Vice President's Ceremonial Office
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon. I want to welcome and thank these extraordinary leaders, who are based in various states but who are also national leaders, for coming together so we could have this conversation about, I think, one of the most challenging and troubling issues of the day.
Last month, as we all know - actually, just weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States did something that is - before then was unthinkable and unprecedented, which is the United States Supreme Court took a constitutional right that had previously been recognized - took it from the women of America and with great consequence, as we know.
This is not a law school debate. This is not an intellectual discussion and debate. This is real in the way that it is currently and will impact the women and the girls of America in a very direct way.
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; that she 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 - be it with her pastor, her priest, her rabbi, her family, a physician - but not requiring permission from her government.
So, this is about that. This is also, for so many reasons that are integral to what is at stake, a healthcare crisis in America, I would offer.
We have heard recent examples of what this means for a girl as young as 10 years old, who endured an act of violence - I say as a former prosecutor who specialized in child sexual assault - and who then has to endure a system that clearly is not in its current design with these laws in place, designed in a way that is about keeping her in mind in terms of what will give her a safe place in a way that she can address and those around her who care about her can address her needs.
When we look at this issue, we know that it affects our country at every level, in each and every region. We also know that the federal government and we, 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. And so that's why I've asked you all to come and join us today, so we can have a conversation about what's happening in your states.
I do want to emphasize though, back to the point of the 10-year-old girl that we've been hearing so much about: We have, I believe, 12 states in our country that, right now, will not even allow an exception in their ban on abortion - will not even allow an exception for rape or incest.
We have in our country states that are criminalizing healthcare professionals for doing what they believe is in the best interest, in the public health interest of their community.
And so, again, we take these issues quite seriously, understanding the ramifications and the injustice that is playing out associated with this issue.
So, I also believe that this is just the beginning. When we - most of us have read the opinion and the concurring opinion. As I've said before, Justice Thomas said the quiet part out loud, which is that also at risk is the right for individuals to make the most intimate decisions that they can make about what I call "heart and home" when it comes to issues like contraception, same-sex marriage.
And so, there is a lot at stake. We cannot wait for Congress to act. Congress must act. But also, we cannot wait for Congress to act, which is why the President, Joe Biden, this morning, earlier today issued executive orders around what we will do at the federal level to ensure that women are not impeded in terms of their right to interstate travel and also that they will have access to the medication that they need, which, by the way, the FDA approved, I believe, over 20 years ago.
So, with that, there's a lot at stake. We are working together. We will continue to work together.
And, with that, I'm going to invite a discussion for the leaders around the table. And I'll start to my left with Representative GiaQuinta from the great state of Indiana.
END 4:07 P.M. EDT