Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President in a Moderated Conversation with Sophia Bush on the National “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” Tour in San Jose, California

January 29, 2024

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. (Applause.) Hi, San Jose!

MS. BUSH: I mean, how cool is this? (Laughter.)

Before we get into serious business, I just personally want to extend a thank you. We did this for the first time — having a conversation like this one — two years ago —


MS. BUSH: — on a college campus across the country.


MS. BUSH: And day in and day out, while you are in the position to hold the issues of the world, you keep our rights a top issue in the administration and in the White House. And on behalf of all women and potentially pregnant people everywhere, I just want to thank you.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. BUSH: Okay. So, we are in a moment as a nation, and I'm curious, from your vantage point, how you see it and — and why you have decided to lead this "Fight for Reproductive Freedoms" tour.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, first of all, it's great to be with you, Sophia. And thank you for sharing the stage and — and for using your voice in such an important way.

And I want to thank the senators who are here. I know that we had Senator Padilla, Butler — who are here. They are doing extraordinary work along with the Secretary, Xavier Becerra, and so many others. And so, I want to just acknowledge them in front of all of the friends. (Applause.)

As well as my husband, the first Second Gentleman of the United States. (Laughs.) (Applause.)

So, here we are, January of 2024, where, just over a year ago, the highest court in our land, the Court of Thurgood and RBG, took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America, from the women of America. And thereafter, in state after state, we have seen extremist so-called leaders propose and pass laws that would criminalize healthcare providers, some of them literally legislating prison for life; punishing women; making no exception even for rape or incest.

You know, I will tell you —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Madam Vice President, we demand a ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! There is no reproductive justice without a ceasefire now! (Inaudible.)


THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yeah, let — let me say, in a — in a — in a real democracy, everyone has a right to have their voice heard. (Applause.) Everyone has a right to have their voice heard.

And I will say, we all want this conflict to end as soon as possible. (Applause.) And the President and I are working on that every single day. So — (applause).


THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, back to what we were discussing — back to what we're discussing. We are looking at a situation —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ceasefire now!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We're looking at a situation in our country —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ceasefire now (inaudible).

THE VICE PRESIDENT: — where there are people who are literally suffering, many — most, silently suffering because of what has been proposed and/or passed in states across our country.

Part of why I'm doing this tour is because I think that more people — not the people here, but more people who may not be here and are not as attuned to what's happening in real time — must understand — you know, for years, so many of us, we were in marches; we've talked; we have fought — let's keep Roe alive. We have to protect Roe, and we all did. Most of us, for our entire adult lives, it was intact. We knew it was prescion [sic], and we need to defend it — we knew it was precious. But we kind of thought it would always be there.

And now we have seen that it has been taken. And all over our country — Dr. Gupta started to talk about that — the number of people who are suffering — we're all grown in here, so I'm going to just speak fact because fact must be told: Women are having miscarriages in toilets in our country. I've met women who were in the midst of a miscarriage —


THE VICE PRESIDENT: — who were — went to an emergency room —


THE VICE PRESIDENT: — went to an emergency room to seek healthcare and were rejected by the healthcare professionals there who were afraid they would be jailed for providing women in distress healthcare.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I met a woman —


THE VICE PRESIDENT: I met a woman who literally developed sepsis. And it was not until she developed sepsis that she received the healthcare that she needed.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You are complacent (inaudible). Ceasefire now!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have a lot of very important issues that we all must discuss, but the topic for this discussion is what we need to do to fight back against laws that are criminalizing healthcare providers and making women suffer in our country. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, we are going to win this election. (Applause.) Yes, we will.

So, there are a lot of big issues impacting our world right now which evoke, rightly, very, very strong emotions and fears and anger and tears and concerns.

The topic for today here is the topic of what has happened in our country after the Dobbs decision, which took away the right of people to make decisions about their own body and has resulted in extreme harm. And so, I'm going to get back to the issue, because it's an important one, and we should not be distracted from any important issue.

So, what we're talking about — (applause) — what we're looking at in these — in these states, for example, that have made no exception even for rape or incest — now, many of you, this is my — I grew up in California, in the Bay Area. Many of you know my career, so you know that I started my career as a prosecutor. What you may not know is one of the biggest reasons why.

When I was in high school, one of my closest friends, one of my best friends, I learned, was being molested by her stepfather. And when I learned, I said to her, "You have to come and stay with us." I called my mother, and my mother said, "Of course she does." And she came to stay with us.

And I decided at a very early age I wanted to do everything I could to protect women and children from harm. And I specialized, for a long time in my career as a prosecutor, including when I was working as AG, on crimes affecting women and children.

