Harris compares overturning Roe to legacy of US government ‘trying to claim ownership over human bodies’

Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris - Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Abaca/Bloomberg

(CNN) During a speech at the Essence Festival in New Orleans on Saturday, Vice President Kamala Harris made a comparison between the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision being overturned by the Supreme Court and the history of the US government “trying to claim ownership over human bodies.”

“This is a serious matter,” Harris said of the high court’s elimination last month of the federal constitutional right to an abortion. “And it requires all of us to speak up, to speak out, and to be active.”

In front of several hundred people at one of the biggest celebrations of African American culture in the nation, Harris took part in a fireside chat with actress Keke Palmer. She talked about the ongoing struggle for civil liberties and the need not to accept any rights that seem to be secured by “settled law” for granted.

The vice president referred to the high court’s decision to limit access to abortions after nearly 50 years of precedent as “problematic on so many levels” and warned that low-income communities would be disproportionately affected by the decision.

“The statement has been made that the government has a right to come in your home and tell you as a woman and as a family what you should do with your body,” Harris said.

“We have to recognize we’re a nation that was founded on certain principles that are … grounded in the concept of freedom and liberty,” she said.

“We also know we’ve had a history in this country of government trying to claim ownership over human bodies, and we had supposedly evolved from that time and that way of thinking,” the vice president added. “So this is very problematic on so many levels; the impact that it is going to have on women without means.”

In support of preserving reproductive freedoms in the US so that women can reach their full economic and educational potential, 154 economists submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court last year after Texas lawmakers moved to effectively outlaw abortion in the state, according to a previous CNN report.

Financial considerations in the home are a significant factor in the choice to end an unwanted pregnancy, according to data from the well-known Turnaway Study from the University of California, San Francisco. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that the majority of women who sought an abortion for pregnancies close to their gestational limits had earnings that were below the federal poverty level.

Conversely, women who were denied an abortion suffered higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and dependency on government assistance. This, in turn, affects the economic well-being and prospects of their children, according to economists.

On the occasion, Harris exhibited a spirit of optimism while complimenting her work on maternal health and acknowledging that more work needs to be done, particularly for Black women.

“Don’t be overwhelmed to the point that we are disheartened, and think that we can’t do anything about it. It’s the nature of it that these gains will not be permanent, so we must be vigilant, and we must … remember we are always going to have to fight to maintain these rights,” Harris said.

Harris has become one of the Biden administration’s leading spokespersons on reproductive rights since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. At a time when Black people and Native Americans are disproportionately affected by the maternal death rate, the vice president has worked for several months to raise awareness of the issue of maternal health care. However, Harris has repeatedly highlighted the case’s wide-ranging effects since the Supreme Court decision, notably in a recent appearance with CNN.

During the fireside chat, Harris praised young leaders and encouraged their peers to get involved in volunteer work, have discussions about important topics with people in their lives, and form coalitions.

“There is power in knowing that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us. See, the people who are trying to attack our rights are trying to make people feel small and feel alone,” Harris said, adding: “Because they want you to believe you don’t have power and that you’re out there by yourself.”

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