Remarks by the Vice President in a Conversation on Reproductive Rights in Albuquerque, New Mexico
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It is so good to be here, and hello to everyone. Hello. It's good to be with you. You got a packed house. (Applause.)
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: All right, we're going to get right started, because this is the best part of this conversation. Not lost on anyone here, Madam Vice President. This is a critical moment in our nation's history --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: -- and in the lives of women and their families. And you've been such an incredible champion. Would you talk to us a little bit about how, frankly, that comes so naturally to you, and the important impact you're having across the country?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. And I just want to first thank you, Governor.
I have known your governor for years. I have seen her when the cameras are on and when the cameras are off. And she is always fighting for the people of New Mexico -- always. (Applause.) Always. An extraordinary leader. So it is my honor and joy to be on the stage with you.
Dr. Espey, thank you for your work and all that you have been doing throughout your career. Again, it is an honor to be with you.
So I have been thinking about these issues probably since I could walk and talk, and I'll tell you why. I was raised by a mother who had two goals in her life: to raise her two daughters -- me and my sister Maya -- and to end breast cancer.
My mother was a breast cancer researcher. She was one of the very few women of color -- I mean women, period, and women of color.
And so, at the youngest stage of my life, I remember my mother sometimes in battle and becoming so upset about the need to fight for the dignity of women in the healthcare system, to fight for women's access to information and to respect.
She was always attuned to the disparities based on a woman's status, based on her income, or her race or ethnicity. And so, at the earliest stages of my life, it was an issue that I knew was a big issue and one that required a lot of work still.
Not to mention, you know, I grew up in a household where the term "mammary gland" was used all the time. (Laughter.) To any of the scientists here, you'll know what that means. You know, "hormones, hormones," it was always -- that was part of the conversation at the dinner table.
And, you know, and then when we look at where we are, where the highest court in our land -- think about this -- the highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, just took a constitutional right, that had been recognized, from the people of America, from the women of America.
And, you know, on this subject, here's the thing: One does not have to give up their faith or deeply held beliefs -- one does not have to abandon one's faith or deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be making this decision for her. (Applause.)
But what we are seeing around the country are these laws that are being proposed and passed that would criminalize -- criminalize -- healthcare providers, doctors, nurses, healthcare for- -- providers literally with provisions for jail sentences. Think about that.
Laws that are being proposed that would punish women who dare to exercise self-determination and make decisions about what they know to be in their best self-interest. Because apparently there are some -- I call them extremist so-called leaders -- who have decided they're in a better position than she has to make decisions about what's in her best interest. How dare they. (Applause.) How dare they.
So this is where we are. But, fundamentally, I do think that this issue has so much to do with very important principles that include the importance of dignity and respecting the dignity that each person has and is entitled to be respected.
I think that we need to take back the flag on this issue. This is about freedom and liberty -- (applause) -- fundamental principles upon which our country was founded that are being attacked right now.
So there's a lot at stake on this issue.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: There is. And I know that this is happening. I'd just love for you to share with us some of those stories. But I'm hearing about women who are having been denied access. I know that Dr. Espey might talk about that a bit.
As you've been traveling all across the country -- and of course, including all of us -- talk to us a little bit about women and their families and what they're saying to you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, people are really fearful about where we are. You know, I've been -- and I know you mentioned this -- I've been traveling the country, convening -- among many others -- state legislators in so-called red states and blue states and talking with them about what they may or may not be able to do.
And, again, I want to recognize your leadership and the leadership here in New Mexico. You are -- this is a safe haven for the surrounding states -- you know, Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma -- what you're doing, as a sanctuary or a safe place for them.
But people are scared. And, I mean, think about this: Among the laws that are being proposed and passed include laws that make no exception for rape or incest. Now, again, you asked earlier why and how I come at this. I spent a majority of my career as a prosecutor and the majority of that time focused on crimes against women and children. I specialized in child sexual assault cases.
