NEW BRITAIN – Vice President Kamala Harris joined Congresswoman Jahana Hayes and Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, Wednesday afternoon for an informative roundtable discussion on reproductive rights.
The discussion focused on the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Constitution of the United States does not confer a right to abortion and what is being done by the Biden-Harris administration, as well as leaders and organizations around the country, to combat this decision and support women’s rights.
Miguel Cardona, secretary of the Department of Education, said they understand students need access to healthcare to succeed in college but since the Dobbs ruling women, including many college students, have not been able to access critical healthcare and are being denied necessary prescription.
“This is unacceptable,” he said. “Just yesterday in our meeting at the White House we’ve heard from doctors who could not treat their patients after a miscarriage because some of these laws in other states. These doctors pleaded for us to support them as they treat their patients. This is 2022 not 1822. The Dobbs ruling has some fear and confusion on our college campuses, that’s why my department issued a fresh resource reminding colleges of their obligation under Title IX.”
Enacted as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX protects students from sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
“That includes discrimination based on pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or any related condition and we will fully enforce Title IX,” Cardona said. “To be committed to student success must mean you’re committed to student health.”
Zulma Toro, president of CCSU, said since its inception equity and inclusion have been integral to CCSU’s mission and oath.
“To compliment such equity and inclusion we have worked very hard to become a student centered institution; an environment conducive to respect, to increase our success in cultural awareness,” she said. “So as we come together to discuss women’s reproductive rights let us reflect the true spirit of CCSU, let us listen, learn and educate others.”
Gov. Ned Lamont shared in the same sentiment in regards to Connecticut being a place of equity, inclusion and a family-friendly environment conducive to respect and protecting women’s rights.
“Early on I had just been elected and President Trump was defunding Planned Parenthood. I had a chance to call up my great friend Alexis McGill Johnson of Planned Parenthood and said what can we do to help? I said we’re stepping in if they’re defunding; we’re going to make sure Connecticut is fills that need. We need Planned Parenthood and everything they do from primary care, for women, etc.” he said.
Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shared the actions and precautions they have taken since the Dobbs decision in June to protect women’s access to essential reproductive healthcare.
“We have taken steps to protect emergency medical care,” she said. “Every provider should know that if a patient has an emergency medical condition and an abortion is treatment for the condition the Act pre-empts and directly conflicting existing state laws that might otherwise prohibit that treatment.”
Harris has traveled around the country since the court’s decision and spoken to 150 legislators from 17 states trying to hear from everyone who has a stake in this.
“I actually grew up with the issue of women’s health. My mother was a breast cancer researcher and she was one of the few scientists at work who was a woman and in particular a woman of color and so the issue of women’s health, the importance of women receiving the care they need and deserve, the issue of recognizing women who have been marginalized, the issue of fighting for the dignity of women in the healthcare system was engrained in me literally from the time I could remember as a child,” Harris said. “And so when the highest court in our land, the United States Supreme Court, took a constitutional right there was no choice and we all know this and we all had to stand and fight for these fundamental rights of freedom, liberty and dignity and choice.”
“I believe leaders are chosen and you are here in this moment for a reason,” Hayes added. “We recognized there is a long arc ahead to rebuild and even re-imagine the right to abortion in this country.”
Harris added, “We know that all of these hard won fights will be temporary unless we are vigilant about upholding these rights.”
According to Vice President Harris states that are criminalizing healthcare providers, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers and saying no exception for rape or incest would have to stop.
Congresswoman Hayes tied in the discussion of Black maternal health, another women’s reproductive issue of which Harris has been a leader in and passing legislation on.
“Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy related cause than white women and the loss of abortion rights largely across the south and Midwest will only compound that,” Hayes said. “These health outcomes are largely impacted by structural racism and various barriers to care.”
Harris added Native Women are twice as likely to die and rural women are one and a half times more likely.
“When it comes to racial biases in the healthcare delivery system we know that is a huge contributor in particular to Black maternal mortality and because what the data proves it literally has nothing to do with our education level or socioeconomic level, it has to do with the fact when she walks into that doctors office or that clinic or that E.R. she is a Black woman that is not taken seriously,” she added. “There are the stressors that she, that native women, that women in rural areas, that live in low income communities face in life that also contribute to this.
Harris answered a few questions from audience members at the end of the discussion. One was from a young lady who wanted to know what Harris would say to young people in this moment about the future of access and how they can secure these rights?
“Let’s not overlook that there is so much about what is happening now that its profoundly steeped in judgment about women’s sexuality, so not only has a right been taken, but there is a tone and a tenor in which it is happening that is highly judgmental and therefore intended maybe sometimes unintended to make a person feel ashamed and alone,” Harris said. “You have nothing to be ashamed about and we have to say that and mean it. There is a piece of it that is about encouraging and applauding people who stand up and fight for the rights of themselves and others and encouraging that in our kids, siblings, aunties, grandmothers, grandfathers, etc. and saying ‘hey, this is admirable to get out here and speak with force and feeling about this issue.’ This is not a political event but it is a fact that in 34 days there is a midterm coming up and facts must be spoken.”
Ciara Hooks could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org