"No exception even for rape or incest." Let's understand what that means. It means that these so-called leaders are saying to a survivor of a crime of violence to their body, a violation to their body, that they don't have the right to make a decision about what happens to their body next. That's immoral.

This is what's happening around our country.

So, when we talk about the layers of harm — be it harm to our democracy, harm to our Constitution, harm to our freedoms and our rights — and we then understand the real harm that also exists every day for individuals who are being denied the healthcare they need, it's extraordinary.

And for that reason, I know we all are approaching this with a sense, yes, of — of empathy and understanding but also profound commitment, with a sense of urgency, to do something about it to end the pain and the suffering that is happening right now in real time in our country.

And so, that's the issue as much as anything. And the way that we are going to ultimately deal with this is to, one, have some consensus — which I do believe exists — which is that one does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be telling her what to do with her body. (Applause.)

If she chooses — if she chooses, she will consult with her pastor, her priest, her rabbi, her imam, but not the government telling her what to do.

And so, we need, this November, to elect a majority of people in the United States Congress who simply agree it's not the government's right to tell a woman what's in her own best interest when she knows what's in her own best interest and doesn't need some person walking around with a flag pin to tell her what to do. (Applause.)

And Joe Biden has been very clear: When Congress puts back in place the rights that the Court took away, he will sign it into law. He will sign into law the protections of Roe v. Wade. (Applause.)

So, that's part of the task in front of us right now.

MS. BUSH: I don't think it's lost on any of us in this moment — here or in the world — given the conversation we're all having, that, as you said earlier, when extremism comes home to roost —


MS. BUSH: — whether it's here in America or around the world, it's women and girls who suffer worst. And it can feel overwhelming to try to hold all of these issues.

I know for me, as a citizen, I look to you. And I — I can't imagine the pressure you feel with all of us looking to you, going, "Tell us what to do."

But one of the things that you often encourage us to do when we feel helpless in the face of global suffering and of the suffering of women and girls and at-risk people is to get involved locally.


MS. BUSH: That's why you're here on —


MS. BUSH: — a local tour with us —


MS. BUSH: — talking about this issue, while you, daily, hold all the rest of them.

And I'm curious, for those of us who, you know, don't get the binders and the briefings: What should we be doing in our states? And what can we encourage our states to do? And what can states do across the nation to fight back and protect our reproductive freedoms?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That's great. So, I'll start with this.

Part of the environment in which this issue exists is an environment that is heavily laden with judgment, suggesting to these individuals, suggesting to these women that they've done something wrong and something they should be embarrassed about. And — and understand, then, the layers that come along with that that include making her feel as though she's alone.

And, as we know, one of the things that can be most disempowering is when people feel they're alone; when they feel they don't have community, much less support; when they feel they're being judged and outcast, as opposed to embraced.

And so, this is the power of each of us as individuals in a community, in a society, on every level, including this one, which is to think about how you use the way that you talk with people, be it — you know, Mom, Peg, I see you here. My mother-in-law is here. (Laughter.) That's going to be by the telephone — (laughs) — or text or social media.

But the ways that we can talk with people — friends and strangers — about the issue to remind them about what's at stake and — and the harm that is happening every day.

I have seen — as I am traveling the country on this issue, I've seen the power of that communication. I have met with people who started — especially before the Dobbs decision came down — and were vehement that they were opposed to abortion and who have not abandoned their faith and their — whatever reason it is for why they feel that way and strongly about themselves and their family, but also didn't know and weren't aware of the suffering that would happen as a result and, now knowing the suffering that is happening, are reconsidering their position in terms of the policy of it all — the policy being to deny other people a decision to make that very important decision for themselves and not the government telling them.

So, the power of communication on this is very important.

I think there's also another thing that is at play on so many issues in our country, which is, if you will, I think a certain thing that is quite perverse that is being pushed by some so-called leaders, which is to suggest that the measure of the strength of a leader is based on who you beat down instead of who you lift up. Right? (Applause.)

You know, there's a — there's a thing happening that suggests that to care about people somehow is a sign of weakness, when we all know that one of the great characteristics and character of — of real leadership is the character that has some level of concern, curiosity, and compassion about the suffering of other people and then wants to do something about alleviating that suffering.

And so, I work with the belief that the mass ma- —


THE VICE PRESIDENT: — the vast majority of people in our country have that feeling.

AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, the work that needs to be done over these next 10 months includes using our voices to really help people understand how this is affecting people in real time, because there's nothing abstract about this issue. There is nothing hypothetical about it. It is — it does not require and it absolutely deserves more than some kind of intellectual political debate. It requires action to stop the harm that is happening right now. And that's about organizing.