The idea, again, that a so-called leader would pass a law that would prohibit someone who has survived such an extreme act of violence and violation, and a violation of the -- the autonomy of her body, and then to pass a law saying, in addition, you cannot make choices about your body -- it's immoral. It's immoral. And so -- or they're passing laws that say, "Well, there will be an exception if you report it to the police." That's her decision whether she reports it to the police, not their decision. (Applause.)
It really is outrageous. And so people are scared. There's a huge amount of confusion. In fact, I brought props, so -- (laughter) -- I only have two.
Okay. Here's a map of the United States. And each color represents a different state with a different set of laws. And so -- I don't have the list in front of me, but what you'll know is that some of these are state- -- some of the colors are the states where there is no exception for rape or incest. Some there is an exception only if you report it to the police. Some is I think there's a, like, the various week bans and up to 22. Some bans start at fertilization, right?
This is a map of the United States right now in terms of the different laws that are at play. Confusion. And the thing we know about an environment where there's confusion is that it is ripe, then, for misinformation and disinformation and predatory behaviors. Right? (Applause.)
And so part of the challenge here is not only to focus on how we can change this through the various ways that will be about litigation, but, frankly, have to be about legislation, which means elections. But there's also the work that we have to do right now, and I know this is an auditorium full of leaders, to use your social networks, to use your bully pulpit, to use the standing that you have among your friends and your community to keep and constantly focusing and iterating and reiterating the facts, because there's so much misinformation out there and confusion.
And the other issue that is present here is the judgment that is coming along with this. Like that -- that's thick on this issue. Let's be clear about that. And it's an age-old issue, which is judgment that is attached to the issue of women's sexuality. Like, let's be clear about that.
And so, on top of everything else, the confusion, what is the state of the law, the panic and the concern, "I can't, in my own state, have access. And I'm working two jobs. And I don't have paid sick leave. And I have two children. And how am I going to afford plane, train, or bus to get where I need to go and childcare for the kids and losing those days of work, which means, can I pay rent?" And all of those layers and on top of it also judgment that is very much a part of the -- this -- this environment.
So these are all the things that we're dealing with. And, again, this is why it is so important that we all speak out and let folks know they are not alone and remind people they're not alone. Because that is the thing that can really most harm someone, is if they feel they're alone and there is no one there who sees them, hears them, and cares about them and is willing to help them.
But therein lies the power of the people to use our collective voices and our individual voices to remind people they are not alone. (Applause.)
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: We know you've heard from healthcare providers who've been protested, harassed, intimidated. And we certainly have experienced that here in New Mexico for those of us who provide comprehensive reproductive care.
We are really fortunate to be in a state that's supportive and a university that's supportive, and a great coalition led by our reproductive justice organizations. We want to continue to provide that care, but everybody is concerned about the chilling effects of Dobbs. So, what are you hearing from providers? And what can be done to protect us?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: First of all, thank you. You know, I think about our healthcare providers as a general matter and what you all have been through in just the last two years and the toll it has taken.
I think there's a very particular kind of person that answers a calling to care for others in such an important way -- perfect strangers.
And so, on top of that, now this has happened. And so, not only are we dealing with providers already feeling exhausted and underpaid, but now we have this situation. And so, what I'm hearing is a number of things. I'm hearing, again, fear because of the threats and the acts of harassment. I'm hearing stories about, you know, the number of protesters outside of a healthcare provider -- a reproductive healthcare provider. It might be double the number of people who are trying to get in and what that means in terms of intimidation of everyone.
And I'm also hearing, I must tell you, an extraordinary amount of strength. I think moments like this -- moments of struggle reveal the heroes among us. And what I'm hearing are people like you who are just determined to dig in your heels and stand up for people who need your help, in spite of the toll it is taking on you personally.
And in terms of what we can do, one of the things that we've been doing through our administration is, for example, through the Department of Health and Human Services, sending out information and informing, for example, pharmacies, that they cannot discriminate against people who are going to get their medication because of their own idea about what -- what and who should get what kind of medication; sending edicts out to hospitals about what they have a legal requirement to do in terms of providing emergency medical care -- EMTALA.
