Vice President Harris Gets Real About Reproductive Rights

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Alissa
 Barnes
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Yesterday I had the honor of being in the audience for a moderated conversation with VP Harris, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Dr. Eve Espey (UNM Chair of Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Family Planning Fellowship) on reproductive rights at the University of New Mexico. In attendance were many of the reproductive coalition partners that ProgressNow New Mexico worked in partnership with to repeal the old abortion ban in NM (repealed in Jan 2021) and continue to work with as attacks on abortion and reproductive rights continue in New Mexico and across the nation. 

Before we jump into the highlights of VP Harris’ talking points yesterday, I want to give the VP a huge shout out on saying ALL the things as they are, and as they should be said. She did not soften her language for the pearl clutching white folx, she did not skirt using the word abortion, and lastly, Harris brilliantly reminded us that all reproductive rights decisions are those of an individual, NOT the government. 

Missed it? Here’s a recap of the most important messages that reporters may have missed, or undervalued the importance of. 

Let’s start off with a reminder that the GOP is boldly attacking reproductive health, rights, and justice that go beyond abortion access. They consistently attack the bodily rights and health of LGBTQ individuals, access to contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, IVF support and a host of other rights that directly relate to our health and wellbeing.

Anyway, back to the highlights:

Reproductive Rights are Not Just Women’s Rights: VP Harris appropriately reminded the audience that trans folx need abortions too. Additionally, for any birthing body, access to abortion, contraceptives, hormone therapy, and more must remain access able for individuals to have actual body autonomy

The US Maternal Mortality Crisis is Not Due to Anything Other Than the Color of an Individual’s Skin: VP Harris had the room exploding in applause when she very clearly stated the that maternal mortality crisis in our country for Black and Indigenous folx is NOT due to difference in socioeconomic status, but rather the mere color of their skin. The minute Black and Brown folx walk into a medical office, they aren’t heard or taken seriously in the same way white people are. Whether we like it or not; whether we want to admit it or not; whether we want to say it out loud or not; America has an obvious racism problem

It’s Not About Protecting Life: The GOP, the anti-abortion groups, the evangelicals–who are all part of the same anti circle– all claim that they are “protecting life.” While we see right through their scheme, VP Harris said it very clearly, that if those people genuinely cared about life, they would support expansion of maternal care to postpartum, ensure families have enough food on their tables, and support childcare costs so parents can go to work. She went on to say, “We should challenge the hypocrisy of some, who say they care about life, but are ignoring the issue of [the] maternal mortality crisis.” Additionally, the GOP have passed laws in certain states that abortion access is only available if an individual reports rape or incest to the police. As VP Harris aptly points out, “It’s her decision to report to the police not their decision.” It’s just another way the GOP wants to take away our bodily autonomy. 

This Is About More Than Reproductive Rights, It’s About Power and Control: The only way the GOP can get the government to make reproductive health, rights, and justice decisions for us is to restrict our right to vote which gives them the power they could not gain on their own if we all had the voting access that our constitution says we should. Harris shared an image that showed us how closely linked state-level attacks on reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights are. We weren’t surprised because we know that overwhelmingly, Americans believe that decisions on reproductive issues should be made by individuals, not the government, and the same should go across all social issues. In summary, Americans do not want the government to interfere with our reproductive rights but the GOP doesn’t give a shit and does it anyway by suppressing our voting rights. 

Vice President Kamala Harris in Albuquerque, NM for Oct 2022 Reproductive Justice event at UNM, holding a Venn diagram
Vice President of the United State, Kamala Harris visits the University of New Mexico to talk about Reproductive Justice ahead of the midterm elections.

Politics in America Affect Politics Around the World (ewe gross we don’t like it either): Harris recalled a conversation with Germany’s Angela Merkel in 2020 about Russia and China where Merkel leaned over to the VP and out of the blue said, “So what’s going on in your country with voting?” Harris reminded us that the world watches what is happening in the US. In response to the world watching our Nation’s restriction of abortion access, VP Harris said, “My fear on this issue is that dictators around the world will say to their people who are fighting for rights, ‘you want to hold out America as the example?’ Look at what they just did; be quiet.” She went on to say, “I highlight the significance of this moment and the impact, which not only directly impacts the people of our nation but very likely impacts people around the world.” The truth of it is we can’t call ourselves the land of the free if more than half the population are restricted from making their own decisions about their bodies. 

A long time ago, when I was about 24 years old, an older and wiser colleague told me that his momma taught him the only thing we actually have control over in life is ourselves. We can only control external events to a certain degree, we can’t control what people think of us or how they will react, we can’t even control what people will do to us. In the case of reproductive rights, the GOP is trying, and succeeding in places, to take that control away by telling us what we can and cannot do with our own bodies. In many states across the US, folx no longer have that control (and a reminder, many LGBTQ and BIPOC folx have NEVER had complete control over their bodies). VP Harris ended by reminding us that the gains we make, such as living for 50 years with the protections of Roe v Wade, will need to continue to be fought for over and over again. So here we are, fighting that same fight, yet again. Who we elect this November, here in NM and in seats across the nation, can be the first step towards having a win in our rights for reproductive justice…or not. So are you ready to fight and keep fighting?

We are. 

Erica Davis, NM Black Central Organizing Committee; Girls Inc. of Santa Fe, Alissa Barnes, ProgressNow New Mexico, Rachael Lorenzo, Indigenous Women Rising ProgressNow New Mexico alum
Image left to right – Erica Davis: NM Black Central Organizing Committee, Girls Inc. of Santa Fe;  Alissa Barnes: ProgressNow New Mexico; Rachael Lorenzo: Indigenous Women Rising and ProgressNow New Mexico alum

 

Image top left to right: (peace sign arm up) Miles Tokunow - OLE, Kayla Herring - Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Image bottom left to right: (suit and red tie) Rocky Cordova - Melanie for New Mexico, Johana Bencomo - Las Cruces City Councilor Dist 4 / Women’s Democracy Lab, Nayomi Valdez - ACLU of New Mexico, Alissa Barnes - ProgressNow New Mexico, Marshall Martinez - Equality New Mexico, Andrea Serrano - OLE, Nathan - Equality New Mexico
Image top left to right – (peace sign arm up) Miles Tokunow: OLE; Kayla Herring, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Image bottom left to right – (suit and red tie) Rocky Cordova: Melanie for New Mexico; Johana Bencomo: Las Cruces City Councilor Dist. 4; Women’s Democracy Lab; Nayomi Valdez: ACLU of New Mexico; Alissa Barnes: ProgressNow New Mexico; Marshall Martinez: Equality New Mexico; Andrea Serrano: OLE; Nathan: Equality New Mexico

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