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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Dr. Eve Espey discuss abortion rights onstage at UNM's Keller Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 25. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks on reproductive health and justice at UNM

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke in Keller Hall at the University of New Mexico  about protecting reproductive rights. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and chair of UNM’s department of obstetrics & gynecology, Dr. Eve Espey, also participated in the conversation.

The talk at UNM comes as part of a series Harris has given around the United States about reproductive justice as the Biden-Harris administration began to speak out more heavily on reproductive rights after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was decided on June 24.

During the talk, Harris said that New Mexico was a safe haven for surrounding states such as Texas and Arizona.

“Among the laws that are being proposed against (abortion), (this) include laws that make no exception for rape or incest,” Harris said. “The idea that a so-called leader would pass a law that would prohibit someone who has survived such an extreme act of violence and violation — a violation of the autonomy of the body — and then to pass a law saying, in addition, you cannot make choices about your body. It's immoral.”

Paris Morgan, a member of the American Indian Student Services at UNM and attendee at the event, spoke on how Harris’s speech was not wholly what she expected it would be when she first went in.

“I actually expected her to just solely focus on reproductive rights: (Harris) talking about issues across the United States, addressing them in a way kind of self-promot(ing) herself,” Morgan said. “But actually, she defied my expectations. I was really interested in what she had to say. I thought it was really interesting. She brought in different aspects that play a big part into reproductive rights.”

Harris discussed the rate at which Black and Native American women are mistreated by the health care system, especially in relation to birth mortality rates. Aja Nez, a UNM student and office assistant at the Women’s Resource Center who was also in attendance, spoke on the impact that bringing up these marginalized communities had.

“There’s a whole population that many don’t strive to help or direct their help towards, and she’s really putting that voice out there,” Nez said.

Bringing up marginalized communities was not the only way audience members thought Harris went above just speaking on reproductive rights. Ty’Queese Keyes, a member of the UNM Black Law Students Association who attended the talk, said Harris showing a map with different laws regarding abortion across different states was a key moment for her.

“I believe her bringing in the props to give us a visual and show us the data in a way (that represents) the decisions that states are making. I think that was the most important,” Keyes said.

Mayor Tim Keller also spoke at the event to show his support for the Biden-Harris administration and reproductive rights.

“I’m here today to make clear that this city and this state and the Biden-Harris administration withhold the line against this assault on reproductive rights and against women's freedom in our country,” Keller said. “We know that (in) Albuquerque. We know that women's rights are fundamentally civil rights, that there are human rights and that we walk the walk in this city. In this city, we do not stand between women and their doctors. We stand with them.”

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Associated Students at UNM director of diversity, equity and inclusion Danielle Bell attended the event and noted how Harris coming to New Mexico acknowledged the state’s role in the fight for reproductive rights.

“It shows that New Mexico is on the forefront of that battle and that she is acknowledging that and taking the time out to see what’s happening in New Mexico and see how we can emulate that in other states across the country,” Bell said.

Harris speaking on a college campus was especially noteworthy for Keyes.

“I think right now, reproductive health care is affecting universities and colleges exclusively. And so I think coming to UNM is the perfect place to spread her word and also let us know what she's doing to achieve the goals for America,” Keyes said.

During her talk, Harris brought forth a call to action that promoted her goals for reproductive health within the United States and with its citizens.

“This is why it's so important that we all speak out and let folks know they are not alone … Because that is the thing that can really harm someone, is if they feel they're alone,” Harris said. “But therein lies the power for people to use that collective voice and individual voices to remind people they are not alone."

Marcela Johnson is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @dailylobo

Elizabeth Secor is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @esecor2003

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