VP Harris in Tallahassee: ‘Can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her life?’

By: , and - January 23, 2023 5:09 am

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on abortion access in Tallahassee, Fl on Jan. 22, 2023. | Danielle J. Brown

In a direct challenge to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to his back yard Sunday to announce that President Joe Biden was signing an executive order designed to guarantee access to abortion rights, including abortion-inducing medications.

During a roughly 20-minute address in Tallahassee marking what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Harris mocked DeSantis’ self-described “freedom” agenda as anathema to the struggles of generations of Americans to expand upon the basic rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

“Can we truly be free if a woman cannot make decisions about her life? 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?” the vice president asked an enthusiastic audience.

“And can we truly be free if so-called leaders claim to be, quote, I quote, on the vanguard of freedom while they dare to restrict the freedom of the American people and attack the very foundations of freedom?”

Biden’s order seeks to protect privacy and abortion access against state limits, including access to abortion drugs and people’s medical records, and to protect clinics and doctors.

The Republican governor frequently invokes his “free state of Florida” rhetoric, which originated from his opposition to face mask and vaccination mandates as COVID-19 raged.

Harris continued: “America is a promise. It is a promise of freedom and liberty, not for some but for all. A promise we made in the Declaration of Independence that we are each endowed with the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights were not bestowed upon us; they belong to us as Americans. And it is that freedom and liberty that enabled generations of Americans to chart their own course and decide their own future.”

She described a “march forward to fully realize our promise to complete the unfinished work to secure freedom and liberty to all” — work that included ending slavery, women’s suffrage, the Freedom Rides, and the LGBTQ pride movement.

“Those leaders expanded rights which then advanced the cause of freedom and liberty. And, 50 years ago today, so did those who won a right in the United States Supreme Court to recognize the fundamental, constitutional right of a woman to make decisions about her own body,” Harris said.

The Supreme Court took away that right last summer, she continued, as the audience proclaimed more than once, “It ain’t right.”

The result is that doctors face prison for providing drugs for arthritis because they also can induce abortion; that a 10-year-old girl in Ohio had to travel out of state to obtain an abortion; and that woman endured life-threating medical complications because doctors are reluctant to treat miscarriages, Harris said.

These problems are a “direct result of laws designed by extremists — including in states like Florida,” with its radical abortion ban” after 15 weeks’ gestation with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson in Detroit on Nov. 5, 2022 | Ken Coleman

‘They spoke with their votes’

She pointed to referenda in states across the country affirming abortion rights following the Supreme Court ruling.

“They spoke with their votes. In essence, they said one does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree that the government should not be telling people what to do with their own bodies.”

Harris opened her speech at about a quarter past noon in The Moon, a concert venue filled to its 1,500-person capacity, according to a Leon County sheriff’s deputy, with energetic, and rowdy abortion-rights supporters responding to the crowd.

Alexis McGill Johnson is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Speaking before Harris did, she said that abortion rights supporters came from across Florida, including Naples, Sarasota, Orlando, Palm Beach, Lakeland and Tampa.

“You got on buses. You rode in the rain,” she said.

Tallahassee is in North Florida and some consider it a Deep South state as it straddles the Georgia line.

In the venue, there was a backdrop of several U.S flags, plus Florida flags, at least three large screens and music with an upbeat tempo.

And as the crowd got louder, the group yelled out:

“Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Ron DeSantis has got to go.”

Numerous Democrats in the state House and Senate were at the venue, as well as prominent figures such as civil rights lawyer Ben Crump.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

Isaac Arnsdorf
Isaac Arnsdorf

Isaac Arnsdorf covers national politics. His reporting on President Trump's agenda for veterans won the Sidney Hillman Foundation's Sidney Award and the National Press Club's Sandy Hume Award, and was an honorable mention for the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. Before joining ProPublica in 2017, he covered lobbying and campaign finance at Politico. He previously worked for Bloomberg News.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.