Vice President Kamala Harris came to Tallahassee on the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling where she vowed that the Biden administration would continue to take steps to ensure a women’s right to access abortion despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to repeal it.

Harris made her speech before a boisterous crowd of  about 1,500 abortion rights advocates gathered just a mile from the state Capitol where the Republican-controlled Legislature is considering whether to further tighten abortion restrictions.

“Since our founding, we have been on a march forward to fully realize our promise. To complete the unfinished work. To secure freedom and liberty for all. This fight will not be inevitable. This will not just happen. It takes steadfast determination and dedication. The kind of determination possessed by some of our greatest patriots,” Harris said, comparing the fight for abortion rights as part of a line of actions taken to secure other rights such as the right to vote for women.

Harris also criticized Florida’ existing abortion ban as “radical” and criticized the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, for warning health care providers about possible criminal charges if they distribute abortion pills.

Biden signed a presidential memorandum Sunday directing the secretaries of the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Services to consult with the U.S. Attorney General  and consider new ways to ensure that patients can access legal reproductive care, including medication abortion from a pharmacy, free from threats or violence.

The presidential memorandum also directs the AG and HHS and DHA secretaries to make  recommendations to the White House Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access on additional ways to address barriers faced by patients, providers, and pharmacies in safely and legally accessing or providing 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early January announced the Mifepristone REMS Program, which establishes the parameters for  certified physicians to prescribe mifepristone and for certified pharmacies to dispense the medicine.

But Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, whose secretary answers to DeSantis, issued an alert telling providers that only physicians are authorized to terminate pregnancies. 

The memo ends with a warning that “the Agency will refer to local law enforcement any evidence of criminal activity that it discovers in its surveys of providers.”

Harris said Florida is one of 22 states to take such action.

“So today we are fighting back,” Harris told the crowd.

Harris met with state Democratic lawmakers last year in Orlando shortly after Roe was rolled back. But Sunday’s visit in Tallahassee put her in DeSantis’s back yard.

Her visit also brought out more than 1,500 supporters— young and old, men and women, parents and their children— who support abortion rights. 

University of South Florida student Jonathon Chavez traveled from Tampa for the rally along with members of the USF  College Democrats.

“Anytime we accept or normalize the chipping away of rights for someone that means we are normalizing or accepting that we chip away human rights,” he said.

Florida already has restrictions on abortion including a mandate that women wait 24 hours before terminating their pregnancies. Florida law also precludes minors from obtaining abortions without parental consent. And the Florida Legislature last year passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Florida’s current ban is less stringent than surrounding Southern states’ abortion bans, though. Planned Parenthood of America President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson, noted the number of out-of-state patients coming to Florida to obtain abortions has doubled.

With Republicans being in control of the Florida Legislature, Cabinet and Governor’s Office, abortion regulations are expected to be considered once again. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo in December said lawmakers could pursue legislation shortening the window to 12 weeks. And there are those who want the state to go further and make all abortions illegal.

Prior to Harris’ appearance onstage, the crowd heard from House Minority Leader Fetnrice Driskell, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and  Sujatha Prabhakaran, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.

 

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