Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham Hey, y’all. Surprise. Now I know y’all are like, “Girl, where you been?” I know, I know. Listen, “Undistracted” is on hiatus right now, and we are working so hard to set up a beautiful season three for y’all. But in the meantime, we’re coming back to you with something pretty special to hold you over that I think, I hope, will keep you undistracted. The coming days mark a somber and admittedly infuriating anniversary. It’s been one year since the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision that changed millions of people’s lives. 

Clip [00:01:39] The landmark decision that overturned Roe versus Wade. 

Clip [00:01:43] Overturn Roe versus Wade. Super conservative majority voted to overturn Roe versus Wade. 

Clip [00:01:48] Ended a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. 

Clip [00:01:51] Ruling reverses a nearly 50-year-old precedent. 

Clip [00:01:54] Taking away what was regarded as a fundamental right.

Clip [00:01:57] Attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:02:04] Now, if you’re new here, welcome. And know that we talk about abortion a lot on this show, like a lot a lot, because it’s a medical procedure that one in four people will have in their lifetime. Because we want to help break the stigma. And frankly, because I figure that if we all know how we got here, then maybe we can claw our way back to something better and never, ever return here again. And well, where’s here? In the last year, 14 states have banned all or most abortions, and about nine more are trying to do the same. Forced birth is on the rise, and with it, so is maternal mortality. So especially on this anniversary, we’re going to talk about it some more. And we’re going to talk about it with somebody who has the power to do something about it. We are headed toward a huge election, 2024, maybe you’ve heard of her? And yeah, they’re all huge these days. But this one, this one is coming after an unprecedented rollback of modern rights. I mean, they’re trying to ban books, black history, trans kids, and bodily autonomy all at the same time. And they really thought we weren’t going to notice. Anyway, after kind of a slow start talking about it last summer, the White House has been putting abortion more front and center. And one person there is talking about it in particular. 

Clip [00:03:30] How dare they? How dare they tell a woman what she can do and cannot do with her own body? How dare they? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:03:41] Honestly, Vice President Kamala Harris is exactly the person I wanted to talk to on this anniversary. She’s been crisscrossing the country, speaking on the issue and hearing from those who have been most impacted: patients, providers, and families who have been forever changed by an anti-abortion agenda that means all of us harm. So I sat down and asked her. I wanted to know what she thinks about the state of emergency we’re in, what Washington plans to do about it, and how we get our country on the right side of history in 2024. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:04:17] Hello, Madam Vice President. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:04:19] Hello, Madam Packnett Cunningham. Perfect person. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:04:24] How are you? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:04:25] I am very well. I am very well. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:04:29] [Laugh] So for our listeners, I’ve been in conversation with you a number of times before. I’m actually thinking about three years ago on Breonna Taylor’s birthday. And then I had the honor of going to Ghana with you and a cohort where, by the way, thousands and thousands of people, especially a lot of women, waited in monstrous heat for hours to hear you speak at Black Star Square. The last time we were together, we were in the motherland. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:04:53] I know. And it was, wasn’t it extraordinary? I was there, and I’m so glad you were able to join, because I really do strongly believe we as Americans really ought to see and understand and fully maximize the relationship between the United States and Africa for so many reasons, that has everything to do with intertwined history, of course. But also the median age of the continent is 19. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:05:21] Mm. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:05:21] And when you think about that, and then you couple that with the fact that by 2050, it is estimated that one in four people occupying space on Mother Earth will be on the continent of Africa. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:05:33] That’s right. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:05:34] How could we not look toward Africa in terms of thinking about the importance of strengthening the mutual investment in our future? And so I was so glad that you were able to be on that trip. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:05:47] We are excited about that progress and that partnership. And yet and still, we are fighting big fights on our own turf. If I take a 50,000 foot view of the moment you signed up three years ago, really to help the country begin to recover from four years of an extremist presidency, and from the people who want that power back, we’re now seeing and suffering from, I believe, a really three-part attack on freedom. Right, so we’ve got an attack on voting rights and democracy itself. We’ve got an attack on truth. I mean, book bans are happening in 2023. And we’ve got an attack on our bodily freedom from anti-trans laws to the overturning of Roe v. Wade almost exactly a year ago. I mean, honestly, to paraphrase, it’s like everything everywhere all at once. So I’m really just — 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:06:39] Yeah.

