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VP Harris rallies for abortion rights on 'DeSantis' turf' to mark Roe anniversary

Hundreds of people packed The Moon in Tallahassee on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2023 to hear Vice President Kamala Harris deliver remarks on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Valerie Crowder
Hundreds of people packed The Moon in Tallahassee on Sunday, Jan. 23, 2023 to hear Vice President Kamala Harris deliver remarks on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Vice President Kamala Harris chose to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in Tallahassee, where Gov. Ron DeSantis calls home.

"So-called leaders at the statehouse here in Tallahassee passed a radical abortion ban with no exceptions even for survivors of crimes like rape and child molestation and human trafficking," Harris said, setting off loud boos from the crowd.

During her speech, Harris recounted stories of women who’ve suffered under abortion bans enacted by state legislatures after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe last year. Harris described them as "the direct result of laws designed by extremists."

Harris chose the Sunshine State to reaffirm President Biden’s commitment to protecting access to abortion on the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Before Harris took the stage, some attendees vocalized their dissatisfaction with Gov. Ron DeSantis' leadership. “Hey-hey, ho-ho. Ron DeSantis has got to go," the crowd chanted. Many attendees traveled to Tallahassee to hear Harris' speech.

A nationwide survey taken by Pew Research in 2021 shows 61% of people in the U.S. oppose bans on all or most abortions.

That’s what the crowd chanted while waiting for the vice president to take the stage.

Last year, DeSantis signed into law a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with no exception for rape and incest. The ban is facing a challenge in state court. More than a dozen states have bans on all abortions.

“The fact is it’s completely banned in several states right now. So they chose to come here and specifically to come to the Capitol," said Matthew Isbell, a Tallahassee political data analyst who’s worked on Democratic campaigns. "There’s no other way to view this other than this is specifically because DeSantis has his eye on the presidency next year.”

It’s widely believed DeSantis intends to toss his hat in the 2024 presidential race, though he hasn’t announced plans to run.

Some early polling shows DeSantis leading President Biden in potential head-to-head matchups with Trump trailing both.

"It clearly indicates that they are looking at a very real possibility that DeSantis is going to be the 2024 opponent," Isbell said. "Sort of going into his turf and basically laying a shot there, going after him — she went after him in the speech, people in the crowd went after him — that's basically setting up who they think is going to be their opponent in the presidential contest."

House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) says she believes Republicans have taken notice of where most people stand on the issue.

“They didn’t talk about it during election season at all," she said. "I think that was to effectively mislead the public that abortion wasn’t on the ballot in Florida, but it very much was."

"We know during this upcoming legislative session, from what we hear, we can expect further bans and restrictions.”

Still it’s unknown exactly what further restrictions on abortion might look like in Florida. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo has expressed support for a 12-week ban that includes exceptions for rape and incest, but House Speaker Paul Renner hasn’t been specific on how far he’s willing to go at this time.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.