By Jim Saunders ©2023 The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Appearing on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ doorstep to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision, Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday vowed that she and President Biden will “never back down” on abortion rights.
Harris, speaking from a stage at The Moon, a Tallahassee nightspot and concert venue, said the U.S. Supreme Court took away a “fundamental right” last year when it overturned Roe v. Wade and helped spur a cascade of abortion restrictions in states across the country.
“For nearly 50 years, Americans relied on the rights that Roe protected,” Harris told a crowd of supporters. “Today, however, on what would have been its 50th anniversary, we speak of the Roe decision in the past tense, because last June the United States Supreme Court took away that constitutional right, a fundamental right, a basic freedom from the people of America, from the women of America.”
While Harris’ appearance was tied to the Roe v. Wade anniversary, it also came as DeSantis is widely discussed as a potential 2024 Republican challenger to Biden. Democrats have made abortion rights a political rallying point after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 decision, which had recognized abortion as a fundamental right.
About four hours before Harris took the stage, the Republican Party of Florida sent a statement to reporters blasting the vice president and other Democrats.
“Democrats are proudly cheerleading barbaric policies to allow unrestricted abortions — including infanticide. That’s all anyone needs to know,” the statement said.
During her speech, Harris repeatedly focused on freedom, taking a not-so-subtle shot at DeSantis, who has described Florida as “freedom’s vanguard.”
“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 rights of the American people and attack the very foundations of freedom?” Harris said.
Harris announced that Biden was issuing a memorandum directing federal agencies to look for ways to help ensure access to mifepristone, a drug used in medication abortions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this month approved a change that would expand access to the drug at pharmacies. But the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has warned Florida pharmacists against dispensing the drug.
Harris’ appearance in Tallahassee came nearly a year after DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature approved a law preventing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion providers have challenged the law, with the case pending at the Florida Supreme Court.
The vice president’s appearance also came as the Legislature prepares to start its annual session March 7. While DeSantis and some other Republican leaders have indicated they would support stricter abortion regulations, they have not released a proposal, at least in part because they are waiting for a ruling in the case about the 15-week limit.
In that case, Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office has urged justices to reverse a decades-old legal precedent that said a privacy clause in the state Constitution protects abortion rights. If the Supreme Court goes along with that argument, it could help clear the way for the Legislature to more broadly limit abortions.