacies to fill prescriptions for abortion pills, Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration reportedly sent a letter out to pharmacists telling them that dispensing the abortion pill could lead to criminal charges.

"Here, in Florida, health care providers face prison — prison! — for up to five years for simply doing their job," Harris said. "And now the state has also targeted medication abortion, and even threatened Florida pharmacists with criminal charges if they provide medication prescribed by medical professionals."

Harris said the Biden administration would work to expand abortion access. The White House has pointed to executive orders signed last year.

"The right of every woman, in every state, in this country, to make decisions about her own body is on the line," Harris said. "I said it once, and I'll say it again: How dare they?"

President Biden echoed the sentiments on Roe v. Wade's anniversary on Sunday.

"I'll continue to fight to protect a woman's right to choose," Biden said in a statement issued by the White House. "Congress must restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law — it's the only way we can fully secure a woman's right to choose in every state."

Harris concluded the speech by saying that the Biden administration would continue to work to protect abortion rights.

"Know this: President Biden and I agree, and we will never back down," Harris said. "We will not back down. We know this fight will not be won until we secure this right for every American. Congress must pass a bill that protects freedom and liberty."

Abortion rights supporters in Congress have failed in previous efforts to pass abortion rights laws at the federal level when Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate. With Republicans now in the House majority, any federal abortion rights laws have little chance of passing.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.