Californians, thankfully, we have a state that has done beautiful and important work to protect rights, to put it in the Constitution. (Applause.) This is very important. But we have neighboring states, not so much. And so, think about, you know, how you travel and when you travel to do that.

But the other point that I'd make on being a Californian right now: Let's not — don't get too comfortable with that, because if these folks have their way — and they've already articulated it's part of their agenda — they'll get a national ban. So, let's understand, none of us can afford to sit back and say, "Thank God we're in California."

MS. BUSH: Right.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Because, as we know, they go for — they go for — they — and then they come for you. Right? And so, let's keep that in mind as well.

And we just got to hustle over these next 10 — 10 months. You know, Doug and I have been very clear. We came home for the holiday, and it was very funny. I — a lot of friends here, so I'll just share with you a little personal story. We slept. (Laughs.) I mean, we were just tired. We slept. (Laughter.) Doug looked at me, and he was like, "Honey, I think we're defrosting." Right? (Laughter.)

And I cooked, which is my happy place — and family. But all knowing that, starting in January, got to hit the road. This year, already in the last two and a half weeks — I'm looking at Xavier — I've been North Carolina, South Carolina twice, Nevada twice, Georgia, Wisconsin, New York, California — in the first two and a half weeks. (Applause.) So — and Alex Padilla has been there, Laphonza Butler.

So, we got a lot of ground to cover — all of us. And — and we can make a difference on this issue for people that, by the way, for the most part, we may never meet; for people who, for the most part, will never know any of our names but whose lives will forever be impacted because of the work that we do in organizing and using our voices at this moment. (Applause.)

MS. BUSH: When — when we hold these two things to be true at the same time, the fact that we — in California, we're lucky enough to enshrine our rights via Proposition 1 into our state laws, but we're looking at the risk of a national ban. We — we see the extremists on the GOP side going after mifepristone and medication abortion, which over 50 percent of pregnant people use in —


MS. BUSH: — when they are in need. We're — we're talking about the potential denial of care, even here, if — if the mail stops. And when we talk about the strain that comes into our state from our surrounding states, where our friends don't have the rights that we do here —


MS. BUSH: — at this time, we're — we're really doing the math locally, but potentially nationally for a true healthcare crisis.


MS. BUSH: This is a crisis.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You're absolutely right.

MS. BUSH: And —

THE VICE PRESIDENT: You're absolutely right.

MS. BUSH: — I'm just curious: Can you walk us through who's responsible for this? Because this was an intentional crisis.


MS. BUSH: And you've mentioned that the Supreme Court overturned Roe, but can we — can we just cover how we got to that point?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think we should.

MS. BUSH: I think we should too. (Laughter.) It feels appropriate to tell some truth.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, the former President of the United States hand-picked — hand-picked three members of the United States Supreme Court with the intention that they would undo Roe. Let's be very clear about it.

And he has been very clear that that is exactly what he intended. Just take him at his word. Take him at his word when he said recently he's "proud" of what he did.

And I asked, "Proud?" I'm looking at Christine Pelosi. I — I asked, "Proud?" Proud that doctors might go to jail for giving healthcare? Proud that women are having miscarriages without any healthcare that they need? Proud that — that fundamental freedoms have been taken from the American people?

To understand the arrogance that is associated with the taking and then what we are up against — and so, this is why we know what is before us and the fight that is before us. This is a fight that is fundamental. And it is fundamentally about freedom — freedom — the freedom to make decisions about your own body.

And understand, as we step back, there is — and I travel our country — there is afoot a full-on intent to attack hard-fought, hard-won freedoms in our country. Just look at what is happening. Look at what is happening with a "Don't Say Gay" bill. Okay?

So, now, let me — I will remind my fellow Californians: In 2004 — actually, Valentine's weekend 2004 — so, it'll be 20 years — I was proud to be one of the first elected officials in the country to perform same-sex marriages — (applause) — almost 20 years ago.

A "Don't Say Gay" bill — so, imagine this. So, 20 years ago — so, this means that some young teacher in Florida is afraid to put up a photograph of themselves and their partner for fear they may be fired. For doing what? For doing the God's gift to all of us to avow themselves to teach other people's children? As it is, they don't get paid enough.

In 2024, we're looking at attacks on the LGBTQ community.

In 2024, we're looking at attacks on the freedom to vote and access to the ballot. I was just in Georgia. You know, they passed a law in Georgia to make it illegal to give people food and water while they stand in line to vote. What happened to "love thy neighbor"? I mean, the hypocrisy abounds.

