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Background Press Briefing: Biden-Harris Administration Commemorates 50 Years since Roe v. Wade

January 19, 2023

Via Teleconference

5:07 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining today's press call talking about the administration's plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the decision in Roe v. Wade. This is [senior administration official].

The call today will be on background, attributable to senior administration officials. The contents will be immediately reportable, and we will follow up after to all attendees with some materials.

While the call is on background, you'll hear from three speakers today. The first will be [senior administration official]. The second is [senior administration official]. And [senior administration official]. And this call is on background, attributable to "senior administration officials."

With that, I'll turn to the first speaker, [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you for joining us today ahead of what would have been the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade -- and what instead has been the first year in nearly five decades that women in America have not had a guaranteed constitutional right to make their own decisions over their own bodies and their own healthcare.

As a result of the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which, as you all know, overturned Roe v. Wade, more than 26 million women in the United States currently live in a state that has banned abortion.

President Biden and Vice President Harris stand with the vast majority of Americans in believing that the right to choose is fundamental. And the administration has and will continue to defend reproductive rights in the wake of Dobbs.

First, we're committed to fighting anti-choice legislation in Congress, including ongoing efforts from Republican officials to pass a national abortion ban, as well as in states where Republican elected officials are embracing extreme restrictions on abortion. These laws would criminalize doctors and endanger the health and lives of millions of women. And in some states, Republican officials are openly considering limits on contraception.

We will also continue to call on Congress to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade as federal law. The President and Vice President have made clear that this is the only way we can fully secure access to abortion for all women in every state.

And in the meantime, the administration continues fighting to protect access to reproductive healthcare services, which leads us to our second focus: taking executive action to defend reproductive rights.

As you remember, President Biden has issued two executive orders to, first, safeguard access to abortion and contraception; second, ensure that everyone has access to healthcare free from discrimination; third, defend the right to travel across state lines for medical care; fourth, protect the physical safety and security of clinics, providers, and patients; and, last, to protect patient privacy and access to accurate information.

These efforts are being coordinated by the President's Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access, comprised of the many agencies that have been hard at work to expand or protect access to care where possible. This includes protecting access to emergency medical care, including abortion, in states where reproductive healthcare is under attack; safeguarding access to Plan B and other emergency contraceptive care; and making science-based decisions to support access to medication abortion.

We'll continue to take the steps we can to protect access to reproductive healthcare services, as we continue to call on Congress to pass a law restoring the protections of Roe. And the President will make that clear in his proclamation, which will be released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

You will have the opportunity to hear more from the Department of Health and Human Services on their efforts shortly.

Finally, we're working closely with and supporting leaders from across the nation fighting to protect reproductive rights. This includes state legislators, providers, state attorneys general, advocates, and more who are committed to advancing proactive and protective state legislation, even as they respond to the over 60 anti-choice bills that have already been filed for the 2023 legislation session.

These extreme efforts range from legislators in Texas trying to prevent women from traveling to access care, and a bill recently filed in Oklahoma that could lead to women facing felony charges for obtaining care.

The Vice President has been a leader in these efforts -- traveling the country, talking to Americans about the impact this decision has had on their communities, and convening 200 state legislators to discuss their plans to respond to attacks on reproductive rights and bolster access to abortion.

Later this week, Senior Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs Julie Rodriguez and I will be speaking with several state legislators who are on the frontlines leading these efforts, which is our 10th such meeting in the last year.

No one has been more critical to leading this charge and speaking directly with Americans across the country than Vice President Harris, and I know you'll hear from [senior administration official] shortly about her work.

But first, let's turn to [senior administration official] to talk to us more about what the department is doing. Thanks, [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much, [senior administration official]. And thanks to everyone for being on this call today.

Since the day of the Dobbs decision, HHS, at the direction of President Biden and Vice President Harris, has taken a number of actions in the face of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Secretary Becerra directed leaders at the department to look at the actions to defend reproductive rights and support access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare, including abortion and birth control.

This week, HHS is releasing our report entitled: safeguarding these actions and outlining these actions. The strategy has focused on protecting access to abortion services, safeguarding access to birth control, protecting patient privacy, promoting access to accurate information, ensuring non-discrimination in healthcare delivery, evidence-based decision-making at FDA.

To name a few key actions the department has taken since Dobbs, HHS has done a number of things.

We've reaffirmed our commitment to protecting the right to abortion in an emergency setting under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, known as EMTALA.

We issued guidance to clarify protections for birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

We made drugs like mifepristone easier to access, so people can now use telehealth to receive prescriptions and have it delivered by mail.

We are protecting the medical privacy of patients by empowering patients to protect their medical information on smartphones and apps, and under the law.

And we strengthened ACA regulations to reinforce that discrimination on the basis of sex includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and related conditions.

Also this week, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra will travel to the Midwest to see and hear firsthand the difficult choices communities are facing after the overturning of Roe.

