Remarks by President Biden and Vice President Harris at the Second Meeting of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access
State Dining Room
3:39 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Madam Klein. Good afternoon.
So, the Dobbs decision created a healthcare crisis in America. And this taskforce was convened by the President of the United States to address this crisis in a way that we would approach it from an all-of-government, hands-on approach to address what we have the ability to do to ensure that the women of America receive all the protections they are due under law and that our administration, through our agencies, can provide to assist them to have access to the care they need and deserve.
We believe, and I certainly believe, that a woman should have the freedom to make decisions about her own body and that her government should not be making those decisions for her. We believe that if she chooses, she, of course, will and can consult with her physician, with her loved ones, with her faith leader.
One does not have to abandon their faith or beliefs to agree that the government should not be making these decisions for the women of America.
Today, extremist so-called leaders are attacking the freedom and liberty of millions of women. At a state level, in Arizona, for example, a judge recently upheld an 1864 — that’s not a statute, that’s the year — 1864 abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.
In Wisconsin, as another example, that state activated an abortion ban that was passed in 1849. That’s 173 years ago. And make note that, at that time, women also did not have the right to vote.
What we are seeing in laws around our country is the criminalization of doctors and healthcare providers. In some situations, up to five to six years in prison would be the penalty.
These laws have been written and passed, many of them, when women were deprived, like I said, of their full rights as citizens and the right to vote, when we’re thinking about those laws from 1864 and 1849.
We have convened this taskforce at the earliest days after the Dobbs decision. And this is our — our next convening, our second meeting of the taskforce. In August, when we convened, there was a lot of work to address and determine what we could do as an administration. Since then, I’m proud to report a lot of work has taken place.
For example, in our Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Affairs agency will provide abortion care to veterans and family members to protect the health or life of the woman in cases of rape or incest.
An example of the work that is happening includes the Department of Education, which is making clear that it is against the law under Title IX to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy.
At the Department of Justice, we know that the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in Idaho to protect emergency medical care. And the Idaho federal court issued a preliminary injunction against the ban there.
It is important to know that if there were a national law that was passed in the United States Congress to protect reproductive care, so-called leaders then could not ban abortion, even in the cases of rape and incest. They could not criminalize providers. They could not limit access to contraception if Congress passed a law that protected these rights.
So it is important for everyone to know what is at stake. To stop and reverse these attacks on women, we need to pass such a national law. And so we need the American people to make their voices heard and take a stand on the right of all women to exercise their choice, to have access to reproductive healthcare.
And I’ll close by mentioning that, as we know, Justice Clarence Thomas said the quiet part out loud in terms of the other rights that are also now at stake, such as access to contraception and same-sex marriage, marriage equality.
And we already see, by the way, our early warnings of that taking place. Take, for example, what’s happening at the University of Idaho, which is refusing to provide contraception to their students. It’s already starting.
So, again, this presents — this issue — a crisis, as it relates to healthcare in America. And in response, we will continue to do the work as an administration, including working with folks in our country to build a coalition around all folks who understand what is at stake for them and the people they love.
And with that, I will again thank Jen Klein for her work and — and co-chair Secretary Becerra, and pass it back to you, Jen, to moderate the discussion.
MS. KLEIN: Thank you, Vice President Harris, for your leadership, of course, and for your continued commitment to these issues.
It’s now my honor to turn to you, Mr. President, President Biden.
THE PRESIDENT: It’s on? It’s — okay. Got it.
Well, first of all, I created this taskforce in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s — what most people would acknowledge is a fairly extreme decision on Dodd [sic] — Dobbs — to launch a whole-of-government approach to address the damages of that decision. (Clears throat.) Excuse me.
And I’ve said before, the Court got Roe right nearly 50 years ago and that Congress should codify the protections of Roe and do it once and for all.
But right now, we have — we’re short a handful of votes. So the only way it’s going to happen is if the American people make it happen. And meanwhile, congressional Republicans are doubling down on the extreme position with the proposal for a national ban.
Let me be clear what that means: It means that even if you live in a state where extremist Republican officials aren’t running the show, your right to choose will still be at risk, because Republicans in Congress want to pass a law to take away the right to choose for every woman in every state, in every county. And there’s no — and there’s no pushing back from that. It’s — it’s also pushing laws to not allow for exceptions of rape and incest and — or the life of the mother, in some cases.
And, you know, it’s really scary part that, in some states, they’re already succeeding. When the Dobbs decision came down, I said — and Justice Thomas warned us very plainly — that this wouldn’t stop with a woman’s right to choose and it would extend to the right to privacy itself in things like contraception.
And so it was no surprise that we’re seeing extremist laws pop up around the country that are having a ripple effect far beyond the health rights of a pregnant woman.
We have doctors here with us today who are on the frontlines of this crisis, and many of these laws would make doctors criminals just for treating a patient.
In Arizona, they had a law — which is mentioned by the Vice President — on the books in 1864. That 1864, that’s — 1864, before — during the Civil War. And it went into effect again a week and a half ago.
And just two days after it went into effect, a young 14-year-old girl who’s been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteo- — oste- — osteoporosis initially couldn’t get a refill for her prescription, the drug she’d been taking for years to deal with her two diseases, because concerns that that very prescription could be used to terminate a pregnancy in violation of a law in that state.
And that’s exactly what we’re afraid would happen. This 14-year-old girl couldn’t get the medicine she needed for arthritis because of the extreme backward and misguided law.
Now, officials at the University of Idaho said it should stop providing contraception, as was mentioned by the Vice President. In fact, they told the university staff that they could get in trouble just for talking or telling students about birth — where they can get birth control.
Folks, what century are we in? I mean, how — what are we doing? I respect everyone’s view on this — personal decisions they make, but, my Lord, we’re talking about contraception here. It shouldn’t be that controversial. And — but that’s — this is what it looks like when you start to take away the right of privacy.
I’ve asked Education Secretary Cardona to look at — and the steps we can take to protect college students and school employees in Idaho or other states where their access to contraception is at risk.
And my message to any other college considering enacting policies like this: Don’t. Please don’t. We’re not going to sit by and let Republicans throughout the country enact extreme policies to threaten access to basic healthcare.
And that’s why we’re all here today. That’s why we formed this — this commission.
I signed two executive orders — and my administration has taken a number of actions that this taskforce has — is charged to carry out — to protect access to reproductive healthcare, including emergency medical care; to protect a woman’s right to travel to get healthcare — get the healthcare she needs; to receive healthcare free of discrimination and protect her privacy when she seeks it.
And we’re fighting this battle in the courts as well.
And I want to thank the Vice President and Secretary Becerra for their leadership on this taskforce. And I also want to thank Secretary McDonough for leading an important effort at the VA.
My message to folks across the country who are worried about what we’re seeing is, first, that we have your back. We’re not going to — we’re not going to step back from this. And second, we’ve heard your voices.
Now I want to turn it over to Secretary Cardona now for his comments.
3:50 P.M. EDT