TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—On the day Americans opposed to abortion are celebrating National Sanctity of Life Sunday in their churches, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the Biden administration’s continued commitment to increased access to abortion.
Harris delivered the message to a packed house of 2,000 people after at least 1,000 more were turned away at the door because the Tallahassee, Florida venue was at capacity.
Harris’s speech was meant to commemorate the 5oth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the case that legalized abortion in the United States.
The Supreme Court stole women’s “fundamental right” to abortion in June 2022, when it overturned Roe v. Wade, sending decisions on abortion back to states, Harris said while visiting The Moon nightclub.
She received enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
Harris compared abortion supporters’ efforts to those of slavery abolitionists, women’s suffrage activists, civil rights activists, and Stonewall riot participants.
“In each of these movements, those leaders expanded rights, which then advanced the cause of freedom and liberty,” Harris told the crowd. “And 50 years ago today, so did those who won a fight in the United States Supreme Court to recognize the fundamental constitutional right of a woman to make decisions about her own body.”
She delivered that statement in the state capital of Florida, currently governed by Republican rising star Gov. Ron DeSantis. Though he consistently has deflected the question of whether he will run for president in 2024, DeSantis is widely expected to announce his candidacy this year.
Harris accused Tallahassee leaders of passing a “radical abortion ban” with no exceptions for children conceived by rape, human trafficking, or child molestation. In 2022, lawmakers passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation.
“Today, we are fighting back,” Harris said.
She announced that President Joe Biden has issued a memorandum directing his administration to recommend actions that guarantee women can receive abortion medication from doctors and pharmacies.
“As clinics are closing in those states, patients have lost access to other basic care,” Harris said.
Harris asked the crowd if Americans could truly be free without the right to abortion. She vowed that Biden’s administration would continue to fight for that right.
Rain and Rights
Before the event, abortion supporters waited in the morning rain to see Harris. Most arrived by car, filling a nearby parking lot. Others came by bus.
A tent with a pink-swathed Planned Parenthood table offered birth control, “Bans off our Bodies” T-shirts, pro-abortion stickers, and rainbow heart stickers.
Planned Parenthood brought 1,000 free T-shirts for distribution to the crowd, the table’s manager told The Epoch Times.
The group had a celebratory atmosphere. A few activists tried to start pro-abortion chants, but the shouts of “Hey, hey! Ho ho! Abortion bans have got to go!” quickly fizzled out.
But pro-abortion intensity bubbled beneath the surface. Some protesters told The Epoch Times they drove to Harris’s event from seven hours south.
Doctor and Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida President Carolina Ampudia called DeSantis a “fascist,” when speaking with a reporter.
“Are we going back to when women couldn’t vote? Are we going back to when women were worried about hysterectomies because they were ‘hysteric?” she asked, using a vintage term associated with women.
Another member of her group, Broward County teacher and activist Tracy Merlin, proudly displayed a necklace with a coat-hanger pendant that her mother had worn 50 years ago while “begging senators and representatives to have women’s rights honored,” she said.
“We’re 50 years out,” Merlin said. “And we’re still battling the same demons. We have to have progress in America. And this is such a scary time to be raising a young daughter in our country.”
Fort Lauderdale politician Linda Thompson Gonzalez told The Epoch Times that if women can’t get the abortions they want, they will kill themselves. And that’s the government’s fault, she added.
“My friend took her life three months before high school graduation, because she had nowhere to go, no options,” she said. “We are literally taking the lives of our young women.”
Gonzalez added that abortions are cheaper than children.
“This issue of pro-choice—it is an economic issue,” she said.
The women said they were grateful to receive a show of support from Harris in Florida, where DeSantis won reelection in November 2022 with 59 percent of the vote.
Another attendee from Tallahassee, Bernie Sanders supporter Dave Fabus, said he was at the protest to ensure his 16-year-old daughter could get an abortion if she wanted one.
The thought made his eyes wet.
“Just emotional,” he said with sadness in his voice.
“Polls show that the majority of people don’t want to change, and they’re forcing it down our throats—evangelicals and the so-called Christians that are behind it,” he said.
Fabus noted that Harris’s visit to promote abortion in DeSantis’s state may be an opening volley in the 2024 presidential race. He said he hoped DeSantis would win the Republican nomination and former president Donald Trump would cripple him with a third-party campaign.
“I want to see Trump punished for all the crimes that he’s committed,” Fabus told The Epoch Times. “And yet, I’d like for him to stay in the running because I think DeSantis and him will completely split the Republican Party to ruin their chances.”
A few pro-life protesters arrived to demonstrate outside the vice president’s event, but they quickly left.
Lori Bontell, an activist in medical issues around the state, sent a message to reporters saying that some anti-abortion protesters felt afraid of the large group waiting to see Harris.
“They didn’t feel comfortable walking to The Moon past the wall of VP supporters,” she wrote.
Others couldn’t find parking nearby. Many Florida pro-life leaders were in Washington for the March for Life. Other pro-lifers were at their home churches because they’d promised to speak as part of Sanctity of Life Sunday celebrations. And others canceled plans to attend after some news outlets and social-media influencers reported that Harris planned to move her speech to a private home with an undisclosed location.
A day before the event, Florida Moms for America president Rebekah Ricks told The Epoch Times she expected at least 100 pro-life protesters to travel to Tallahassee from around the state.
But “it’s right during church time,” she said. “So, it’s an awful time to even do it.”
Ricks added that the overturn of Roe v. Wade brought new opportunities for the pro-life movement. Fighting abortion unites conservatives who disagree on other issues.
“Our conservative groups can’t get together on anything, but we can get together on abortion,” Ricks said.
Fight for Florida
Mark Minck, the state chairman of Protect Human Life Florida, told The Epoch Times the timing of Harris’s visit to Florida surely was intentional.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” he said. “She could be in any one of 50 states. And she’s going to be in Florida on the 50th anniversary of the now-infamous Roe v. Wade decision. And Florida, sadly enough, is already third in the nation in the number of abortion deaths each year behind California and New York.”
As abortion bans spread across the Bible Belt, more people began coming to Florida to have abortions, records show.
“The number of out-of-state residents coming to our state to abort their preborn children is escalating. So something has to be done,” said Minck.
His group is trying to collect almost a million signed petitions by February 2024 to request a proposed amendment to the Florida state constitution is put on the ballot. The proposed amendment would recognize “the God-given right to life of the preborn individual.” It would need the approval of 60 percent of voters to pass and would outlaw most abortions in the state.
Despite the quiet crowd of supporters and the lack of counter-protest, Harris’s speech had strong security. According to a bomb squad member who spoke to The Epoch Times, about 300 law enforcement and Secret Service members guarded the event.
Harris has faced bomb threats in the past. On Feb. 9, 2022, police evacuated Harris’s husband from a school after receiving a bomb threat, The Epoch Times reported.