The Department of Justice is -- has created a task force and it is doing extraordinary work to work with local communities and to receive information from local communities about where there have been threats, for example, and a violation of the law. So, where there is a -- room and appropriate for litigation, they will do that.
There's also a hotline, which I'll get to you and any of the healthcare providers that are here, around reporting threats, so that we can track those. So, this is the kind of work that is happening.
And then, there are states -- for example, I know this governor -- your governor and a few other states have been looking at what can be done to lend resources to providers. Because in a state like New Mexico, you're now taking on the responsibility of loving thy neighbor and looking out for folks who are fleeing their own state because they need help and you are providing it. So, again, I say thank you. (Applause.)
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: I moved us a little quickly -- just making sure that we have as much time with you as possible. So what I'm going to do is highlight something about Dr. Espey, and then have Dr. Espey ask the fifth question.
And that is: Because of her faculty work, the opportunity for rural states like New Mexico to get providers into rural areas has everything to do with your support of these academic institutions and their ability to do residency programs.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: And what I'm just going to do is -- it's a total, you know, personal privilege. That is incredible work by this administration. I can tell you unequivocally it would not happen in any other administration, and I just want to thank you directly for that. (Applause.)
And also, Dr. Espey, who's going to be traveling more all across the state with your medical residents, so thank you very much.
DR. ESPEY: Thank you, Governor. All right. Switching gear just a little bit. Maternal health is a critical part of the overall spectrum of reproductive health. And we know we have a maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. that disproportionately affects Black women, Native women, rural women. (Applause.)
I do want to salute Governor Lujan Grisham for extending Medicaid to 12 months postpartum. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. You answered the call.
DR. ESPEY: And also, thank you, Madam Vice President, for the federal grants that come from -- from the federal government to fund the state level efforts that really try to combat the maternal harm and death.
So what other strategies is the administration using to address this issue?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, this is an issue I've long worked on. In the Senate, I actually proposed a bill to deal with part of the issue, which is, as you have stated, in America today, Black women are three times more likely to die in connection with childbirth. Native women, twice as likely. Rural women, one and a half times likely.
On the issue of Black women and Native women, it often has nothing to do with her socioeconomic or educational level. It literally has to do with the fact that when she walks into that doctor's office or that clinic or emergency room, she's not taken as seriously. (Applause.)
And so, when I was in the Senate dealing with this, one of the proposals -- and that is still part of our agenda now in the White House -- is to address one piece of this, which is the racial bias piece of it, by requiring training of healthcare providers on the issue of racial bias. And one of the pieces that I, in particular, put in was that some of the best trainers on this are doulas -- (applause) -- and to have doulas because they know -- they're the best. And they're --
Actually, it's interesting. On this issue, I've also been working with our Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, because -- on the subject of doulas, so let's pay them their value and give them their benefits -- (applause) -- and recognize what still we have to do around the hierarchy of perception about who does what within the healthcare delivery system. Right? So there's that piece.
There is the piece of what we have been able to do that I'm particularly proud of, which is to bring this issue, literally to the stage of the White House. I convened a group of leaders on this issue at the White House to elevate it. Because sadly, it is not a new issue in our country, but we are giving it more attention -- giving it more attention and recognizing that part of the issue here is the unique stressors that certain women experience.
For example, let's deal with the fact that poverty is trauma inducing. (Applause.) So, if we are thinking about the unique stressors that can have an impact on the wellbeing during pregnancy, before birth, and after birth, that is one of the issues.
One of the issues is access to transportation, access to housing --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: -- consistent and permanent housing. Right? Nutrition. All of these things.
And so, if we are to really commit as a community and a society to this issue, which we must, then we have to address all these issues, including -- and I'm so --
Again, this is why who your governor is matters. Because one of the areas where we focused on was -- in studying it -- looking at the fact that Medicaid is only covering two months postpartum. She literally just gave birth to a human being. (Laughter.) And so, we're now saying to the states -- but it's a matter of who the governor is -- you can extend it to 12 months. And this is what you've done. (Applause.)
Yeah. It matters. It matters. But this is a real issue, and I know it's an issue here in New Mexico. It's an issue around the country.
