Oct 5, 2022

President Biden and Vice President Harris Attend the Second Reproductive Rights Taskforce Meeting Transcript

President Biden and Vice President Harris Attend the Second Reproductive Rights Taskforce Meeting Transcript
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President Biden and Vice President Harris Attend the Second Reproductive Rights Taskforce Meeting. Read the transcript here.

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Jen Klein: (00:00)
Good afternoon. Thank you all for joining us today for the second meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force and Reproductive Healthcare Access. We’re honored to have both the president and vice president here today as we discuss the critical issue of reproductive rights. And we’re also looking forward to hearing from four physicians who will speak about the impact of the Dobbs decision on their medical practice and on their patients. But first, I’d like to turn it over to you, Madame Vice President, to get us started.

Kamala Harris: (00:28)
Thank you, Madam Klein. Good afternoon. So the Dobbs decision created a healthcare crisis in America. This task force 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.

Kamala Harris: (01:07)
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.

Kamala Harris: (01:39)
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.

Kamala Harris: (02:17)
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 in past, many of them when women were deprived, like I said, of their full rights as citizens and the right to vote, when we are thinking about those laws from 1864 and 1849.

Kamala Harris: (02:42)
We have convened this task force at the earliest days after the Dobbs decision and this is our next convening, our second meeting of the task force. 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.

Kamala Harris: (03:45)
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.

Kamala Harris: (04:41)
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. 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.

Kamala Harris: (05:43)
And with that, I will again thank Jen Klein for her work and Co chair Secretary Becerra, and pass it back to you, Jen, to moderate the discussion.

Jen Klein: (05:52)
Thank you, Vice President Harris, for your leadership of course, and for your continued commitment to these issues. It’s now my earned honor to turn to you, Mr. President. President Biden.

President Biden: (06:03)
It’s on. It’s okay. Got it.

President Biden: (06:06)
Well, first of all, I created this task force in the aftermath of the Supreme Courts, what most people would acknowledge as a fairly extreme decision on Dobbs, to launch a whole of government approach to address the damages of that decision. Excuse me. And I’ve said before, the court got Rowe right nearly 50 years ago and the Congress should codify the protections of Roe and do it once and for all. But right now we’re short a handful of votes, so the only way it’s going to happen is if the American people make it happen.

President Biden: (06:44)
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 the law to take away the right to choose for every woman in every state, in every county. And there’s no pushing back from that. It’s also pushing laws to not allow for exceptions of rape and incest or the life of the mother in some cases. It’s really scary part, that in some states they’re already succeeding.

President Biden: (07:37)
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 and things like contraception. 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 front lines 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 and on the books in 1864. That 1864, that’s 1864 during the Civil War, it went into effect again a week and a half ago.

President Biden: (08:29)
And just two days after it went in effect, a young 14 year old girl, who has been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis initially couldn’t get a refill for her prescription, the drugs she’d been taking for years to deal with her two diseases. Because, concerns that that very prescription could be used to terminate the pregnancy in violation of a law in that state. And that’s exactly what we’re afraid would happen. This …

President Biden: (09:03)
… 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 where they can get birth control. Folks, what century are we in? I mean, 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. But this is what it looks like when you start to take away the right of privacy.

President Biden: (09:50)
I’ve asked Education Secretary Cardona to look at the steps that we could take to protect college students and school employees in Idaho or other states where the 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 are all here today. That’s why we formed this commission. I signed two executive orders, and my administration has taken a number of actions that this task force 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 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.

President Biden: (10:54)
And I want to thank the Vice President and Secretary Becerra for their leadership on this task force. 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 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.

Miguel Cardona: (11:24)
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. I share your grave concerns about maintaining access to contraception and reproductive health services on our college campuses, and ensuring there’s accurate, reliable information for students and for educators. Students need access to healthcare to thrive in school and in life, and that includes reproductive healthcare. Thank you also to Vice President Harris. In August, we met with college leaders grappling with new sweeping restrictions to their states. Our work together is ongoing. It’s clear; the Dobbs ruling has sown fear and confusion on our college campuses. I worry about the chilling effects this uncertainty, including about access to birth control, will have on students. I think about the one in four women who experience sexual assault in college, and what this means for their safety and their wellbeing. I think about the college student I met in September who wasn’t able to enroll until she escaped a violent abuser. Access to reproductive healthcare is vital to these students and to countless others for success in college and beyond.