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:06:39] I’m honestly wondering, like, aren’t you mad? Because I’m mad so I know you got to be mad. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:06:44] Well, I’m deeply, deeply concerned. You know, I would say troubled, but that doesn’t really measure up to how, how concerned I am about where this is all headed. You know, I think about it, Brittany, this way. You rightly articulated a lot of the issues which are about long, long, hard fought, hard won battles to expand rights, to expand civil rights, human rights that are being full-on attacked. There is a national agenda to attack these hard won rights. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:07:22] That’s right. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:07:22] And first of all, I’ll say that it is my strong and deep belief that the strength of our nation has been a function of our realization that an expansion of rights is about strengthening our country. And now we are seeing a full-on concerted attack to restrict rights. And that is part of what concerns me deeply. And I think about it in the context of, hey, everybody gotta be really clear about this moment. Be very clear eyed about this moment. And you cannot be passive. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:07:57] Mm hmm. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:07:58] I think of those two frogs, you know, the two frogs in the two pots. So for your listeners here it goes: So there are two pots of water and frogs. And in one pot, you put the frog in the water and you slowly turn up the heat and that frogs just hanging out as the heat just slowly gets hotter to the point that that water starts to boil and that frog perishes. In the other pot of water, you first turn up the heat real high. The water is boiling. You drop that frog in, he’ll jump right out. The lesson there, as far as I’m concerned: Don’t be that first frog. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:08:36] I mean, because the heat is hot, right? Especially when we think about abortion specifically. One year ago, the Supreme Court published those fateful words: The Constitution does not confer the right to an abortion. And since then, we’ve seen practically a daily reel of horror stories. Right? People miscarrying, people being forced to carry babies that can’t live, and doctors who will go to jail for doing their jobs. I know you’ve been traveling all around the country and meeting with some of those patients and some of those providers. Is there one particular story from those conversations that really is sticking with you? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:09:16] Well, you’ve, you’ve mentioned a number of them. There is the story, for example, of Amanda, who I spent time with. She was experiencing a miscarriage, went to the hospital and was denied treatment. Went twice, denied treatment to help her with what she was experiencing, which was a miscarriage. And finally, when she developed sepsis, did they finally admit her to give her emergency care. She could have died. And what was this a result of? This was a result of the people in that facility not sure whether to provide her with emergency care, by the way. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:09:57] Yeah. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:09:58] That’s just one example. But, you know, you know my background and my background as a prosecutor was mostly focused on crimes against women and children with an emphasis on cases like rape and child abuse. And let me tell you something. The thing that I know is that there are so many stories, Brittany, that you and I are not aware of. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:10:21] Yeah. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:10:22] People are privately and silently suffering, suffering and alone in an environment which has now not only lacked compassion for their needs, not to mention their right to make decisions about their own body, but in an environment that also is heavily weighted with judgment that is made to make her feel as though she has done something wrong. And you couple all of these things together, and I think it again speaks loudly to the fact that we all must stand up and say we are not having this, that we are not going to allow this and that we are going to fight for the right of every person to make decisions about their own body and not the government making that decision for them. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:11:13] So let’s talk about some of that fight. Now, we know that the people have been organized and protesting. I want to talk about what the government can do. Congress could pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would, of course, make abortion a federal right. And a majority of the country supports that. But it doesn’t actually seem like that bill would make it through a Republican-led House. And if by some miracle it did, it would be blocked probably by a filibuster in the Senate. I think a lot of us are having trouble seeing it. So in your view, what is the urgent path to victory? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:11:49] Well, to your point, ultimately we need a federal law that reinstates the protections of Roe v. Wade. Because when that happens, we will get rid of these various laws that are being passed in states that, to your point, criminalize health care providers, literally jail for a doctor or nurse. And these laws that, that deprive women of the ability to make decisions about their body. We need a national law. So how do we get there? Well, here’s how it works, as we all know: The people who pass those laws at a federal level are members of Congress. We need to have members of Congress, the majority of Congress, who agrees with the freedom and the rights of women to make decisions about their own body. And when we have that majority in the Congress, we can pass a law that puts these protections back in place. That’s ultimately what we have to do. And so that’s about elections. That’s about who we elect to the United States Congress. We’ve got elections coming up not very long from now. And pay attention to that. Pay attention to who is your local prosecutor? If you live in a state that is criminalizing health care providers, pay attention to who is in your state house. Because right now, since the Supreme Court took away the right, it has gone to the states. And state legislators are the ones who are either standing to protect those rights or attacking those rights. