Massachusetts stands as a "model" that other states should follow to protect access to abortions and other reproductive health care, Vice President Kamala Harris said during a visit to Dorchester on Thursday.
Offering praise both for the Democrats who crafted a substantial reproductive care bill and for Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's decision to sign it into law, Harris said the country faces a "health care crisis" that continues to unfold after the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 49-year-old right to an abortion enshrined in the Roe v. Wade decision.
The ruling penned by the court's conservative justices put new decisions before state governments.
House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, who joined Harris, Baker and other lawmakers and officials at IBEW Local 103's Freeport Street offices, said many of his colleagues never believed "this would be an issue that we would have to confront from a legislative standpoint in our careers"
Harris said elected leaders across the nation should look to Massachusetts for guidance.
"To all the leaders who are here, as I said before the press came in, you all are certainly local leaders, statewide leaders, leaders in Massachusetts, but you're also national leaders," Harris said at the roundtable event, which PBS News Hour livestreamed. "You are leading by example. The work that is happening here in Massachusetts is a model of work that can and, we believe, should happen around the country."
The vice president and other speakers each delivered prepared remarks before retreating into a private meeting, where officials said they would discuss additional action to protect reproductive health care.
Harris on multiple occasions criticized "extremist so-called leaders" in states that have moved to restrict or entirely ban abortions, including in cases involving rape or incest.
"I am a former prosecutor who specialized in child sexual assault cases and violence against women," she said. "The idea that we would require someone who has endured an extreme act of violence and then subject her to the government's will without investing in her the self-determination to which she is entitled to make decisions based on what she believes is her best interest is outrageous."
In the wake of the Supreme Court's June 24 Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, Massachusetts lawmakers rolled out and approved legislation designed to lessen barriers to abortion and protect providers and patients here while other states moved to crack down on the practice.
Baker -- who in 2020 vetoed an abortion access bill after lawmakers rejected his amendments -- last week signed the latest proposal into law, putting on the books new protections for providers who could face out-of-state legal action.
Both he and Harris pointed to Tuesday's election in Kansas, where voters rejected by a 59-41 margin a ballot measure that would have allowed state lawmakers to limit or ban abortions.
"If you take a look at the electoral turnout in that race, there were a heck of a lot of Republicans and independents who voted for choice in that election," Baker said. "I think it's critically important for all of us to recognize and to understand that some issues cross party lines, and this one in particular, I believe, the vast majority of the people of America and certainly the vast majority of the people in Massachusetts believe that women should have the right to make the call with their families, their pastors, whomever it is they seek guidance and advice from when it comes to this issue."
Harris applauded "down-home leaders in Kansas" for their work to organize in opposition to the ballot measure, with emphasis on appealing to voters of all stripes.
"They spoke loudly and said it doesn't matter who she voted for in the last election or who she plans on voting for in the next election. Don't take her rights from her and allow the government to replace its priorities for her priorities," Harris said. "The vote that occurred in Kansas also made clear what we all know: The majority of Americans agree with this principle."
A day before Harris's visit to Boston, President Joe Biden issued an executive order the White House said would support patients traveling to other states for reproductive health care, press providers to comply with federal non-discrimination law, and promote additional research about maternal health outcomes.
The last point was on the mind of Rep. Liz Miranda, who said the Legislature "can and should do more" to address significant racial disparities in maternal mortality rates and other health metrics.
Miranda praised the Legislature for creation of a commission to study maternal inequities and another panel to examine postpartum depression, but she said Massachusetts "is the most expensive state to give birth" and that "birth outcomes have worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic."
"Good is not good enough. We can't go back to normal," Miranda said.
Harris was particularly interested and nodded along to Miranda's remarks, according to a pool reporter.
The Republican National Committee took aim at Harris for hosting an event focused on reproductive health instead of the economy.
"Massachusetts is being hit hard by the recession, but you can bet Kamala Harris won't talk about that," said RNC spokesperson Rachel Lee. "She may give it a laugh, but for voters, this incredible failure by Biden and Harris is no laughing matter."