Miguel Cardona: (12:44)
Today, my department is issuing a new resource to remind schools of their obligation under Title IX. For 50 years, Title IX has protected students from sex-based discrimination, and since 1975, it has also protected students from discrimination based on pregnancy, termination of pregnancy, or any related conditions. My department is fully committed to enforcing Title IX’s protections. The resource also explains how to file a complaint with your school or our Office for Civil Rights if you or someone you know encounters discrimination. Today I want to be clear with college leaders in America; access to contraception should not be in question. And access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, is critical to the wellbeing and success of our nation’s students. If you’re committed to student success, you must be committed to student health. Thank you.

Jen Klein: (13:50)
Thank you so much, Secretary Cardona, again, for your partnership, for your leadership. Now we’re going to turn to the real experts in the room, the physicians who have come to talk about the impact that Dobbs is having and the laws passing across the country are having on their practice and their patients. So we’re going to start with you, Dr. Nisha Verma.

Dr. Nisha Verma: (14:11)
Thank you. Good afternoon, President Biden, Vice President Harris, and distinguished members of the task force. It is an honor to join you today. My name is Dr. Nisha Verma, and I am a board certified, fellowship trained obstetrician gynecologist, who provides full spectrum reproductive healthcare. I’m a fellow of the American College of OB-GYNs and currently provide care in Georgia.

Dr. Nisha Verma: (14:36)
Growing up in the South, I saw firsthand the devastating impacts of restrictions on contraception and abortion care in the lives of real people; my friends, family, and people in my community. They are the reason I’m here before you today. I became a doctor and ob-gyn because of my drive to care for people without judgment throughout the course of their lives, regardless of their healthcare needs. Now, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion care has wreaked havoc across this country, as states, including Georgia, have severe abortion bans in effect, and have threatened clinicians with criminal penalties.

Dr. Nisha Verma: (15:17)
Because of a law that is not based in medicine or science, I am forced to turn away patients that I know how to care for. I have had teenagers with chronic medical conditions that make their pregnancy very high risk, and women with highly desired pregnancies who receive a terrible diagnosis of a fetal anomaly cry when they learn that they can’t receive their abortion in our state and beg me to help them. Imagine looking someone in the eye and saying, “I have all the skills and the tools to help you, but our state’s politicians have told me I can’t.” Imagine having to tell someone, “You are sick, but not sick enough to receive care in our state based on our laws’ very narrow exceptions.”

Dr. Nisha Verma: (15:59)
We train for years and years to be able to provide evidence-based, individualized care to our patients. Now, as a doctor in Georgia, I am being forced to grapple with impossible situations where the laws of my state directly violate the medical expertise I gained through years of training and the oath I took to provide the best care to my patients. My colleagues and I have to think about whether we’re going to be criminalized and imprisoned, whether our licenses will be taken away, whether our livelihood will be threatened for providing compassionate, evidence-based care. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen these threats become a reality for our fellow ob-gyn in Indiana over the summer. That absolutely has a chilling effect.

Dr. Nisha Verma: (16:46)
I understand that abortion care can be a complicated issue for many people, just like so many aspects of healthcare and life can be. But I also know that abortion is necessary, compassionate, essential healthcare, and that my patients are capable of making complex, thoughtful decisions about their health and lives. I remain unwavering in my commitment to support people in my home and community in the South in whatever way I can. I appreciate continued efforts to secure access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for my patients. Thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you today.

Jen Klein: (17:29)
Thank you, Dr. Verma. Now we’re going to turn to you, Dr. Kristin Lyerly.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (17:36)
Thank you so much, and it is truly a pleasure and a privilege to be here with you all today. My name is Dr. Kristin Lyerly. I am a general obstetrician-gynecologist in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and I’m a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In my practice, I provide comprehensive care for women and underrepresented populations. Prior to Dobbs, I was also an abortion provider in Sheboygan, at one of only four-

