Kamala Harris speaks on 'outrageous' repeal of Roe at Essence Festival

The vice president had a "fireside conversation" with actress Keke Palmer.

July 2, 2022, 6:25 PM

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke Saturday about the implications of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

"This is a serious matter," Harris said. "It requires all of us to speak up, speak out and to be active."

Harris made the remarks at the Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans, one of the largest African American culture celebrations in the country, where she participated in a "fireside chat" with actress Keke Palmer. It was the largest audience the vice president addressed since the Supreme Court issued its ruling, White House officials said.

Harris called the court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization to end 50 years of nationwide abortion access "outrageous."

"We have to recognize we're a nation that was founded on certain principles that are grounded in the concept of freedom and liberty," she said. "We also know that we've had a history in this country of government trying to claim ownership over human bodies and we had supposedly evolved from that time and that way of thinking. So this is very problematic on so many levels."

Harris described the moment she learned Roe was struck down, telling the audience she was on her way to meet with Democratic Congresswoman Lauren Underwood in Illinois when the decision was released.

Harris and Underwood have worked together on the issue of maternal health care. A new study found maternal mortality rates in the U.S. have climbed 33% since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with Black and Hispanic women dying at higher rates than White women.

"On the course of that trip, the Supreme Court with the Dobbs decision for the first time in the history of our nation took a constitutional right that had been recognized and took it from the women of America," Harris said.

PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks onstage during the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 2, 2022 in New Orleans.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks onstage during the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 2, 2022 in New Orleans.
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

The vice president also warned the decision could impact other privacy rights, such as the use of contraception and same-sex marriage.

"What else might be vulnerable that we otherwise thought was settled law?" she questioned.

Palmer, who moderated the conversation, asked Harris what Americans can do in the wake of Roe's repeal.

"Don't be overwhelmed to the point that we are disheartened and we think that we cannot do anything about it," Harris replied. "It's the nature of it that these gains will not be permanent, so we must be vigilant and we must remember we're always going to have to fight to maintain these rights."

While in New Orleans, Harris will also meet privately with leaders of reproductive justice organizations.

The Biden administration has taken some steps to protect access to reproductive health care, including protecting women traveling across state lines for abortion services and Health and ensuring access to federally-approved medication such as contraception and the abortion pill mifepristone.

President Joe Biden met with Democratic governors on Friday to discuss additional efforts to safeguard health care and women's rights.

But the president has said it's up to Congress to make Roe federal law, and without a carveout to the Senate filibuster it's likely any attempt to do so by Democrats will fail.

- ABC News' Molly Nagle contributed to this report.