I have someone very close to me who, just last month, lost a family member who died during childbirth, and the baby died. We're in the year of our Lord, 2022. So, it's a very real issue, and I would challenge the hypocrisy of some -- (applause) -- who say they care about life but then ignore issues like this. (Applause.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you, Kamala! (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Hi, baby. Awww.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: And our future generation, which goes right to your next question.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: This question comes from an audience member, Erin Armstrong, who I'd like to just give a quick shoutout to. (Applause.) She's --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Where is Erin?
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: She's an amazing lawyer who's been instrumental in our state in keeping us, providers and advocates, focused on preservation and expansion of reproductive rights. And her -- and reproductive justice.
And her question has to do with training -- with providers and training. How do we -- how do we support current providers and how do we ensure that there is a pipeline? That's a super important mission for us at the University of New Mexico, but we're really worried about that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. It's a -- it's a very big issue. I am -- among the groups that I've been convening, and it has ranged from leaders and disability advocacy and what we need to do for our community around that -- which, by the way, in terms of that community, in particular, the impact of this issue of Dobbs is profound and must be addressed as a very specific subset of the various populations that are impacted.
But in addition to that, I've convened faith leaders and students and, among them, university presidents. And -- because I was curious about how are they thinking about it, what is the plan. Because among the many sectors that will have 18-through-24-year-olds, which are the age range that is most affected by this issue, it is universities and colleges and community colleges.
And this is one of the issues that they raised, which is that those that have a medical school or teach premed, they're very concerned that if they are in a state that is outlawing and banning abortion, what that will mean in terms of their ability to teach their students how to provide care, and what that will mean in the short -- much less long term -- in terms of the care that is then available, as needed.
And so, this is an issue where, again, we're looking at what universities can do to -- you know, especially those that that have the endowment and have the ability to put resources into perhaps taking exchange students. There are so many who are who are just volunteering professors to go to different states and do what is necessary.
You know, I didn't mention one of the things that the Department of Justice has been doing -- the U.S. Department of Justice and their task force -- is convening pro bono legal services, free legal services. Because in the midst of the confusion, in the midst of all these laws, we want to make sure that those who decide to take that kind of bold action -- like healthcare providers -- to leave a state in which it is legal and go to a state in which it has been banned, but to help -- to make sure that they have legal protections or at least a legal advocate for what might be their liability. (Applause.) Yeah, because it's not without risk.
But, again, guys, think about this. So here we are in 2022 talking about, "Let's have a bunch of lawyers available for doctors and nurses and healthcare providers who leave one state and go to another state to provide healthcare." Think about this.
You know, as Vice President, I have now met with -- my team has told me -- I've now met with 100 world leaders, in person or by phone -- presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, kings. Here's the thing: When we walk into those rooms representing the United States of America, we can -- historically and traditionally -- walk in those rooms, chin up, shoulders back, talking about the importance of democracies, the importance of rule of law, human rights, civil rights. And in that way, we have held ourselves out to be and have been treated as a role model, representing the greatest democracy, flawed though it may be, in the world.
But the thing -- because I know who's in this audience -- about being a role model that we all know is: When you're a role model, people watch what you do to see if it matches what you say. And people around the world are watching what is happening to our country right now.
In fact, as Vice President, I've been also receiving people at the place where I now live. And one of the first people -- you'll appreciate this -- early on in the first -- in the first year was then-Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who, by the way, you know, the press just -- you know, if they're strong and smart, and a woman, they just -- you know, this woman is funny and she's warm and she's lovely, right? (Applause.)
And so, I am having this great conversation with her. And we're talking about Russia, we're talking about China, we're talking about all these things. And then she leans over to me and she says, "What's going on in your country with voting?"
Because, you see, when you hold yourself out, as we do, people around the world watch what we're doing and they watch the details of it. And my fear on this issue and others -- my fear on this issue is that dictators, autocrats around the world will then say to their people who are fighting for rights, "You want to hold out America as the example? Well, look at what they just did. You be quiet."
