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Vice President Kamala Harris visits Des Moines to discuss reproductive health care

Natalie Krebs
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Des Moines a day after a federal judge in Texas heard a case that could restrict the use of a drug used for medical abortions.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Des Moines Thursday to meet with local leaders and abortion rights advocates to discuss reproductive health care amid recent action at both the state and federal level that could restrict access to medication used for abortion.

Harris’s visit came a day after a federal judge in Texas heard arguments in a case that could take the drug mifepristone, which is used for medical abortions, off the market. The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug two decades ago.

Harris, who hosted a closed meeting at Grand View University, said the case threatens the country’s public health system as a whole and that the Biden administration is ready to take action if the case succeeds.

"We take this very seriously," she said. "We are prepared to do whatever we may and can if the court rules in a way that is contrary to what we believe is in the best interests of the public health of America."

The plaintiffs on the case, a group of anti-abortion medical groups and doctors, sued the FDA claiming it improperly approved the drug. It could have wide-ranging effects on abortion access as well as the FDA-approval process going forward if it succeeds.

Natalie Krebs
Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, a Democrat from Coralville, speaks at a meeting on reproductive health care arranged by Vice President Kamala Harris at Grand View University.

Harris called the case a political move by those pushing an anti-abortion agenda.

"The fundamental issue at play with that court case is our public health system as a whole," she said. "If politicians can start using the court to undo doctor's decisions, imagine where that could lead."

Abortion in Iowa is legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

However, a case seeking to reinstate a 2018 so-called "fetal heartbeat" law, that would ban abortion as early as six weeks of pregnancy, is expected go before the state Supreme Court next month.

Iowa Republicans have indicated they plan to wait for the Supreme Court's ruling to come out before pursing more abortion restrictions through legislation.

Meanwhile, pharmacy chain Walgreens announced this month it would stop distributing mifepristone in 21 states – including Iowa – following legal threats from the states' attorneys general.

In her comments in Des Moines, Harris criticized the attorneys general for trying to restrict access to the abortion pill. This includes Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird, who took office in January.

"At the core of these issues is a foundational issue for our country, and it is the principle that we are founded on which says that we each are entitled to freedom and liberty in its most basic manifestation," Harris said.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter