Kamala Harris visits UNR, talks reproductive health with Mayor Hillary Schieve
Vice President Kamala Harris visited UNR Tuesday afternoon to talk to young people about abortion rights as the drug mifepristone’s FDA approval was brought into question with the first major abortion case after the federal overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Mifepristone is one of the drugs (along with misoprostol) used in administering abortions, but can also treat adverse effects when a person is experiencing a miscarriage. The FDA approved it in 2000, but the approval was recently struck down by a federal court in Texas, kicking off an ongoing legal battle likely to end up before the Supreme Court.
This case was the main point of discussion between Harris, actress Rosario Dawson and Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve. The three also talked about reproductive health and youth leadership to a crowd of mostly college-aged people at UNR.
"I want to see what she [Harris] has to say. I know [abortion is] protected in Nevada. But with everything going on, it's kind of scary. So I want to see if she's going to take any action," said Jasdeep Puttar, 18, who was waiting in line to see Harris speak.
Harris called the mifepristone case a “political attack on our health care system and the integrity of that system.” She also said President Joe Biden’s administration is working with the Department of Health and Human Services to add more protections for those seeking abortions.
"The work we are doing is the work within our power," Harris said.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe last summer, the power to determine the legality of abortions was handed over to state governments. However, under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), if a person is pregnant and has a medical emergency where an abortion would save their life, that person is entitled to that care, even if it is illegal in the state they reside in, said Kate Wolff, the counselor to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) also says that if a person receives legal medical care, their records will not be counted against them in states with different laws, Wolff said. She also shared the department’s views on the mifepristone case.
"We have a vow to defend the FDA and their evidence-based scientific decision making process that has been challenged recently in the courts," Wolff said during the event.
Nevada is one of 16 states that has codified abortion access into state law. Almost immediately after the Roe decision in 1973, then-Attorney General Robert List, a Republican, declared Nevada’s anti-abortion law unconstitutional and abortions became legal within a month of the announcement.
Abortion access was codified in state law through a ballot measure in 1990, allowing for abortions within 24 weeks of pregnancy and after 24 weeks if a pregnancy could be fatal for the pregnant person. Because it was passed via a ballot measure, those abortion access provisions can only be overturned by a subsequent vote of the people.
Democratic lawmakers — many in attendance at the event — are now trying to enshrine abortion access into the Nevada Constitution with SJR7, a move praised by Harris. She also called for similar policies within federal law.
“What you're doing here is so important because it is not only about the protection of the rights of the people of this state, but it is an example of the fact that these things can be done,” Harris said.
Harris, Schieve and Dawson encouraged young people to get involved in politics not just at a federal, but state and local level as well, referencing movements already happening among young people for reproductive health care rights and stricter gun laws.
"Some of the best movements in our country ... about the expansion of rights have been led by students," Harris said.
Sixty percent of people seeking abortions are in their 20s, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. The same study showed more than half were women with children already and 49 percent were below the federal poverty level. Still, Harris said abortion access is a significant issue for college students.
Although there are female majorities across several of Nevada’s government bodies, Schieve said young women had told her they were scared to become involved. Harris encouraged young women to stand their ground.
"Don't you hear 'no,' and know we're applauding you," Harris said. "And know that we need you."
Harris closed the discussion by encouraging Nevada politicians to continue their work in preserving reproductive health care rights.
“Just do it the Nevada way because you guys know how to get stuff done," Harris said.