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:13:22] So there’s a legislative pathway and that one might not come as urgently as we want. There’s also a legal pathway because even medically necessary abortions, as you spoke about, are being criminalized. Last summer, the federal government said that doctors and hospitals needed to follow federal guidance that requires if a pregnant person needs an abortion for an emergency medical reason, like a miscarriage, the doctors have to provide it. So the administration, the government has filed lawsuits to enforce that. As you mentioned, you are a prosecutor. The courts really are your lane. Will we see more of these lawsuits? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:13:59] So, you are right that the U.S. Department of Justice and through our Health and Human Services Division are enforcing and making clear that under — it’s called EMTALA, and it’s basically the law that says you can’t deny—it’s an acronym, emergency medical care, but it basically means nobody should be denied access to emergency health care. Right. So what we have done is make clear in terms of the law and our ability and also our preparedness to take on these cases where there is a violation of the law, meaning where there’s a denial of giving somebody access to emergency health care. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:14:39] People who self-manage abortions are under threat as well. A lot of our abortion rights friends in the streets are reporting back to us that in some states, police are going as far as arresting people who are using abortion pills to end pregnancies. What can the federal government do to stop that activity? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:14:57] Well, again, one of the things that we need to have happen is we need folks to be able to know that there’s a safe place for them to report these cases so that we can build up the cases to go after people who are abusing the law. And that is something that a lot of the nonprofits are doing and some of the work that the Department of Justice is doing. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:15:16] Sure. So we’ve talked about the legislative angle, the legal angle, the federal angle. There’s also a messaging lane here. You’ve been pretty forthright about using the word abortion, which friends of this podcast like Renee Bracey Sherman remind us is necessary to remove the stigma from a procedure that one in four birthing people will have in their lifetime. Why is removing that stigma important to you? Is that work you’re going to take on even more? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:15:46] Well, here’s the thing. Abortion is a subset of a bigger stigma, which is about judging women for their sexuality. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:15:56] Mm hmm. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:15:56] Judging women as though their predicament is somehow the result of bad behavior or irresponsible behavior. Not only is that woman in a situation where she may not be able to afford to go to a state where abortion is legal, she may not have childcare because the majority of women who receive abortion care are mothers. She will be suffering and suffering alone because the environment around this discussion has made her feel somehow as though she should be embarrassed because she has done something wrong or is about to do something wrong. So part of what we have to do is, in this conversation, reach out, all of us in every way we can, to let folks know you are not being judged. You are not alone. There is nothing about you that has done something wrong. And we want to protect you and your rights and your freedoms. Because ultimately, again, this comes down to the fact that these so-called leaders, these extremist so-called leaders are taking rights from people to make decisions about their own body. You’ll remember years ago, Brittany, when I was in the United States Senate and asked somebody, “Can you tell me of any law that tells a man what to do with his body?” 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:17:25] Oh, I remember. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:17:27] So let’s be clear about what’s happening here. And ultimately, it’s not only an intellectual discussion, it’s not only about what’s fair, what’s not. It really is about the fact that every day in America, people are suffering needlessly. And it is wrong. It is wrong to say that after somebody has survived the crime of violence that is rape or incest, where there’s been a violation of their body, that after she has survived that, we are going to continue to deprive her to make decisions about the autonomy of her own body. After that, think about how immoral that is, how these same people who beat their chest about their law and order and they want to keep people safe, they say they want to keep mothers and babies safe. Well, how about the fact that you’re depriving someone who has survived a violation to their body, depriving them of the ability and the freedom and the right to make the next decision about their body? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:18:29] That’s right. I got to be honest with you. I feel like I’m getting some of that Judiciary Hearing Senate fire from you today. We heard it when you were down in Memphis with the Tennessee Three. Those were some of your most viral moments even before stepping into the White House. I remember you trying to hold back Justice Brett Kavanaugh from helping the Supreme Court make the hard right turn we’ve now all witnessed them make. I imagine that that fire is necessary for the work you’ve chosen to do in your lifetime. And I also imagine it’s different as vice president. Have there been moments in your vice presidency that have sparked that fighter instinct? Because I’m curious about how you decide when to show it and how to show it. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:19:16] Well, there are times where I may show it, but you may not see it. [Laugh]

