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‘We’ve got to have these conversations out loud’: VP Harris talks abortion in Pennsylvania

Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, (r) speaks with Vice President Kamala Harris at Salus University in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (Credit: Pennsylvania Capital-Star)

Kim Lyons, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 8, 2024

CHELTENHAM TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Vice President Kamala Harris continued her campaign push for reproductive rights in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, telling an audience in Montgomery County that the stakes were high for the November election between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. 

“This is the moment we are in,” Harris said at the event at Salus University, where she was joined onstage by longtime friend, actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph. “We witnessed, about two years ago, the highest court in our land, the court of Thurgood and RBG, take a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America.” She referred to the late justices Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Harris has been speaking out on the campaign trail about the aftermath of the 2022 repeal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court with the Dobbs decision that ended federal abortion rights; Wednesday’s appearance was the fifth in five weeks where she’s spoken in a different state on the topic. 

She has taken particular aim at Trump, whose stance on abortion has varied of late, but has included suggesting women’s pregnancies be monitored, a possible national abortion ban, leaving decisions about abortion laws up to the states, and leaving the door open to banning medication abortions.

“If you want to know who’s to blame for where we are right now, a finger can be directly pointed at the former president,” Harris said. “The former president made it very clear and then did what he intended to do: He said he would pick three members of the United States Supreme Court with the intention that they would undo the protections of Roe. And they did exactly as he intended.”

Abortion is legal for up to 24 weeks in Pennsylvania, and Gov. Josh Shapiro has been a firm supporter of reproductive rights. But there are obstacles to receiving an abortion even in a “safe” state like Pennsylvania, which is down to fewer than two dozen clinics, many of which are hundreds of miles apart. 

“We have witnessed in state after state after state laws being proposed and passed that criminalize health care providers,” Harris said, referring to the law in Texas that assigns criminal penalties for medical providers who perform non-emergency abortions. In many states, Harris added, legislators debate whether to even add exceptions for the life of the mother, or in the cases of rape and incest. 

“The idea that these so-called leaders would say that as a survivor of violence… that you, the survivor, don’t have a right to make a decision about what happens to your body next? That’s immoral,” Harris said. “These are the kinds of things that are happening in our country.”

She added that she thinks about it in the context of her own family. “Our daughter, who is 24, as of today, has fewer rights than my mother-in-law.” 

A six-week ban, Harris said, shows that the “so-called leaders” who write the laws “are not very clear about how a woman’s body works.” Most pregnant people may not yet realize they’re pregnant at six weeks. 

Harris told Ralph when she visited a Minnesota Planned Parenthood clinic in March, it had been a long day and she warned the press in attendance to be ready for certain language. “And then I said, very loudly, ‘ovaries!’”

The two women laughed, but Ralph noted, “we’ve got to have these conversations out loud,” adding “being a woman is not something to be ashamed of.” 

Ralph asked Harris why it seemed like the same conversations about reproductive rights kept happening, “and about how important it is to trust women.” 

Harris said she often thought back to a quote from Coretta Scott King. “She said the fight for civil rights — and you can add equality and freedom — must be fought and won in each generation. Whenever we make gains they will not be permanent. Therefore, we must be vigilant, and not be overwhelmed when these moments happen because we must be vigilant to hold on to these rights.”

Harris and Ralph were introduced to the stage by Karen Ploch, a woman from Montgomery County, who described her attempts to start a family with her husband via in vitro fertilization (IVF). “Our first egg transfer resulted in a pregnancy and we were so excited,” Ploch told the audience of mostly women. “After years of waiting we were finally going to be parents.” 

But at the seven-week ultrasound, the couple received bad news: The pregnancy had not progressed and it was just a matter of when Ploch would have a miscarriage. “I never cried so much in my entire life,” she said. Her doctor told her she could let the miscarriage happen naturally, or have a procedure to remove the non-viable embryo. 

“The doctor told me the choice was mine,” Ploch said. Ultimately, she decided she did not want to risk possible complications or jeopardize her ability to get pregnant in the future, so she had the procedure. Ploch said she is pregnant again, with her baby due later this year. 

“But this would not have been possible without access to reproductive medicine. But because of Donald Trump, in many states, I would not have had the choices I have here in Pennsylvania,” she said.

Wednesday was Harris’ 13th visit to Pennsylvania since taking office and her third of 2024; in February she appeared in Pittsburgh to tout the Biden administration’s dedication of $5.8 billion in federal funding toward lead pipe removal and clean water projects, including more than $200 million in Pennsylvania. She spoke to educators in Philadelphia last month about the administration’s push to reduce student loan debt.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.