THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, everyone, and thank you for joining. I’m convening this call to talk about the latest attacks on reproductive rights. Needless to say, these attacks are extreme and they are endangering the lives of women and people in our country. And the impact, frankly, goes far beyond reproductive healthcare.
The President and* I believe in the fundamental American value that all people should exercise and have the freedom and liberty to make fundamental decisions about their lives. And that includes the freedom for women to make decisions about their own healthcare and their bodies, and not the government.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, extremist so-called leaders in states around the country have proposed and passed new extreme laws to ban abortion and criminalized healthcare providers, or have moved to enforce old laws on the book, many including no exception even for rape or incest.
Just last week, Florida Republican state legislators introduced a bill to ban abortions after six weeks. That is before many women even know they’re pregnant. There are 4 million women of reproductive age in Florida, and the consequences would reach far beyond Florida because think about the geography.
Notably, more than three quarters of the women living under abortion bans in the United States live in the South. Currently, Florida has a 15-week abortion ban — meaning that, for many, Florida is their closest option for care. A six-week ban would function as a regional ban, wiping out access to care in the South.
This issue is about women’s autonomy, their freedom to decide whether and when to have children. These laws also endanger women’s health, putting their lives in jeopardy.
Last week, a group of five courageous women filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas. These women almost lost their lives when they were denied healthcare because of the state’s abortion ban.
I’m grateful to have met with one of the plaintiffs, Amanda, and many of you may know her story. She was pregnant, and her water broke prematurely. And she went to seek medical care and was repeatedly denied treatment. Only after she developed sepsis, which almost killed her, did the hospital finally treat her. Imagine. These women are fighting for basic right-to-life-saving healthcare.
Even as women fight for their lives in the face of the Texas abortion bans that currently exist, so-called leaders in Texas continue to try to restrict access to reproductive healthcare.
I also want to take a minute to discuss the bigger picture. This goes beyond reproductive healthcare, as I said earlier. It — and in that, these attacks jeopardize the ability of all Americans to make their own healthcare decisions.
Think — for example, there is currently — and this is what this is — an unprecedented attack on medication, which the FDA approved 20 years ago. So, this is an attack on a medication which the FDA approved 20 years ago. And they approved it based on science, peer review, and a consensus within the medical professional community that it is safe and effective.
The FDA has approved thousands of medications over the last 85 years, from chemotherapy drugs to asthma medicine to blood-pressure pills to insulin. So, think about this in that context. Think about it in the context of the fact that —
Just looking — look — look inside your medicine cabinet. Just picture for a minute looking inside your own medicine cabinet. For the average American, they will find medicine that the FDA determined to be safe and effective, that has helped them alleviate pain or improve their quality of life or help them in some medically necessary way.
But if extremists and politicians can override FDA approval and remove one medication from the shelves — in this case, abortion medication — one must ask: What medication is next?
So, there is also some good news, which is that the majority of Americans do not support these attacks on reproductive rights. And that is why, during the last election cycle, wherever this issue was on the ballot, reproductive freedom won in both red states and blue states, from Kentucky to California.
And as I have traveled the country, I have seen firsthand the power of state and local leaders fighting to defend reproductive rights.
For example, in Michigan, Governor Whitmer and state and local leaders have led the way to defend reproductive freedom in that state. And last November, Michigan was one of the states where voters protected reproductive rights in their state constitution.
In Wisconsin, where a law from 1849 remains on the books banning abortion, Governor Evers has repeatedly called on the Republican-controlled legislature to repeal it. And on April 4th, Wisconsin voters will cast ballots in an election for the State Supreme Court, which will directly impact the fate of that state’s 174-year-old ban.
Finally, President Biden and I agree: This fight will be won only when we secure reproductive rights for every person in every state. Congress must therefore pass a bill that defends freedom and liberty by putting the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law, and President Biden will sign it.
But I thank you all, and I’m happy to take your questions.
Q Yes, Vice President Harris, Alex Carr here from the theSkimm. On the topic of medication abortion, if a federal judge in Texas rules that mifepristone should be restricted nationwide, how is the White House prepared to respond immediately? And what support will they lend to abortion providers and people seeking abortions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Alex. So first, let’s just outline some of the attacks on abortion medication. For example, there is the lawsuit in Texas, which was filed in November of last year. And there, anti-abortion activists challenged the FDA approval of mifepristone, which as I said earlier, was granted 20 years ago. The FDA approved it 20 years ago based on science. And this could result — this lawsuit could result in the medication becoming unavailable across the country.
Think about January of this year when 22 Republican AGs wrote to the FDA urging the FDA to reverse its decision that mifepristone is safe to dispense in telehealth or to be picked up with a prescription at a retail pharmacy.
And then last month, 20 Republican AGs wrote to CVS and Walgreens threatening the companies with legal consequences if they sell medication abortion by mail in their state.
So, to level set: First of all, medication abortions account for a majority of all abortions in the United States. And mifepristone, again, has been on the market for 20 years, has been deemed by the FDA to be safe and effective.
These attacks are not only an attack on a woman’s fundamental freedom to make decisions about her own body, but really it’s — it really, fundamentally is also an attack on the scientific process that is crucial for public health.
The FDA has approved thousands of other medications over the last 85 years. So, think about what this means if extremists and politicians can override an FDA approval and remove any medication that they deem to be politically, for some reason, susceptible or deserving of attack — that they could remove it from your medicine cabinet. The implications in terms of public health policy are profound.
In terms of our administration, to your question: We’ve been focusing on getting access to the — to medication abortion since day one. And so, when the Supreme Court, in the Dobbs decision, did what they did, the President, in an executive order, directed Health and Human Services to identify potential actions to protect and expand abortion care, including medication abortion.
