'Stand up and fight': Vice President Harris surprises crowd at L.A. reproductive rights rally

Vice President Kamala Harris gives remarks at the Women's March in Los Angeles Saturday, Apr. 15, 2023.
"When you attack the rights of women in America, you are attacking America," Vice President Kamala Harris said to demonstrators in Los Angeles on Saturday. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
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Vice President Kamala Harris urged demonstrators gathered in downtown Los Angeles to "stand up and fight" for their ideals following recent court rulings over reproductive rights that have divided the country.

"When you attack the rights of women in America, you are attacking America," Harris said at a rally outside City Hall.

Harris' surprise appearance at the event was greeted with shrieks and applause from the crowd. The vice president, who was introduced by Mayor Karen Bass, talked about her recent trips overseas and warned that democracy was at stake at this "critical moment" in U.S. history.

"I fundamentally believe that you can gauge the strength of a democracy based on the strength of women in that democracy," Harris said.

Saturday's rally, which drew a few hundred people, was hastily put together after U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk's recent decision to order a hold on the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the abortion pill mifepristone after more than two decades.

A woman holds hanger with the sign, "Roe wasn't the beginning of abortions. Roes was the end of women dying from abortions."
Margot Pipkin protests Saturday at downtown L.A.'s Pershing Square against the ruling by a federal judge in Texas to override FDA approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The ruling, out of Texas, could effectively halt FDA approval of mifepristone nationwide, including in California and other states where abortion is legal.

The rally was hosted by Women’s March Action, the political arm of a foundation that seeks to advance the political power of women.

Harris, who has a home in Los Angeles, was brought to the stage by the mayor, who talked up the vice president's accomplishments and background.

"We have a vice president who is one of us!" Bass said.

Harris, in her brief speech, warned against "those who would dare to attack fundamental rights and, by extension, attack our democracy," "so-called extremist leaders who would dare to silence the voices of the people," and "a United States Supreme Court — the highest court in our land — that took a constitutional right that has been recognized from the people of America."

"We have seen attacks on voting rights, attacks on fundamental rights to love and marry the people that you love, attacks on the ability of people to be themselves and be proud of who they are," she said.

Other speakers at Saturday's event also urged the crowd to rally in the face of recent decisions by courts and lawmakers.

"We won't go back!" shouted Los Angeles County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath.

The march began in downtown's Pershing Square and reached City Hall around noon.

A woman sitting outside on steps with a handmade sign and an umbrella scrawled with reproductive rights messages in marker.
Kathleen Schwartz joins Saturday's protest in downtown Los Angeles with her personalized women's rights messages. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Among those in the crowd was Hollywood resident Kathleen Schwartz, who said abortion should be a decision "between the doctor and the woman."

"I feel it's very important to be out here and say no to what's going on in this country," Schwartz said, adding that she was protesting for future generations.

"I'm 67 years old, and I really shouldn't have to be doing this anymore," she said. "But it's important."

Riley Grace, 12, and Evan Smith, 14, came to the rally together. The two are friends and attend the same school.

Evan carried a sign that showed a coat hanger and read “Keep your laws off our bodies.”

Riley, who lives in Koreatown, came to Saturday’s event “to be on the right side of history.”

“I want to be someone who can say, ‘I fought for my rights and made sure that my future is secure and my future is safe,’” Riley said.

Evan, who happened to be wearing a Kamala Harris T-shirt, texted family members as the vice president spoke:

"I was like, 'Oh my God — she's right here!'"

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.