His trip will highlight that here, in the United States, you can drive just a few miles across state lines and lose your right to receive healthcare -- abortion.

The Secretary will start tomorrow in Minnesota, a state that continues to allow abortions and is working to expand access to reproductive healthcare, where he will meet with patients and providers.

He'll visit a Planned Parenthood that provides abortions to Minnesotans and patients -- hear from patients from western Wisconsin who cross state lines to seek essential healthcare, as well as reproductive rights advocates to hear about their works on the frontline and the personal stories of the communities they serve.

He'll meet with organizations like Just the Pill that will soon drive a mobile van to Minnesota -- the Minnesota border to facilitate access to medication abortion.

He will also join the Minnesota Governor Walz and state legislators for a press conference as they bring a bill to codify abortion rights in state law to their floor.

Friday, Secretary Becerra will be in Wisconsin, a state that no longer allows abortions. He'll visit a Title X family planning clinic that is unable to provide abortions. Then, he will hold an event at U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin -- or with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congresswoman Gwen Moore to discuss the federal government's work to protect and expand access to healthcare, hearing from medical students and residents about their and their patients' experiences.

These two states share a long border but have diverged dramatically in a post-Roe world. Minnesota leaders are taking action to protect access to abortion, while Wisconsin has allowed for government interference in deeply personal medical decisions. As a result, women are suffering in the state.

We know that women continue to face impossible choices. So, as long as the need for action continues, our work will continue. HHS will continue to do all we can to protect and expand access to reproductive healthcare, period. And we are very grateful for the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Melanie. Now we'll turn to [senior administration official].


So, as [senior administration official] said, on the day that we will commemorate what would have been the 50th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Vice President Kamala Harris will deliver remarks in Florida.

The Vice President's speech will headline the administration's engagement during the weekend.

During the remarks, the Vice President will highlight the administration's continued fight on -- focus on the fight for reproductive rights at the state level.

Florida, the third most populous state in the country, is a prime example that the forefront of the fight remains in the states and is an unfortunate illustration of the stakes of this moment.

Just last year, Florida -- in Florida, Republican officials passed an abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest, and threatens to imprison healthcare providers for doing their job.

In her remarks, the Vice President will make the case for national legislation to protect reproductive rights, and she will draw a contrast between the Republicans' extreme approach to reproductive health and that of the Biden-Harris administration.

The Vice President will point out the detrimental impact of Dobbs on the health of women.

And finally, and most importantly, the Vice President will highlight that the issue of reproductive rights is one of free- -- about freedom and liberty, and she will call on Americans to join the administration in the fight and thank advocates for their tireless work.

Taking a step back: Vice President Kamala Harris has fought for the health, safety, and wellbeing of women throughout her career.

After the opinion in Dobbs leaked, the Vice President began bringing together leaders from across the nation who are on the frontlines fighting for -- to protect reproductive healthcare and abortion access.

From June through November of 2022, she hosted leaders from 38 states across 40 different convenings on attacks on reproductive freedom.

This includes groups such as healthcare providers, constitutional law and privacy experts, faith leaders, disability rights leaders, civil rights leaders, higher education leaders, students, advocates, state attorneys general, and other state leaders.

As she traveled the country, the Vice President convened nearly 200 state legislators from 18 states to discuss the fight at the state level.

The Vice President's speech will signify continued engagement from the administration in the fight to protect reproductive rights.

MODERATOR: Thank you to our three speakers. Now we will move to Q&A. And as a reminder, this call is on background from senior administration officials. In addition to [senior administration official], [senior administration official], and [senior administration official], [senior administration official] will be on hand to answer questions.

If you have a question, please use the "Raise Hand" function.

We'll give it a minute for the questions to cue.

Our first question, we'll go to Deepa Shivaram. Deepa, your line should be unmuted.

Q: Hey, guys. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask if you could elaborate a little bit more specifically on why you all picked Tallahassee for where this speech will be given and if there's a particular message that the Vice President is trying to send to the state's leadership, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, we haven't -- we haven't confirmed the location for the speech yet, but -- beyond Florida. But as I pointed out in my opening remarks, Florida is a place where that is at the forefront of the fight against these efforts to further restrict reproductive freedom. They recently enacted a ban, again, without exceptions. They have threatened to go after providers for simply doing their jobs.

Just recently, elected state officials announced efforts to put up barriers for access to an FDA-approved abortion drug that has been used for more than two decades in this country.

Also, just stepping back, this -- the Vice President, as I also went through my speech, has traveled the country on this issue. Florida was actually one of the first states she went to visit last year, but she's been to red states, blue states, purple states, Indiana, Texas, California, and Michigan, and will continue to travel the country to bring home the message just how important this issue is and what it means for women and really for all Americans in terms of limitations on their freedom and ability to access care -- healthcare.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And this is [senior administration official]. I would just also add that, you know, Florida is the third most populous state. And even with the restrictions that [senior administration official] rightly pointed out in place, Florida is a place that allows greater access to care than many of its neighbors. And so for many women across the south, they travel to Florida to access safe and legal abortion care for up to, now, 15 weeks of pregnancy.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Katie Rogers. Katie, your line should be unmuted.

