On Roe anniversary, US VP says no freedom without abortion rights

Nationwide marches mark Roe v Wade’s anniversary, the first since the Supreme Court struck down US federal abortion protections.

United States Vice President Kamala Harris displays a map showing abortion access by state in August 2022 [Susan Walsh/The Associated Press]

Vice President Kamala Harris has warned that abortion rights are under attack across the United States in a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v Wade ruling.

Harris said the now-defunct Supreme Court ruling, which codified federal abortion protections but was struck down by conservative justices last year, had enshrined the “fundamental constitutional right of a woman to make decisions of her own body, not the government”.

“America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. But let us ask: Can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her own body?” the vice president said on Sunday from Tallahassee, Florida.

“Can we truly be free if a doctor cannot care for her patients? Can we truly be free if families cannot make intimate decisions about the course of their own lives?”

Prior to the speech, the White House announced its latest efforts to shore up support for abortion rights, saying it was “in consultation” with the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security “to consider new guidance to support patients, providers, and pharmacies who wish to legally access, prescribe, or provide” abortion medication and to consider new ways to “ensure that patients can access legal reproductive care”.

The Food and Drug Administration also announced this month that so-called abortion pills would become more widely available at pharmacies and through the mail.

Still, the administration of US President Joe Biden has been relatively limited in its ability to respond to the overturning of Roe v Wade without the passage of federal legislation. Such an effort is all but sure to fail amid opposition from Republicans, who control the House of Representatives and who last year introduced a bill that bans abortions nationwide at 15 weeks from conception, with few exceptions.

“Since the Supreme Court’s decision, Americans, time and time again, have made their voices heard: Women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions free from political interference,” Biden said in a statement on Sunday.

“Yet, Republicans in Congress and across the country continue to push for a national abortion ban, to criminalise doctors and nurses, and to make contraception harder to access. It’s dangerous, extreme, and out of touch.”

Meanwhile, the Women’s March movement, which formed in the wake of the election victory of former President Donald Trump, called for a so-called “Bigger than Roe” nationwide mobilisation on Sunday, with a flagship march planned in Madison, Wisconsin, and other gatherings planned in cities across the country.

The mobilisation comes after anti-abortion advocates held their annual “March for Life” rally on Friday in Washington, DC, with organisers hailing the overturning of Roe v Wade and calling for further restrictions on abortion.

New face of abortion rights

The repeal of Roe v Wade has brought the fight over abortion access to state legislatures and courts.

Some states have moved to shore up protections through new laws or ballot measures, with voters in California, Michigan, and Vermont moving to enshrine abortion rights in their state constitutions during the 2022 midterm elections.

Others have enacted sweeping restrictions on abortion, with the Guttmacher Institute identifying 12 states as of Sunday where abortion is banned except in rare exceptions.

Other restrictions have been held up due to court challenges, with an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation identifying active litigation against abortion restrictions in 14 states. About half of US states currently have some form of abortion bans in place.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Harris would be speaking in Florida because it is emblematic of battles playing out across the country.

Florida currently has a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of conception, a period before many women know they’re pregnant. However, its restrictions are less stringent than those of its neighbouring states, making it an important resource for women in the region.

Still, abortion rights advocates fear more restrictions could be considered by the Republican-controlled state legislature and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.

The governor is expected to seek the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election, a race where abortion rights are all but assured to loom large.

“So we are fighting back,” Harris said on Sunday. “The right of every woman in every state in this country to make decisions about her body is on the line. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How dare they.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies