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Harris warns overturning abortion rights would threaten freedoms for all Americans

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the EMILY's List conference and gala in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
Brendan Smialowski
AFP via Getty Images
US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the EMILY's List conference and gala in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

Vice President Harris on Tuesday blasted a leaked draft that indicated that the Supreme Court had voted to overturn the landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade, declaring that "women's rights in America are under attack."

"If the court overturns Roe v. Wade it will be a direct assault on freedom — on the fundamental right of self-determination to which all Americans are entitled," she said.

Harris had been scheduled to speak at the national conference and gala for EMILY's List long before Politico published the Supreme Court draft opinion signaling that the court's conservative majority is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. EMILY's List is a Democratic group dedicated to backing women candidates who are pro-abortion rights.

She warned that if the justices follow through with this ruling, it could further extend to other privacy rights including same-sex marriage.

"When the right to privacy is attacked, anyone in our country may face a future where the government can interfere with their personal decisions," said Harris. "Not just women. Anyone. And it has never been more clear which party wants to expand our rights and which party wants to restrict them. "

While the court has cautioned that no decision was final, the leaked draft opinion reverberated across the country, at the same moment as the 2022 midterm primary season is beginning in earnest.

Harris called on supporters of abortion rights to elect more candidates who share their values.

"We have been on the front lines of this fight for many years. All of us in this together. And now we enter a new phase," Harris said. "There is nothing hypothetical about this moment."

Advocates and supporters of voting rights who gathered at the event, held at a Washington D.C. hotel, described the idea that the court may be on the precipice of ending the constitutional right to an abortion as a seismic shift.

"I think it's really important not to glaze over this moment. It is devastating, and we do have to sit with that" said Jacqueline Ayers, the senior vice president of policy, organizing, and campaigns for Planned Parenthood for America.

Earlier Tuesday, EMILY's List President Laphonza Butler described the contents of the draft opinion as an "unprecedented attack on our fundamental freedoms," but suggested that the possibility of abortion becoming illegal in dozens of states could well mobilize voters ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Democrats are defending narrow majorities in Congress, and historical trends show that the party that controls the White House typically loses seats in the first congressional elections of a president's term.

Butler pointed to polling that has consistently shown that a majority of Americans support legal abortion, though with complex views on the matter.

"Voters have struggled with a believability gap, with majorities noting that they did not believe Roe was truly at risk. Now that the Supreme Court's pending decision to overturn Roe all together has leaked, we believe voters are galvanized to take action," said Butler.

Butler said that data from her organization shows that "Republicans taking away the right to abortion is extremely motivating to both persuasion and mobilization targets," and that "undermining Roe and Republican attacks on abortion rights drives Democratic enthusiasm."

EMILY's List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America announced this week that they plan to collectively spend $150 million on the 2022 midterms, on races up and down the ballot. The states that the groups are targeting include Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California, Kansas and Wisconsin.

Ayers, of Planned Parenthood, said that the leaked draft opinion shows that Republicans intend to "roll back the clock" on rights — extending far beyond just abortion.

"They're going after everything. It's not just abortion, it's birth control access, it's marriage equality. This is just really the beginning," she said.

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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.