WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris hosted an abortion-rights event in Boston on Thursday, marking the first time in her tenure that she has visited Massachusetts.
Harris held a roundtable with state legislators and abortion rights advocates, including Governor Charlie Baker, at the IBEW Local 103 headquarters in Dorchester. It was the latest stop in what has become somewhat of a nationwide tour for Harris on the issue since it leaked in May that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We are here today because we share a fundamental belief that we trust the women of America to make decisions about what is in their best interest,” Harris said during the event. “And we believe it is they who should make that decision and not their government. It is that simple.”
Harris added that she and President Biden believe the nation’s “facing a healthcare crisis” in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.
“In many states, extremist so-called leaders are passing laws that would provide no exception for rape or incest,” Harris said. “I am a former prosecutor who specialized in child sexual assault cases and violence against women. The idea that we would require someone who has endured an extreme act of violence and then subject her to the government’s will without investing in her the self-determination to which she is entitled to make decisions based on what she believes is in her best interest, is outrageous.”
Governor Charlie Baker also spoke, telling attendees that his late mother informed his views on the issue. “This issue about reproductive rights has not been a partisan issue,” Baker said. “My mother made clear to me what my position was going to be on this issue when I was very young. But I worked for two governors, Republicans both, in the 1990s who were also big supporters of a woman’s right to make this decision on behalf of themselves and their family.”
Also in attendance was US Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Boston Democrat.
“Our bodily autonomy should not be up for debate,” Pressley said. “But devastatingly, it is. And we know who will be impacted the most: the most marginalized, Black and brown folks, LGBTQ, the disability community.”
Pressley noted that the US House has twice passed a bill she co-sponsored called the Women’s Health Protection Act.
“We’ve passed it because we know that we need a rapid and comprehensive response at every level of government to protect care and to save lives,” Pressley said. “I know that Vice President Harris shares our urgency. She shares our conviction. And I’m grateful she’s here with us today as we lift up the critical steps that we have taken here in Massachusetts, and the shared work ahead as we fight for true health care justice.”
The public roundtable event lasted roughly 30 minutes, with the press corps ushered out shortly after 1:30 p.m.
Massachusetts House Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan, a Democrat representing Hudson, Maynard, Stow, and Bolton, also offered remarks before the conclusion of the public portion of the event.
“Now many states are rushing to enact laws that deny women access to reproductive health ... in a draconian manner,” Hogan said. “It is impossible to measure the damage that will result [from] these laws as they stand, unchallenged. Women must have options. We must have safe access to abortion, to contraceptives, and to the attendant services that ensure our health, our freedom, and our future generations.”
Harris earlier disembarked from her plane around noon at Logan Airport and clasped both hands with Pressley at the bottom of the stairs before greeting Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chair of the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe.
Harris will also visit Martha’s Vineyard — a frequent summertime home of the political elite and a perennial piggy bank for politicians — for a Democratic fund-raiser later on Thursday.
The Boston gathering followed a series of events Harris has held in the White House and around the country meeting with local elected officials, advocates, and providers who support abortion rights. It was one of the few, however, in which Harris highlighted a blue state where abortion rights are not already or soon to be restricted. And the presence of Baker, a Republican, allowed Harris to emphasize bipartisan support for abortion rights at a time when in many red states, Republican leaders are moving to restrict abortion.
Baker signed a bill expanding abortion rights in the state in late July, and a sizable majority of Massachusetts voters support abortion rights.
In addition to the opportunity to fund-raise, the trip will continue to give Harris a prominent role in the administration’s messaging on abortion and will come on the heels of two victories of sorts on the issue for Democrats. On Tuesday, voters in the solidly red state of Kansas resoundingly defeated an effort to change the state Constitution to allow the restriction of abortion rights. And on Wednesday, President Biden signed an executive order directing the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to do more to support out-of-state travel for abortion procedures and promote research on maternal health.
“The people of Kansas spoke and said this is a matter of defense of basic principles of liberty and freedom in America,” Harris said Wednesday at a meeting of the White House’s task force on the issue. “And they spoke loudly in saying that they trust women to make decisions about their own lives and their bodies.”
The results in Kansas buoyed Democrats’ hopes that the Supreme Court’s overturning of abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization could give them a better-than-expected outcome in November’s midterms, where historical trends, sky-high inflation, and Biden’s sagging approval ratings give Republicans the strong edge.
Harris’s emergence as the lead voice for the administration on abortion rights also has afforded an opportunity to her and the White House. Harris has long been a proponent of abortion rights, going back to her days in California as attorney general and is seen by the movement as a loyal fighter on the issue, lending the administration credibility despite Biden’s mixed record on abortion rights. Biden has drawn some criticism from advocates for not taking forceful enough action to quickly counter the effects of Dobbs.
If voters were to see Harris as a forceful messenger on the issue, it also could help to turn the narrative around on her tenure as vice president, which has been beset by critical headlines of her own making and otherwise, staff turnover, and at-times unforced errors.
Harris’s trip to the state follows a recent visit by Biden to Massachusetts to highlight his climate change agenda, the day after which Biden tested positive for COVID-19.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included the wrong month Baker signed an abortion rights bill into law. It was July.