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (18:03)
… provider in Sheboygan at one of only four abortion clinics all located in the southeastern part of the state. With the fall of Rowe, our circumstances changed dramatically. We stopped providing abortions in Wisconsin altogether. As we’ve already discussed, we have a law in Wisconsin from 1849, which is one year older than the state, and 70 years before women earned the right to vote in this country. This law makes it a felony for me to provide abortion care to my patients. There are no exceptions for rape and no exceptions for incest. The only exception is for the life of the mother.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (18:42)
But pregnant people don’t have a warning light that comes on when they’ve crossed that threshold. We have to use our clinical judgment developed through over a decade of formal education, experience and commitment to make those kinds of sensitive, individualized decisions. So when places like Sheboygan County, where the District Attorney has specifically said that he will prosecute physicians, can I count on him to trust my clinical judgment? Looking back, would we agree that I met the criteria that my patient was sick enough? The effects are chilling.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (19:18)
People in our state are being denied medication for miscarriage management. They are being denied treatment for, in emergency departments, while actively bleeding, presumably because the treatment for a miscarriage, the medical term is a spontaneous abortion, is essentially the same as the medication or procedure that can terminate an early pregnancy. Those who can afford it, the money time away from work, assistance with childcare obligations, they now have to go to Illinois or Minnesota. Many, especially in abusive relationships or difficult social situations, they have to continue their pregnancies or they resort to desperate measures.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (20:06)
Downstream this affects all of us. With physician burnout at an all time high and a number of physicians leaving the field in the wake of the pandemic, our training programs can’t keep up. Medical students and residents who had planned to stay and practice in Wisconsin are now wondering whether they will receive the training that they need to take care of their patients and whether they can live and work in a state where doctors can be jailed for fulfilling their duty of care.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (20:39)
Last week I spoke with two physicians who have served in a rural community that they love for many years. They’ve worked incredibly hard to keep their small obstetrical units open. But now with the threat of criminal charges hanging over their heads, they told me that they have their resignation letters ready. Their backup plans are prepared. They need a safe place to practice and raise their families if Wisconsin’s criminal abortion ban is determined to be enforceable. And this is the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Kristin Lyerly: (21:10)
The economic consequences are well documented. We are already suffering from reduced labor force participation, diminished earning potential, and fewer educational opportunities, and this too affects all of us. Our maternal mortality rates are the worst in the developed world. And in Wisconsin, a Black mom is five times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than a White mom. The number of pregnancy related deaths are expected to rise dramatically with implementation of abortion bans as women continue to lose access to essential life saving healthcare. America has a maternal mortality crisis. We have a rural healthcare crisis, and now we have a reproductive healthcare crisis. How many more crises can my patients, can our healthcare system endure? Thank you.

Speaker 1: (22:11)
Thank you.

Speaker 2: (22:14)
Thank you so much. We’re going to now turn to you, Dr. Parrot.

Dr. Parrott: (22:20)
Thank you so much. Good afternoon to all of you, to Mr. President, Madame Vice President and members of the task force. Thank you for the privilege of being here and for the opportunity to speak with you all today. My name as you heard is Dr. Jamila Parrot. I use she, her pronouns. I’m a board certified, fellowship trained obstetrician and gynecologist with a comprehensive background in family planning, reproductive health rights and justice. I’m a native Washingtonian and an abortion provider here in the district, caring for the community that raised me, a community that I serve every day working to expand access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. A community that has been deeply impacted by these bans on abortion care.

Dr. Parrott: (23:09)
The aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, a ruling that eviscerated the constitutional right to abortion for millions has been truly devastating for our communities. The relentless attacks on our dignity, our wellbeing, our ability to determine if, when, or how to start and raise our families have not let up. And they have a singular goal in mind, these restrictions are designed to punish people providing abortion care and the family, friends and loved ones who support them. We’ve already seen these attempts, as you’ve heard, to criminalize abortion providers play out in real time. Our colleagues, like Dr. Caitlin Bernard in Indiana, has been targeted by the Attorney General for providing care to a person in need. My friend and colleague and Texas based abortion provider, Dr. Gazzola Moretti, has been threatened multiple times by the Texas officials and has been forced to stop providing care due to threats of criminal punishment and harassment.

Dr. Parrott: (24:18)
Abortion is healthcare. It is our human right. It is safe. And despite the claims that these bans are improving the safety and wellbeing of the care we provide, it is actually these bans themselves that are harming our communities. The ripples effects that we see play out on the ground are devastating. And abortion bans are impacting, as you heard, all aspects of reproductive healthcare, including miscarriage and pregnancy care for ectopic pregnancy.

Dr. Parrott: (24:50)
While abortion bans should never impact the ability for folks to get emergency care, the confusion and uncertainty created by these restrictions creates chaos at healthcare institutions. And providers are worried, we’re worried about being held criminally responsible for the emergency care that we provide to folks in need. And moreover, evidence shows that abortion bans, as you heard, will already exacerbate abysmal maternal mortality rates. And recent data found that banning abortion will increase maternal mortality by 24% for all women and almost by 40% for Black women. And this is particularly worrisome, given the worsening maternal mortality gap that disproportionately impacts Black, Brown and Indigenous women.

Dr. Parrott: (25:39)
As the landscape of abortion access continues to shift, I urge us to remember that these attacks are not new. They did not begin, and they will not end with the Dobb’s ruling. What we’re seeing now is the same intent dressed up in brand new clothes. The goal all along has never wavered to ban all abortion care and to coerce and to control options that people have in making decisions about our families and about our futures. What is new now, however, is that anti-abortion policy makers have been granted a green light to outwardly as opposed to subtly ban abortion access, to jail and punish providers and other healthcare professionals, including doctors, to force people to remain pregnant against their will and sometimes at the risk of their very life. We have no reason to believe these attacks will end with overturning Rowe. We need bold, immediate, brave action to protect our communities and to push for legislation that reinstates basic human rights for every person no matter where they live. There are no safe states. There are no sanctuary cities even here in the district, especially here in the district.