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:19:22] [Laugh] Real. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:19:23] Do know that. That’s true for everybody. But, you know, one example to your point was Tennessee. And I, you know, I watched what happened with the Justins and Gloria, the Tennessee Three that night. And I was just so incensed. And I have other words for it. But, you know, I’m going to just be polite and um–

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:19:45] We’ll be a family podcast today, it’s okay. [Laugh]

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:19:50] Exactly. [Laugh] And so I went down there the next day, and you’re referring to me speaking at Fisk at the chapel? 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:19:56] Yes, indeed. Mhmm.

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:19:57] You know, the idea that these leaders and in particular the two Justins, elected leaders in their twenties, who were in a chamber that they had been elected by their constituents to be in, to be the voice of their constituents—they’re in that chamber during what should be a debate about a very important issue, which is the state of gun violence in America. And it’s not even as though was a metaphor or symbolic. Brittany, these people literally turned off their microphones. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:20:31] Literally. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:20:32] Literally turned off their microphone. You know, we talk about “Don’t try to shut me up.” [Laugh] They literally turned off their microphones. And you know what I loved about it? Cause they were like, “Alright, anybody got a bullhorn?” 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:20:47] Listen, we’re going to find a way. That’s what we do, right? Especially when the fight is necessary and especially when there’s a party so committed to stripping us of the freedoms that we’ve been fighting for generation after generation. Right. Meanwhile, if we look ahead to 2024, that same party is running 10 candidates for president and four of them are people of color. I mean, let’s be honest, like, the Republican Party, Republican voters themselves are not 40% people of color. But this candidate pool is, if I’m honest, I think they are in part running with you in mind and want to signal that this party is welcoming to people of color despite their policy standpoints. How are you thinking about that ahead of next year? 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:21:33] Well, I think of it in a, in a number of ways. I mean, back to the, the point about Tennessee. I understand that there are these so-called powerful people, these so-called leaders. They’re literally trying to shut up dialogue and debate. They’re literally trying to shut it down. You look at it in terms of what’s happening in Florida where they’re trying to shut down conversations about the importance of diversity and equity and inclusion. Literally trying to turn that into a pejorative the way they tried to turn woke into a pejorative. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:22:08] That’s right. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:22:09] I mean, understand what’s happening. They’re trying to shut down these topics. They’re trying to say that for you to raise issues like equity, like let’s call it, let’s talk about pay equity and the fact that women make $0.87 on the dollar and then Black women make $0.57. They’re trying to shut that down like— 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:22:28] They’re atrocious. Yeah. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:22:30] But the point has to be: We will not be silenced. We will not be deterred. We will not be afraid. And we will not tire. And we will not tire because they’re trying to wear us down. When it comes to using our voices with authority. To talk about the importance of equity, the importance of fairness, the importance of freedom. And so that’s how I think about this moment. I’m not thinking about any one of them in particular. Because I really more am focused on what’s happening. In terms of the patterns we are seeing. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:23:17] Mm. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:23:18] And this is one of those moments where, you know, listen, borne out of patriotism and love of country and a belief in the founding principles of freedom and equality, we all have to stand up and fight. And say, “We’re not having this.” It’s so fundamental what we’re fighting for right now. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:23:39] Before I let you go, as I hear you talk about the fight that we are in, that you are in, I got to tell you, I’m thinking about your mother. I’m sure you have been too, very frequently. She was, of course, a scientist, a breast cancer researcher. Given what she did, who she was, and what she taught you and your sister, what advice do you think she would give you? I mean, especially as a woman who believed in science and quality health care. What would she say to you as we, as you fight this fight. 

