Remarks by Vice President Harris at the Interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access
2:47 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank the members of the President’s Cabinet for the work that has been happening for the last two years. But in particular, on this one issue, we meet again to discuss and reaffirm our administration’s commitment to fight for the reproductive rights of the American people.
And in particular, on this issue, I’ve said before and will restate: I do believe that America is facing a healthcare crisis after the Dobbs decision and then given what has happened most recently in the court in Texas.
So, we meet yet again, we convene yet again to discuss the work that our administration has done and will continue to do to stand for the rights of all individuals to make decisions about their own bodies and their lives, and the importance of maintaining the integrity of systems that have been proven to work in the best interests and the health and wellbeing of the American people. And by that, I mean the FDA, in particular, as it relates to the most recent court case.
So, since we were last together, many of us have been traveling the country. I’ll speak for myself, I’ve now, I believe, met with at least 18 different states’ legislatures and thousands of people to talk about the experiences that they’ve had after the Dobbs decision.
And sadly, it is what we anticipated it would be. We are having an experience where the women of America in particular have been in a state of fear about what this means for them, what this means for the people they love.
We are looking at a situation in our country where healthcare providers — most of whom have had a calling to do the good and important work of taking care of other people — are in fear of losing their licenses and, worse, even being prosecuted and criminalized for the work that they do that is about providing healthcare for people in our country.
I have met, for example, with a woman by the name of Amanda, who talked with me — I met with she and her husband — about how when she was pregnant, she then had suffered a miscarriage and three times went to seek medical care and was denied because of the healthcare provider’s fear that they would be prosecuted or in some way penalized for helping her through her miscarriage, and only helped her when she got to the point where she had sepsis — a life-threatening situation.
I have met with and talked with doctors who are in fear of losing their license, of being prosecuted, and of this situation actually having an impact on the relationships of trust that they have with their patients.
This indeed is a healthcare crisis in America. And we have to acknowledge and understand it to be just that.
And then, five days ago, a district court in the state of Texas ruled to block access to abortion medication in every state in the country — in effect, if this ruling stands, creating what could very righteously be considered a nationwide ban, at least as it relates to what we believe to be half of the women who when seeking abortion care, receive it through abortion medication.
So we have, in effect, a situation where politicians and politics have driven lawyers to go to a court of law where a judge who is not a medical professional is making a decision to undo the ruling 20 — over 20 years ago of the FDA that declared a specific medication safe and effective for the American people.
So, one must appreciate that when we think about the integrity of our healthcare delivery systems and attacking the very credibility of the FDA on this one matter for the sake of politics and a political agenda, the wide-sweeping ramifications this can have.
And I’d ask every person who is aware of this to understand the implications of this ruling by just opening your medicine cabinet, because it is very likely that you rely on some type of medication prescribed by a doctor, approved by the FDA, to alleviate your health concerns and to improve your condition in life.
So, the ramifications of this decision five days ago are wide-sweeping and, for that reason, require, we do believe, a very serious response.
And again, I will state that our administration and our President, Joe Biden, has been very clear that we will stand to protect the integrity of the healthcare system in America and we will stand to protect those who have a right to be able to make decisions about their own body and their own life.
Also on this issue is the real risk of damage to and attacks on patient privacy.
So let’s think about that. Twenty-six years ago, in 1996, our country agreed that we needed this thing called HIPAA because we all agreed that that when it comes to our medical records, there are just certain things that should be private. If you choose to share it, you can, but it’s your private business. It’s the business between you and your healthcare provider, and nobody else’s business.
So, we passed HIPAA to say that medical records would be private. There was an exception in HIPAA that said that if law enforcement needs it in pursuit of a criminal matter, an investigation, if they had a court order, they may have access to those records.
Well, what’s the connection between that and where we are now? Since the Dobbs decision in particular, many states have proposed and passed laws that are now going to criminalize healthcare providers for providing reproductive healthcare. It’s going to be a crime, which means that it is very likely if law enforcement requests your personal and private medical records, they may be entitled to receive them.
So, part of the conversation that we are having today is what we can do — and Secretary Becerra will talk about that, in particular — to reinforce protections for patients’ privacy as it relates to their records and their communications with their physician.
So, again, I will say our administration is fighting on every front to do what we can and what we must to protect the American people and the integrity of the healthcare system in our country.
And with that, I’m going to now pass the mic, as it were, to Attorney General Merrick Garland to give us an update on litigation and the actions that the Department of Justice has taken in this regard.
END 2:54 P.M. EDT