The kinds of freedoms that are under attack in America right now, and — and I would offer — you know, I asked my team to create a Venn diagram for me. I love Venn diagrams. (Laughter.) And, you know, whenever you're kind of looking at something complex, a Venn diagram can usually help you out.

And the overlap, then — right? — between where we're seeing the attacks against voting rights, where we're seeing the attacks against LGBTQ, where they're seeing the attacks against reproductive freedom, and you would not be shocked to see the profound intersection between them.

So, this also — then, I say, as we organize and think about these next many months — is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves not only to community building but as an extension of that coalition building. Let's bring together all the folks who've been fighting for voting rights; all the folks who have been fighting for LGBTQ rights; all the folks who have been fighting for reproductive health rights, including maternal health rights and maternal mortality — (applause) — fighting against that. Right?

By the way, on that issue, Sophia, so I've also been doing a lot of work over many years on the issue of combating maternal mortality. It is — we have, as a so-called developed nation, one of the highest rates of maternal mortality of any nation in the world. It's a — it's a crying shame.

And so, again, the hypocrisy ob- — abounds. In the states with the top 10 worst numbers on maternal mortality, all have bans. I say to these so-called extremist leaders, "Okay. So, you say that your work to — to ban abortion — ban access to reproductive healthcare is because you are so concerned about mothers and children. Well, why you been silent on maternal mortality?" (Applause.) "Where you been?"

When I became Vice President, I issued a challenge to states: Extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum care from what is the standard 2 months to 12 months. (Applause.) When I started, 3 states were doing it; now 43 have done it. Right? (Applause.) Right?

All these issues are connected. All these issues are connected.

MS. BUSH: That gives me hope, the coalition building —


MS. BUSH: — the — the work that you all are succeeding on. And we need hope in a world that feels so heavy.

I want to know what gives you hope for the year ahead, because you're gearing up for a big fight. We know what we're up against. It can't be easy. What keeps you positive and ready for this?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: A number of things. One, this audience. I mean, and I know who's here. I know who's here. And — and each of you have so many other things you could be doing with your time, so many other obligations, and — and the individuals here have come together as a community to stand together and with each other on a very important issue that's going to require a certain level of selflessness on behalf of us all and certainly sacrifice to speak up.

What gives me hope is an understanding that if you — we all know history. There has never been any progress that has come about in our country, as far as I'm concerned, that came about without a fight. (Applause.) It requires a fight.

You know, here's how I think about democracy, as an extension of all the points we're making about fighting for freedoms. The nature of democracy — there's a duality to it. On the one hand, it's very strong. When a democracy is intact, what it does to protect and preserve individual rights and freedoms and the dignity of people, the equality of people — it's very strong, what it does for its people.

It is also very fragile. It is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it. And so, fight we will.

You know, we just, not long ago, celebrated Mar- — the birthday of Martin Luther King. And when I do — and I always do — I will always also refer to the great Coretta Scott King. (Applause.) And — because she, too, was a great freedom fighter. And Coretta Scott King — I'll paraphrase — but she famously said, and I quote it all the time, "The — the fight for civil rights" — which is the fight for freedom — right? — the fight for equality — she said, "must be fought and won with each generation."

And by that, I think she had two points. One, it is the nature of our fight for freedoms that whatever gains we make, the nature is they will not be permanent. It's just the nature of it. Therefore, understanding that, we must always be vigilant. We must understand how precarious and precious this all is and commit ourselves every day to stand for and fight for these rights and these freedoms.

And so, you know, understanding it's the nature of it, I think that there's — there's — we know what the job is ahead of us. We know —

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.) Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!

AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

THE VICE PRESIDENT: So, let us remember, there's a lot to fight for. And, look, as I like to say and we all say many times: When we fight, we win. When we fight, we win. (Applause.)

And there are a lot of folks who need to know that the people who can be in a room like this are thinking of them, because there are a lot of folks who will never be in this room, can't be in this room. And I think we all know it is our duty — not just our responsibility but that we have a duty — to stand for these most essential freedoms.

And this is an era right now where we are looking at these attacks, and we're clear-eyed about where it's coming from. And I think that when we show that we are going to stand in solidarity, at some point, folks are going to realize they can't win with this stuff.

And — and that means all of us being in it together, holding each other up, taking care of each other. In this moment, when there are people trying to divide our country and distract us from what's important, let's just hold on to each other. Look at the person next to you, if you don't know them, and just let them know we're all in this together. Okay? We're all in this together.

Thank you, all. Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. BUSH: Thank you so much.

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President in a Moderated Conversation with Sophia Bush on the National “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” Tour in San Jose, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/370696

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