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Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., supports a national strike over Roe's demise

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, Democrats who support abortion rights have been scrambling to counter the move and protect access to the procedure. The message from many, including the White House, has been vote. Here's what Vice President Kamala Harris told NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We cannot underestimate the significance of the upcoming elections and the need for all people who care about this issue to understand that we have to have a pro-choice Congress.

SUMMERS: But some Democrats have more immediate ideas. And when I spoke with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal earlier today - she chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus - she got a bit more specific about the strategy, including some proposals the White House can move on now.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Well, I think that they are saying the right things, but I think what we need to see is the full force and outrage that women and pregnant people across this country are feeling. And I have suggested to the White House that they deploy not only the vice president, but the president as well, to do a national town hall on this issue, bring forward the women who are involved in so many nuanced and complex situations.

And also, let's deploy the economic cabinet secretaries to talk about what an economic disaster this would be for the country if women and pregnant people are seen simply as the bearers of children and that their rights and freedoms stop the minute of conception. I do think that the White House is taking steps. I think we just need them to be faster and also just to recognize what this ruling has done for people across the country in terms of using the president's bully pulpit.

SUMMERS: Let's turn now to Capitol Hill. To your mind, is there anything that Democrats can do to protect the right to an abortion with the current majority? There is slim margins in both chambers. There is the obstacle of the filibuster. What's possible now?

JAYAPAL: Well, we're going to look at everything that's possible. Obviously, we're going to bring a raft of bills to the floor that include, you know, protecting women who travel across state lines, these kinds of things. We will - I believe we will repass the Women's Health Protection Act. We've already passed it, but we'll pass it again to get Republicans really on record. But the problem is we need 10 votes, Republican votes, in the Senate and every Democratic vote. And so we're not giving up. We're going to fight this thing to the end. People want to see us, you know, really fight for this.

And I also think that we should codify Roe - not just Roe, but we should pass legislation that codifies Griswold and Obergefell and Lawrence and the other decisions, settled precedent, that the Supreme Court - at least one justice, but really the majority opinion more broadly - has taken aim at.

I also think it would be worth are thinking about passing a couple of bills that are about protecting children because we need to call out the hypocrisy of Republicans who say that they're pro-life or pro-child or pro-family, and yet they vote against paid leave, against the child tax credit, against child care, against all of these things that are about protecting children once they are born. And so I think that is something we're looking at as well.

SUMMERS: You talked about a number of bills that the House is likely to pursue, but what impact does that have if you have partners across the Capitol in the Senate who are unlikely to go along without those 60 votes needed to move major legislation to the president's desk?

JAYAPAL: Well, that's the extreme frustration, because women are suffering. Women will die. Pregnant people will die. Young girls will die because of these abortion bans. And the fact that we have a couple of senators who said that they were misled by these justices who testified under oath that they were not going to overturn settled precedent, and now they have, I think it's incumbent on those senators in particular to be willing to vote for an exception to the filibuster. Basically, now an extremist, radical Supreme Court is coming in and making decisions and overturning settled precedent and destroying rights for people across this country with these catastrophic decisions.

SUMMERS: There are a number of voters, even ones who would describe themselves as strong Democrats, who believe that your party has insufficiently prioritized abortion rights over the years and who are now fed up. What is your message to people who feel that way in this moment?

JAYAPAL: My message is that as an organizer for 20 years, strength comes in moments of crisis, and that is what we have to rely on. When these times of crisis - and let's be clear, this is an emergency. This is an extreme crisis. People will die across the country. We cannot give up. That is exactly what the other side wants us to do. And we have to organize. And we also have to push ourselves to look beyond just rallies or marches and really think about what are the things that show the power of women in this country to keep our economy going? And what happens if that power of women is taken away?

SUMMERS: And, Congresswoman, to that point, earlier this week, you raised the prospect of perhaps a national strike by women in this country in response. How serious are you about that idea? What might that look like?

JAYAPAL: Well, I'm serious about it. I think it would require a lot of planning, a lot of buy-in from top leaders in the movement. I've already started to have some of those conversations. I think, obviously, we are a very different country than Iceland, where, in 1975, 90% of women walked off of their jobs and their homes. That's a tiny country. I recognize all of the challenges. But I do think that women in this country have a particular influence on every single realm of the country's direction, and we need to leverage that power. So let's see if we can get there.

This is not just about - and I'm not saying just in a demeaning way because I've been pregnant. This is not just about the nine months of pregnancy. This is about what happens to our lives. Are we able to work? Are we able to have careers? Do we matter as citizens with equal status to males? And that is what's at stake today.

SUMMERS: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you so much.

JAYAPAL: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.