Dr. Parrott: (27:03)
Especially here in the district because we lack home rule, we have no right to make decisions about our own futures. I appreciate the opportunity for being here today for sharing my story with you for listening to medicine. Thank you all for listening to the science, listening to people who have abortions and those of us who provide abortion care. I look forward to partnering with you all as the work continues ahead.

Speaker 3: (27:31)
Thank you.

Jen Klein: (27:31)
Thank you, Dr. Parrot. And last I’d like to turn to Dr. Saudia Heider.

Dr. Heider: (27:37)
Good afternoon, President Biden, Vice President Harris and the members of the task force. It’s an honor and privilege to be here to speak to you about my experience as a family planning provider in Illinois. My name is Dr. Saudia Heider. I’m also a board certified OBGYN family planning trained subspecialist and a fellow of the American College of OBGYN. I provide comprehensive obstetrical and gynecologic care to all of my patients including abortion and contraception. I also oversee the Complex Family Planning Fellowship program at my institution, and this is helping to train the next generation of clinicians that are needed to take care of our patients. I am incredibly fortunate to live and work in a state that is supportive of access to full spectrum reproductive healthcare including abortion and contraception. This care is rightfully viewed as essential healthcare in my state. With the rise of legislative restrictions in neighboring states in recent years, and again, this is not new, this has been happening for years, Illinois, like many other surge states, has seen a steady increase in volume of patients traveling to our state from all over the country for abortion care.

Dr. Heider: (28:47)
While Dobbs’ data is not yet available, we expect the number of patients traveling to Illinois will dramatically rise in the coming months to years, with estimates that patient volume will increase up to 100% with some productions, that 20 to 30,000 patients may travel each year to the Chicago area to seek abortion care. We know that those who are already impacted by the lack of healthcare in general and lack of access to abortion care and reproductive healthcare are lower income and patients of color. These are the patients that will continue to disproportionately be impacted by the Dobbs decision, worsening the maternal health crisis that already exists in our country, as well as the health inequities that persist. In anticipation of this increase, we have taken a number of steps to make sure Illinois is as prepared as possible to provide care to those in need through clinical capacity building, decreasing financial barriers for patients, increasing care coordination for in-state and out-of-state patients.

Dr. Heider: (29:50)
However, even with this level of preparation and support from our colleagues, institutions, and government officials, we are still facing challenges. As predicted, demand for care has already increased. Appointments are made further out and patients from in-state and out-of-state are experiencing delays in care due to longer wait times, delaying procedures to later in their pregnancy. Many of my patients coming from out-of-state sought and were denied care at multiple locations in their state or in other states before they sought care in Illinois. For example, I recently saw a patient from a southern state with a very serious obstetric condition and abnormal placenta. This condition can cause severe hemorrhage and morbidity if not treated appropriately. This patient sought care in their state and other states weeks before finally traveling to Illinois delaying the care overall. We were able to provide the care required for this patient, which was unfortunately more complex than it needed to be because there were several weeks that ensued before the patient sought care and eventually saw us.

Dr. Heider: (30:53)
Another patient came to us with a fetal anomaly diagnosed in a neighboring state. In order to receive the needed care, the patient had to leave their family during an incredibly challenging time, travel to us for a two day procedure in Illinois, which was not only emotionally taxing but also financially challenging for the patient and their family. Many more patients with similar stories have come to Illinois and will continue to do so because of the Dobbs decision, but many patients will not be able to get all the financial resources and figure out the logistics to get to us, and those patients will continue to have an unmet need for care.

Dr. Heider: (31:31)
I am honored to care for all patients who need access to reproductive healthcare and my team and I will continue to do so in Illinois. However, it is undeniable that the patchwork of access to abortion care exacerbated by the Dobbs decision is negatively affecting patients across the country. We will continue to rise to the challenge and urge policy makers to do the same as a repeal of Rowe has worsened the maternal health crisis and health inequities that have existed for a long time in our country, and we must change this. Thank you so much for listening to our stories and for working with us to move this issue forward.

Speaker 3: (32:07)
Thank you.

Jen Klein: (32:09)
Thank you so much to all of you. I mean, first of all, for coming here and sharing your incredibly important perspectives, but really more importantly for the work that you’re doing every day in this incredibly challenging and worse environment that you just described. We’re now going to move to the closed press portion of our task force meeting, so thank you very much. [inaudible 00:32:33]

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