Q: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I think the -- my initial one was already covered. But, I guess, can you just, like, put into words what you would like to see happen after a speech like this? I mean, the votes are not there to codify Roe. The President is limited in what he can do through executive action. I mean, what is the -- I -- you just continue to spur grassroots support? I mean, I guess, what do you want to see out of this?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry. Took a minute there to unmute.

I mean, you know, we were -- we really have a three-pronged strategy in mind. The first is that we will continue, as an administration, to do whatever we can by executive action.

And you know, very recently, you heard -- you saw the FDA take significant action to expand access to medication abortion. [Senior administration official] also ran through a number of extremely important steps that HHS has taken.

Second of all, you know, the action is in the states. And so that's why the Vice President is going to Florida, as we just talked about, a really important state to drive the contrast with Republicans who, at the state level, at the local level, are trying to do -- to restrict rights and the ability for women and people to access their right to choose and, you know, where there is already an impact of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

You know, we see real health impacts that women are facing around the country, and so we want to continue to make it clear that we will support states that are doing or taking actions to protect access to abortion and to contraception, for that matter, and other reproductive health services and to fight against these really restrictive, extreme bans that we're seeing.

And then, third, to your point, yes, we are going to continue, despite at the federal level -- as the President made clear from the -- you know, minutes after the Dobbs decision came down -- this was unprecedented; the Supreme Court has never taken away a constitutional right. And that's what they did.

And the only way to address that is to pass national legislation restoring the protection and codifying Roe, and so we will continue to fight to do that.

And, you know, the people really spoke in the last election to make clear, you know, that they think Roe was rightly decided. They don't want a national ban. They do want national protection. And so, yes, we will continue to take up that mantle and fight for it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just to add to that, I think we also saw in 2022 that there's -- that going to the states and having this conversation can lead to success. We saw a referenda across the country that would have further limited people's reproductive rights being rejected, and referenda that did the opposite -- embraced. Look, for example, at Kansas. This -- you know, bringing -- bringing the case around this issue to people can have a positive impact.

MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Sarah Owermohle. Sarah, your line should be unmuted.

Q: Sorry, can you hear me now?

MODERATOR: Yes, we can.

Q: I wanted to ask -- you mentioned the threats to mifepristone access in different states. Has the federal government considered filing a lawsuit in one of the states that has banned abortion under 10 weeks, considering FDA authority is generally assumed and FDA has approved it for 10 weeks? And if you haven't considered that, why not?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, this is [senior administration official]. I'd have to refer that question to DOJ to make a decision about enforcement actions.

MODERATOR: The final question will go to Kirby Wilson. Kirby, your line should be unmuted.

Q: Hi there. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering to what extent the Biden administration is considering using its pardon powers for any doctors or potentially women who are prosecuted under these state laws that have abortion bans. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't have anything to say on that question right now. And as you noted, this is really an issue that's come up in states.

MODERATOR: And we have time for one more question. We're going to go to Catherine Lucey. Catherine, your line should be unmuted.

Q: Hi, can you hear me okay?


Q: Great. I was just wondering if we can get any more detail on what President Biden will be doing this weekend? I think you mentioned a proclamation. Will he be issuing a statement or doing any remarks of his own? What should we expect to hear from him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi, yeah, in addition to the Vice President's speech, the President will be issuing a statement. He will also be issuing a proclamation.

As you've heard, HHS will be releasing a report, which I think will be shortly available to you, on additional administration actions to safeguard reproductive rights. Also, I will highlight that, on Friday, we are meeting with a number of state legislators, convening them from key states where reproductive freedom could be under attack in this legislative session.

Secretary Becerra, as you've heard, will be traveling to Minnesota and Wisconsin to contrast the effects of expanding and then curtailing women's reproductive rights and to meet with those on the frontlines.

And, finally, I should have said that, you know, the report that HHS is issuing is in direct response to the two executive orders that I referenced earlier that the President issued in the weeks after the Dobbs decision came down. So, you know, and the Reproductive Health and Rights Task Force continues to meet to both get reports in about what the whole-of-government approach is doing, but also to continue to ensure that we are taking whatever action we can on the federal level.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you to our speakers, and thank you all for joining. We will follow up with information after this call to those of you who RSVP'd. And just a reminder, this call was on background, attributable to "senior administration officials." Thanks so much. Have a great night.

END 5:30 P.M. EST

Kamala Harris, Background Press Briefing: Biden-Harris Administration Commemorates 50 Years since Roe v. Wade Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/359411

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