Vice President Kamala Harris met with Pennsylvania lawmakers in Philadelphia on Saturday, underscoring the critical role that their state will play in deciding the fate of reproductive rights at both the state and federal levels.
After greeting Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney at the airport, Harris joined more than 40 state lawmakers and members of Congress for a roundtable discussion at the Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters building on Spring Garden Street.
The roundtable conversation began after remarks from Harris, who said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade would have dire consequences for American women and girls.
“We have heard more public recent stories about what this means to real people, real human beings. Not to mention the stories that have not been told and have yet to be told,” Harris said. A news report from earlier this month, for example, that a pregnant 10-year-old girl from Ohio sought an abortion in neighboring Indiana has drawn intense national attention.
Harris was critical of lawmakers in states around the country that have already moved quickly to restrict or ban abortion following the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“The impact of this moment and what so-called leaders are doing in states around our country is having a direct impact on so many people who should have a right to make the most intimate decision that one could make,” Harris said.
Surrounded by primarily Democratic lawmakers and abortion-rights advocates, Harris thanked them for their work in the fight to protect reproductive rights. She also emphasized the White House’s commitment to that fight.
At the national level, she said, codifying abortion rights into federal law would continue protections previously found in Roe v. Wade. Past Democratic attempts to pass federal abortion-rights legislation have been thwarted by the filibuster, which requires 60 votes in the Senate to prevent. On Friday, the House passed two bills aimed at ensuring abortion rights in a post-Roe era, which will very likely not have enough votes to pass the Senate.
“I think we all know and applaud our president saying he will not allow the filibuster to get in the way of doing what is necessary in that regard,” Harris said. “Short of that, what happens in terms of recognizing that the court has acted? Now Congress needs to act.”
Harris said Pennsylvania’s Senate race will be key in November. Adding a Democrat could move the party closer to eliminating the filibuster and passing abortion-rights legislation at the federal level. Democratic candidate John Fetterman has vowed to protect reproductive freedom, while his Republican opponent Mehmet Oz supports anti-abortion legislation.
“Of all these Senate races, we need two more,” Harris said. “Pennsylvania can help contribute to that, which will directly determine the outcome of this issue in terms of putting into law the rights of women to make decisions about their own lives. I would urge everyone to pay attention to the Senate race here in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race will be equally important for the future of reproductive rights in the state. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for Pa. governor, has rallied in defense of abortion rights following the Roe overturn, while GOP candidate Doug Mastriano has supported a complete ban on abortions, with no exceptions.
Moreover, during Saturday’s roundtable, Congresswoman Madeleine Dean said a state House majority in a currently GOP-controlled legislature would be critical to fighting an “egregious” proposed constitutional amendment that would make it easier for Pennsylvania lawmakers to restrict abortion in the state.
The amendment would add language to the state constitution that says the document does not “grant the right to taxpayer-funded abortion or any other right relating to abortion.” While this wouldn’t restrict abortion outright, it would mean that a Republican legislature and governor could pass laws restricting abortion with no resistance from state courts.
Pa. Republicans passed the bill quickly through its first phase of legislative approval last week. The measure will need to pass again in the next legislative session, and then it would go before voters in a statewide referendum.
“We watch red states impose laws lacking compassion or reason,” Dean said. “I’m certain everyone at this table is ready to restore our human rights, our rights to protect and enhance the rights of women and girls to privacy, to abortion care, contraception, to freedom and dignity and self-determination on the state level.”
Harris warned that restrictions on abortion rights are just the beginning of attacks on other freedoms.
“What we’re finding states around the country — and Pennsylvania is an example of this point — is that where and from where you are seeing an attempt to restrict a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, that same source is attempting to restrict voting rights,” Harris said. “So, it’s important that people see the connections here and see that the source of a lot of this is an agenda to restrict the rights of the American people.”
Following the roundtable conversation, Harris made her way to the Samuel Staten Jr. Building of the Laborers’ District Council to campaign for Shapiro.
Sam Searles is a Report for America corps member covering gun violence and prevention for WHYY News.