The Attorney General has already made clear that states may not ban mifepristone and that they can’t — as that basis of banning it because they disagree with the FDA’s judgment. Our administration will continue to support legal access and do what we need to do to make sure that women get accurate information about what is safe and what is legally available to them.
I, on that point, will say that I appreciate that we are doing this call because a concern that I have and have had throughout these months has been also the level of misinformation and disinformation that is out there that I believe is designed and meant to confuse individuals and healthcare providers and others about what the law is and what are the rights that individuals and others have on this issue.
So, thank you for that question.
OPERATOR: And if you wish to ask a question, please press one then zero.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m going to venture to say you’re on mute — (laughter) — whoever that is. If you think you’re asking a question, I can’t hear you.
Q Hi, thanks for doing this call. I know you ment- — brought up Michigan and I (inaudible) noted the ballot approval there. I wondered if, you know, there — where you think some of those states that did approve, you know, changes to state law last fall — you know, kind of where they go in the future?
You know, in Michigan, there’s some questions about the ballot language and about whether regulations are allowed, kind of, post-viability. You know, there’s still a parental consent law on the books there. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about kind of what should come next in some of those states.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll say, as a general matter — you know, because each state has its own nuance, so I’ll just speak — speak to your question as a general matter.
One, there is still the challenge of getting correct information to individuals, which is the point I just made in the last Q&A. That’s still critically important, because in a state like Michigan — and there are others that have passed and into their law and into — or into their constitution these protections — we’ve got to make sure that everyone knows about it.
Because, again, if you look at the map of the United States on this issue, it’s like a — it’s a real quilt. It’s like a patchwork, in terms of each state having some different nuances that leaves people in general with a bit of confusion about their rights. So, there is that.
There is the work that also needs to happen to recognize that not each state that has maintained protections for people to make decisions about their own body — not each state is equal in terms of the resources they have. But they are, each one of them, usually in a neighborhood, often in a neighborhood where surrounding states have restricted rights, and so people are traveling to their state.
And that presents, as you can imagine, a burden on the resources that that state has — that the state has — the state that is receiving folks. So, that’s another issue of concern that I have heard be expressed by states, but also a concern that we have, which is there are certain states that can afford to perhaps put more resources into it, and there are some states that cannot but are still keeping an open door to the women who travel there seeking help.
And then there is the issue of — of just what needs to continue to happen in these states and all of the states, which is about encouraging the coalition around the intersection between issues that are voting rights issues, issues that are about protecting the rights and the wellbeing of members of the LGBTQ+ community. There is the work that we need to do to build up the coalitions around what we’re seeing in certain states, which is that where there is an attack on one of those rights, there are attacks on the other rights. And that’s part of the conversation that I’ve been having as we travel around the country.
Because, you know, I look at Michigan — to your point, they’re — the leaders there, starting with the governor, are doing extraordinary work. And when you look at it, it also was in combination with another important thing that needs to happen in all the states, which is to encourage the younger leaders to own their — to give them the space to be able to lead on this issue. And — and we’ve seen that happen in various places around the country.
And I applaud Governor Whitmer and others for holding those leaders up — the younger leaders up to allow them to also help frame and shape this movement.
And I guess that’s the final point I’ll make here for this question, which is, this is a movement. And I said that from the earliest days, even after the leaked decision. This is a movement.
And we who are part of this movement stand on the shoulders of all those folks of every gender who fought for and ultimately got Roe v. Wade. And we got to pick it up and understand that it’s not going to be resolved overnight until Congress acts.
And therefore, what’s happening in the states is going to have a direct and huge impact on how people are experiencing this issue.
Q Yes. Hi, Madam Vice President. Thank you so much for this call. I am with the Black Information Network. And I was just interested in knowing from your perspective what — what are the implications of these restrictions for African American women, especially considering the high maternal mortality rate that Black women face?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: This is a very real issue. You know, I said before — I’ll say — I’ll say, again, you know, I would challenge the hypocrisy of people who say they care about life and then ignore the maternal mortality crisis. Right? And you know — everyone on this call knows — we are looking at a case, in the United States of America, where Black women are three times as likely to die in connection with childbirth. Native women are twice as likely to die. Rural women, one and a half times as likely.
And when we dive into this issue, in particular when it relates to Black and Native women, we know that one of the big factors there is racial bias. That when that woman walks into the hospital or the clinic, she is just not taken as seriously.
We know a related issue for all of the women affected by maternal mortality is also poverty. You know, look, poverty is trauma-inducing.
And so, when you think about the factors that contribute to those awful outcomes, in terms of maternal mortality, that — the stressors have to be taken into account, and we have to talk about that.
And again, then you overlay that with — for example, what I’ve said earlier about using the example of Florida in terms of what that six-week ban would mean, in terms of that region of the country. I don’t have the stats in front of me, but I can tell you that it’s pretty well discussed that when you look at, for example, maternal mortality rates and how those coincide with states that have restricted reproductive health rights, you will see that there is a huge parallel, meaning that those states that are restricting reproductive access — health access on this issue are also the states where you’re seeing pretty high rates of maternal mortality.
So, your point is — is a very important one, which is that we have to understand the correlation and — and paint the full picture about what these policies are and what they aren’t and the effect that they are having across the board on reproductive health. Which is the point, isn’t it? That’s why we’re talking about reproductive health.
By the way, I will also add: Part of the work that we’ve been doing — and I’ve been doing this work since I was in the Senate, as you know — but I am very proud of our administration for really highlighting the issue of maternal mortality.
We’ve — we’ve elevated it to the stage of the White House, and part of my focus has also been on what we need to do to train healthcare providers. And I’ll tell you that, in particular, some of the best trainers on this issue will be doulas and — and what they know in terms of also the associated issue on everything we have discussed this afternoon, which is about the dignity and wellbeing of all people in our country.