Florida in focus as state representatives visit White House for Roe v. Wade roundtable

Fentrice Driskell. (Photo credit: Florida House of Representatives)

Last week, amid a crowded White House calendar, Vice President Kamala Harris met with state legislators from Florida, Indiana, South Dakota, Montana and Nebraska following the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The five representatives, who belong to the minority party in their respective states, took part in a roundtable discussion. It allowed Florida House Leader Fentrice Driskell, Nebraska State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, Indiana House Leader Phil GiaQuinta, Montana State Sen. Diane Sands and South Dakota State Representative Erin Healy an opportunity to speak out.

The discussion served as grounds for communication between the states and Harris. Among several talking points was the future of abortion access. All senators agreed on the common goal of protecting reproductive and abortion rights as well.

“When we look at this issue, we know that it affects our country at every level, in each and every region,” Harris said during the roundtable. “Our administration recognizes the power and the importance and the responsibility we have to partner with elected leaders in local, state and at the federal level.”

Florida’s representation in the meeting was significant, especially considering statements and policies by Gov. Ron De Santis in recent months. He has already signed an abortion ban into law, providing no exceptions for rape and life endangerment after 15 weeks.

“Florida will continue to defend its recently enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges, will work to expand pro-life protections,” De Santis said last month after the passing of the abortion restriction bill, “and will stand for life by promoting adoption, foster care and child welfare.”

President Joe Biden, however, introduced his own policy regarding Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court. As a form of countermeasure, he signed an executive order to protect access to reproductive health care services.

The policy includes a list of measures designed to protect women’s abortion rights, which will look to serve as a stopper for the recent law passed. It also addresses benefits that include protecting and promoting safety for patients, medical providers and clinics.

However, some states might be exempt from the potential benefits Biden’s executive order offers. Among those, Florida could be one of the more heavily affected.

Driskell didn’t hold back during the discussion, and just like the other senators at the table, she reiterated her concerns on the jeopardy of abortion rights in Florida.

“It is so important that the White House — and that all of America — pay attention to what is happening in Florida,” Driskell said. “We are a microcosm of our country, and I believe the best indicator of what’s to come and what we can expect from republicans in 2022 and 2024.”

Although the five senators represent a minority party in their respective states, Harris emphasized first the necessity to separate the government from women’s bodies and second, the negative ramifications these bans will have on the women of the country.

“It goes without saying that I think we share a belief that women should be able to make decisions about their own bodies without interference from their government,” Harris said. “They should be able to make a decision about whether or not to have an abortion in the privacy of a safe place where she will make that decision, but not requiring permission from the government.”

Currently, there are 13 states which won’t allow an exception on abortion bans. On top of being a major hamper for contraception rights, this decision could represent a step back of 49 years of policymaking surrounding abortion rights.

During the meeting, Harris condemned the decision of the apparent entitlement of Congress representatives in making decisions on contraception bans.

“We have, in our country, states that are criminalizing health care professionals for doing what they believe is in the best interest, in the public health interest of their community,” Harris said.

While giving her speech, Driskell shed light on the importance of Congress to restore reproductive freedom. She argued that America’s soul is “rooted in freedom” and even if there are attempts made to strip those liberties from women, their fight will continue.

“They may try to silence our voices,” Driskell said, “but one thing they will never ever do is break our souls.”

Humberto is a junior at Florida International University. He reports on issues around politics in South Florida and Latin-America.