WASHINGTON – With few options available for ensuring abortion access, Vice President Kamala Harris will demonstrate that Democrats aren’t giving up on the issue as she marks the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Sunday. It’s a bitter historical milestone for the White House after the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back the national right to abortion.
Administration officials said she'll speak in Florida, where Democrats have been on guard for new efforts to restrict abortion from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate. The speech is a continuation of Harris' focus on reproductive rights in recent months, including meetings with activists, healthcare providers and state lawmakers from around the country.
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It's also intended to be a signal that abortion remains a focus for the administration after the midterm elections. Democrats performed better than expected, but prospects for codifying Roe v. Wade into law haven't improved, and the administration has bumped up against the limits of its legal ability to keep abortion available.
“The vice president will make very clear: The fight to secure women’s fundamental right to reproductive health care is far from over,” said a statement from Kirsten Allen, a Harris spokesperson. “She will lay out the consequences of extremist attacks on reproductive freedom in states across our country and underscore the need for Congress to codify Roe."
President Joe Biden will mark the anniversary with a proclamation, according to administration officials.
No additional executive actions or policy proposals are expected over the weekend. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that “the administration has taken actions with our limited authorities," reiterating the president's call for national legislation.
“Women must be empowered to make decisions about their own lives and health care, and those decisions should not be politicized or second guessed by politicians," she said.
Meanwhile, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, told reporters on Wednesday that her organization will be focusing on state legislation and asking, “What is the most ambitious we can be?”
Dannenfelser recently met with DeSantis and said she was “extremely satisfied” with the conversation, although she said DeSantis didn't know what his next steps on abortion would be. Florida currently bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra plans to visit Minnesota this week as that state's legislature works on a new law to solidify abortion rights.
Becerra expects to appear with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, stop at a Planned Parenthood facility and meet with organizers who want to use a mobile van to provide abortions to people who cross into the state from Wisconsin, which has strict abortion limits.
Becerra then plans to visit a Wisconsin clinic that's no longer allowed to provide abortions and hold an event with Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Gwen Moore, both Democrats, to talk with medical students.
On Wednesday, Becerra recalled visiting a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, on the day that Roe v. Wade was overturned. He said he was shocked to see how quickly women were turned away for scheduled abortion appointments. Then he stopped at a clinic over the border in neighboring Illinois, which was still accepting patients.
“It’s now a fact in America that you can drive 16 miles across state lines and lose the rights to health care you need,” Becerra said.
It's likely that the battle over reproductive rights will focus more on state legislatures than Washington, where the two parties appear deadlocked on the issue.
Democrats have 51 seats in the Senate, which means they can block any Republican attempts to ban abortion nationwide, but there's not enough support to sidestep filibuster rules to restore a national right to abortion.
In addition, the administration has limited tools to take executive action, although it's worked to make abortion pills more widely available.
Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.
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