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Vice President Kamala Harris urges youth-led movement for reproductive rights during Reno visit

Kamala Harris is laughing while sitting and holding a microphone. There are two flags to her right-hand side, including the American flag.
Zoe Malen
KUNR Public Radio
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about reproductive rights during a visit to UNR in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Hundreds of students, community members and local politicians waited in line outside the Church Fine Arts building on the UNR campus during late-season snow to see Vice President Kamala Harris speak on Tuesday.

One of those people was Bob Blackstock, a lifelong Democrat. He was there because he supports women’s rights. He also celebrates Nevada’s role as a swing state.

The students here are in a pivotal position to be able to show leadership on these key issues for all Americans,” Blackstock said.

The vice president’s visit focused on reproductive rights. Her appearance came as the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding whether to uphold a decision by a federal judge in Texas that would overturn the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of mifepristone – a drug commonly used for medication abortions.

Harris had a clear message for young people in Nevada: It’s time to build a movement to protect abortion access.

“Some of the best movements in our country, that have been about the expansion of rights, have been led by students,” she said.

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and actress Rosario Dawson joined Harris onstage. They asked her about abortion access, gun violence and women’s role in politics.

Schieve said she’s impressed with the vice president’s focus on activism and the issues that impact people’s daily lives.

“I am a true nonpartisan, I like the right to choose and to have the choice to choose, and it’s no different than for my body,” Schieve said.

A sign announcing Vice President Kamala Harris' visit to UNR is placed along a sidewalk. There is a line of people standing along the walkway.
Zoe Malen
KUNR Public Radio
Hundreds of students, community members and local politicians came to see Vice President Harris speak at UNR despite low temperatures in Reno, Nev., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.

Sixty percent of Nevada lawmakers are women. The Reno City Council and the Washoe County Board of Commissioners have female majorities, too.

According to Schieve, that’s activating more women around the state to get involved.

But Harris believes the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the Texas ruling are part of a national effort to take away women’s rights.

The ruling is the latest judicial effort to restrict abortion access since former President Donald Trump packed the courts with conservative appointees. It could limit reproductive health care even in states like Nevada, where the right to an abortion is protected by state law.

Harris said if mifepristone’s approval is revoked, it could impact other common medications, like prescriptions for asthma, diabetes and cancer.

“I’m not going to get in your business, but you should just think about what might be in your medicine cabinet,” the vice president said.

Dawson shared a story about a friend in New York who was recently diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy. That’s a potentially fatal condition that happens when an egg is fertilized outside of the uterus.

In some Republican-controlled states, abortion restrictions passed after the end of Roe v. Wade have made health care providers hesitant to intervene in such cases – even though ectopic pregnancies are never viable.

Dawson said she believes that if abortion access is going to be protected, people are going to have to get more engaged in midterm elections. She said she doesn’t see the same engagement around women’s rights as she does with other hot-button issues, like gun violence.

“In the same way as when you’re traveling to a different state, you don’t want a state deciding whether or not it’s okay for you to get shot there,” Dawson said.

Moving forward, Schieve said Reno can expect to see more visits from national figures like Dawson and Harris. That’s partly thanks to Nevada’s early presidential primary.

But there’s also another reason.

“I’m getting ready to step into the role of the president of the United States Conference of Mayors,” Schieve said. “So I have a real opportunity to send out these invites and actually get a response.”

As swing state voters, Nevadans have been getting bombarded with political advertising and campaign events over the last few presidential cycles. With 2024 right around the corner, it’s likely that pattern will start to ramp up again.

But no matter who wins the White House, Harris said it’ll take new federal legislation to really protect abortion access. And she told the audience that won’t happen until they get organized and put pressure on Congress.

“Let’s get out there and do what needs to get done. And for the folks here, I’ll say just do it the Nevada way because you guys know how to get stuff done,” Harris said.

KUNR’s Maria Palma and Zoe Malen contributed to this report.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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