Schooled: ‘Abbott Elementary’ star joins VP Harris in Montgomery County to talk abortion

Vice President Kamala Harris stopped in Elkins Park as part of her tour on reproductive health rights. She was joined by “Abbott Elementary” star Sheryl Lee Ralph.

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Kamala Harris and Sheryl Lee Ralph

Vice President Kamala Harris and "Abbott Elementary" star Sheryl Lee Ralph discuss reproductive health and abortion in Elkins Park during a Biden-Harris campaign event. (Amanda Fitzpatrick)

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Television star Sheryl Lee Ralph joined Vice President Kamala Harris for a campaign event at Salus University in Montgomery County on Wednesday to discuss reproductive health rights as an election issue — the latest stop in the VP’s Reproductive Freedom tour of the country.

The two were introduced by Montgomery County resident Karen Ploch, who first told the audience about needing IVF treatments to start a family with her husband only to learn that the fetus wasn’t developing. The doctor gave her a choice: Undergo a procedure or let the miscarriage happen naturally.

“Would I be in a public place when the bleeding starts?” she wondered. “Would I wake up in the middle of the night to blood soak sheets? Would my body be able to pass the embryo naturally without causing an infection?”

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She decided to have the procedure and, now months later, is pregnant again.

“None of this would’ve been possible without access to reproductive medicine,” she said. “The laws and barriers being put in place around our country not only put women’s lives at risk, but it also makes it even harder for women to get fertility treatment. And if Donald Trump returns to the White House, we could all lose the right to choose.”

After taking her chair on the stage, Harris called on the crowd to “again applaud Karen for her courage.”

“Because of her ability and your ability — everyone here — to understand what’s at stake and then to be here and to be engaged and be active, it’s going to make a difference for a lot of people,” she said.

Harris and Ralph have crossed paths several times in recent years. Ralph emceed a campaign event in South Carolina during Harris’ race for president in 2019. They were both guests at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala in 2022, during which Ralph was awarded the LGBTQ+ organization’s National Ally for Equality Award. Ralph also joined the vice president on a trip to Ghana last year. And Harris called Ralph to congratulate her on the Emmy win.

“What a wonderful journey we have had together,” Ralph said.

“You are an extraordinary artist and you are just a phenomenal leader,” Harris responded before both got down to the topic at hand.

In talk show style, Ralph interviewed Harris about her personal concerns over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the future of abortion access and contraception.

“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 by the people of America, from the women of America,” she said. “The former president made it very clear and then did what he intended to do, that 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.”

Harris talked about her time prosecuting crimes against women as a district attorney and as state attorney general of California, noting that several states now have total abortion bans.

“The idea that these so-called leaders would say even no exception for rape or incest, to say to a survivor of crime to their body, of violation to their body, that you the survivor of that don’t have a right to make a decision about what happens to your body next, that’s immoral,” she said.

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Ralph talked about her own high-risk pregnancy which led to the birth of her son Etienne, noting that reproductive health clinics provide a predominant share of the health care women need.

“Abortion is the very least that they do,” she said. “If you were to take Planned Parenthood away from some communities, there would be no place for the women or the men to go for health care.”

“Listen, if a man can get Viagra, I need health care too,” Ralph concluded to applause and laughter.

Abortion has become a touchstone issue in the 2024 election cycle, with the Biden-Harris campaign hammering Donald Trump for overturning Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed abortion access for nearly 50 years. Trump has argued that the decision should be left to the states while the White House has said it should be between women and their doctors rather than state politicians.

Ralph is a singer and actor who won an Emmy Award for best supporting actress in a comedy series for her role as a devoutly religious kindergarten teacher on ABC’s “Abbott Elementary.” She has been acting on stage, for television and in film since the 1970s, but “Abbott,” which takes place in a fictional Philadelphia public school and is now in its third season, made her a household name.

Her expanded fame led to an invitation to perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the Super Bowl last year. She also read an original poem at the inauguration of Mayor Cherelle Parker in January. Ralph is an outspoken pro-choice advocate and spoke at the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally in Harrisburg in 2022. She is married to Pa. State Sen. Vincent Hughes, who has campaigned on the issue.

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