And so, I highlight the significance of this moment and the impact, which is not only how it directly affects the people of our nation but very likely is impacting people around the world.
That's what's at stake. That's what's at stake.
But -- but I do want to add one more thing before we end -- (laughter) -- okay, but I --
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: You are in charge.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Because I -- (laughter) -- I told you I brought props, and I -- I want to show you my second one, okay? Because I know you were following along; I told you I had two.
Okay. So, let me tell you, I love Venn diagrams. (Laughter.) I love Venn diagrams -- you know, the three circles.
DR. ESPEY: (Laughs.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I love Venn di- -- you're just cracking up, right?
So I asked my team: Tell me from which states are we seeing attacks on reproductive healthcare, attacks on voting rights, and attacks on LGBTQ+ rights.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Georgia. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Right. Texas, Georgia, Flor- --
(The Vice President holds up a Venn diagram.)
Okay, so there you go. Okay?
So, you are not surprised to know that there is an overlap. But here's what that Venn diagram also tells us: great, great, great reminder of the power of coalition building. Bringing together, under one roof, all the folks who've been fighting forever for reproductive health and maternal health, fighting forever on voting rights, fighting forever on LGBTQ rights. Bringing everyone together.
Because this is a movement. And on the issue of choice, this is about a movement that started generations before and culminated in Roe v. Wade that we are now, because we're sitting here at this moment together, charged with picking up. We are charged with picking up that movement.
And, you know, my parents met when they were students fighting for civil rights back in the day. And one of the things that we all remember about all the greatest movements that have been about the expansion of rights in our country, one of the greatest ingredients of those movements has been the coalition building. So, let's rededicate ourselves to that and see the strength that we have in community and community building and organizing. (Applause.)
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: On that note, as we close up -- we're out of time -- I'd like to do a shoutout -- she's here in the audience -- Krystah Pacheco -- (applause) -- who's the Vice President of the Associated Students of the University -- asked that question, right? "What's the call to action here?"
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: Build a coalition. Be clear about our purpose here. Be clear about this moment in time.
And my pitch to you is take those words of the Vice President directly to heart. Don't let a second go by without fighting to protect women and their families, and do exactly as she said -- build coalitions everywhere and make them matter. (Applause.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's right. That's right. That's right.
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: All right, are we going to do what the Vice President says?
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: Awesome. And I don't know if you had any closing remarks. I'm under very strict orders. And I see --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They'll be fine. (Laughs.)
GOVERNOR LUJAN GRISHAM: -- two big zeros staring at me. So I'm going to ask you to close us up and to thank you for giving us more time. And we're grateful to you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's my joy and pleasure and honor.
I guess my last point would be this: It is two points. One, elections matter. This is not a political event, but elections matter. That's a fact. (Applause.)
Second point I'll make is this: Democracy -- right? And so, we've talked about the importance of rule of law, human rights, which very much this is at the center of -- freedom, liberty.
The nature of democracies, from my perspective, is there's a duality to it. On the one hand, when a democracy is intact, it's extremely strong in terms of what it does to protect and defend individual rights and freedoms and -- and to perpetuate and strive for equality and justice -- right? -- when a democracy is intact. Strength -- what it does to empower the people.
It is also extremely fragile. It will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it. (Applause.) It's the nature of it. It will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it. And so that's where we are right now.
Coretta Scott King -- I'll paraphrase her; I say it all the time. If you -- any of you've heard me speak, you'll say, "There she goes again." (Laughter.)
Coretta Scott King famously said the fight for civil rights -- which is the fight for justice, which is the fight for equality, which is the fight for freedom -- the fight for civil rights must be fought and won with each generation. (Applause.)
Two points there. One, it is the nature of it all that whatever gains we make, they will not be permanent. It's the nature of it. So, the second point then is, do not despair. Do not throw up your hands when it's time to roll up our sleeves. It's the nature of it. And we are up for it. And when we fight, we win. (Applause.)
So, there you go. That's it. (Laughs.) (Applause.)
Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President in a Conversation on Reproductive Rights in Albuquerque, New Mexico Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358528