Vice President Kamala Harris [00:24:12] To keep fighting and, you know, and don’t give up. You know, that was the way she was and that’s the way she raised her daughters and that’s how she approached life in her work. Fight for the dignity of all people. These are the times where we cannot sit back and be passive observers because we got to understand there’s too much at stake. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:24:37] Madam Vice President, thank you so much for your time. We here at “Undistracted” are, of course, grateful to you and looking forward to seeing what you do next. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:24:46] It’s so good to be with you. Thank you for your voice and all that you do. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:25:48] Y’all, we all got to have that fighter instinct. It is probably the only way to exist in a world hostile to the idea that you or I might have final say over ourselves. This fight is not for the faint of heart. Nothing worth having really is, especially not rights for marginalized people in a society that fiends for white supremacist patriarchy and feigns equality at its best. The vice president says she navigates that fighter instinct daily. And while we keep holding Washington accountable, we also got to love and support one another. We have to be as subversively creative as our ancestors who knew that putting up freedom railroads underground and creating that covert collective known as Jane was the very least we could do to secure access to the birthright of our agency, no matter the risk. It is that dramatic. It is really that serious. And now is the time for us to make the right kind of history. So while we mount pressure for legislative and legal solutions to come urgently, we also save ourselves. If you or someone you know needs safe information on how to access an abortion, visit Ineedana.com, that’s i-n-e-e-d-a-n-a dot com. If you can donate to abortion funds monthly or if you yourself are in need of those funds, visit abortionfunds.org to find your local one. If you’ve seen or experienced medical providers refusing to perform emergency abortions, report it at CMS.gov to help the government make its case in the courts. And if you are ready to tell your abortion story, help fight the stigma with our friends at wetestify.org. Now, in this episode we talked about victims of violence and people who were experiencing severe medical emergencies. But let’s be clear. Any reason you choose is reason enough to have an abortion, 100% of those reasons are valid and 100% of them ain’t anybody’s business. Especially not Uncle Sam’s, child, he can’t even fix his own tax code. We deserve agency and autonomy over the only thing that is truly ours: the bodies we call home. And on this anniversary, if we can even call it that, well I’m thinking of everyone who hasn’t had that. We love you. 

Brittany Packnett Cunningham [00:28:32] And that’s it for today, friends. But never, ever for tomorrow. And catch us real soon for season three. “Undistracted” is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. Our lead producer for this episode is Dina Kleiner. Our associate producer is Marialexa Kavanaugh. Thanks also to Tara Abrahams, Pedro Alvira and Raj Makhija. Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media, and our team at @TheMeteor. Subscribe to Undistracted—and rate and review us everybody!—on Apple Podcasts or literally anywhere you get your favorite podcast because this episode will be back on Spotify. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being and especially today, thanks for doing. I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free. 

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