Vice President Harris hosts civil and reproductive rights leaders at White House to talk about abortion access

“We must stand shoulder to shoulder to ensure that every voice is represented in a way that allows them equal access to all that they need to thrive,” said Vice President Kamala Harris.

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The issue of reproductive rights is said to be a priority for the White House, and Biden officials are said to be planning more action on the matter since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Abortion rights and reproductive care were front and center at the White House during a Tuesday meeting with civil and reproductive rights leaders hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris listens during a meeting with civil rights and reproductive rights leaders in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on September 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The Biden-Harris administration has held several forums, mostly led by Vice President Harris, with legislators and leaders across the country. Tuesday’s meeting between Harris and civil rights leaders, in particular, came several days after another White House meeting that President Joe Biden held with Black leaders ahead of the Labor Day holiday. 

In her meeting with mostly women leaders, Harris highlighted that the Supreme Court “made the decision in Dobbs to take a constitutional right,” which she said has created a “health care crisis in America.”

“We must stand shoulder to shoulder to ensure that every voice is represented in a way that allows them equal access to all that they need to thrive,” said Harris.

Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, was present at the White House meeting that also included National Action Network President Al Sharpton, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and others. Before their White House visit, participating groups have been meeting together since the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson earlier this summer.

Hewitt told theGrio that the organizations “wanted to show a joint display of unity between civil rights and reproductive rights” groups and bring the White House in on their collaboration in response to the Supreme Court striking down the landmark case Roe v. Wade during its last session. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights wrote several amicus briefs in the case.

In the meeting with Harris and White House officials, leaders advocated for a range of policy responses, including protecting the data privacy of women and pregnant people whose visits to abortion clinics could be marked by geolocation.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with civil rights and reproductive rights leaders in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on September 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“Black women in particular risk being tracked based upon their status for harassment and prosecution. This is a civil rights issue that is closely linked to Black liberation,” said Hewitt. “You cannot tell Black women what to do with their bodies, when or how.”

President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Alexis McGill Johnson, said the meeting represented what she called a “power movement.” 

”There’s no reproductive freedom without racial justice and democracy reform. And that’s why we get by standing together and engaging with the administration,” Johnson told theGrio. “Make no mistake, these bans are working exactly as they were intended to – to create a public health crisis.”

Johnson described the climate post-Roe as “chaos,” adding that from the state of Texas alone, “we’ve seen an increase of 550% of patients out of state.”

Melanie L. Campbell of the Black Women’s Roundtable, who also attended the meeting with the vice president, said “we are in an unprecedented time.” Campbell told theGrio that she personally knows what it means to make “the hard decision to have an abortion,” describing it as “the hardest decision of my life.”

“I believe that is my responsibility – to fight to ensure that women continue to have the constitutional right to bodily autonomy now and in the future,” she said.

Melanie Campbell head of the Black Woman’s Roundtable speaks at the “Time to Deliver” Home Care Workers rally and march on November 16, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for SEIU)

Hewitt said the collaborative meeting at the White House between civil rights and reproductive rights groups was a needed one, as “there has never been a collective reproductive rights group meeting with President Biden.” He said given the intersections of race and gender, it was important to drive home the message to the Biden-Harris administration that abortion access is as much a civil rights issue as it is a women’s issue.

“We know who’s uniquely impacted is Black women and other women of color,” he said. “So we’re going to make sure they understand that this is a civil rights case.”

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