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‘The right person’: Harris takes lead in campaign over abortion access

Vice president's election year rallying cry attacks ‘Trump abortion bans’

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about reproductive freedoms at Salus University in Elkins Park, Pa., on May 8.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks about reproductive freedoms at Salus University in Elkins Park, Pa., on May 8. (Ryan Collerd/AFP via Getty Images)

Vice President Kamala Harris paused briefly after telling an audience last month in Las Vegas, “So, let’s all be clear.” What followed has become a hallmark of her public campaign against states’ abortion bans.

“What we are seeing in these states that we are talking about are Trump abortion bans, and he can’t get away from that,” Harris said, repeating the line for effect: “Those are Trump abortion bans.”

The phrase has become Harris’ go-to club in her political golf bag as she aims to attack the electoral flag by blaming Donald Trump, the former president and presumed Republican nominee, for the ending of federal abortion protections and the subsequent bans on the procedure in some states.

“This election is about many, many important issues, including the ability of the people to organize in support of what we believe to be foundational values and principles about who we are as America,” Harris said April 15 in Las Vegas, with battleground Nevada looking more and more like a dead heat between President Joe Biden and Trump.

“When we look at our power, let’s not forget the power of the people, and let’s not overlook the momentum we’ve already achieved,” she said. “I’ll remind us … When this issue has been on the ballot — from Kentucky to California, from Virginia to Ohio … the voters voted in favor of freedoms, in red states and blue, making clear, by the way, this is not a partisan issue. Making clear there is a consensus among the American people that it is wrong to take rights from the people of our country.”

Harris, who has drawn criticism at times for a sometimes unsteady public persona, delivers the lines forcefully, appearing to capture the full attention of her audiences, who hoot and cheer in agreement.

White House and Biden-Harris campaign officials are banking on that enthusiasm carrying over to Election Day, citing polling data that shows a majority of Americans support the right to abortion and legal protections for women.

Harris has been “outspoken” about women’s issues, including access to abortion procedures since she and Biden took office in January 2021, a White House official said Friday.

‘Her authenticity’

Asked if taking the lead on what the White House refers to as “reproductive freedom” was an assignment handed down by Biden, the official called them “governing patterns.” Harris decided the issue was “something she felt that it was important to talk about,” the official added.

“She has a unique set of experiences that has given her a first-hand experience,” the official said, noting Harris’ time as a prosecutor and senator from California. “She took stock of the important moment we’re in and felt that it was important to highlight the true impact since the Dobbs decision on people’s lives.”

That was a reference to the landmark 2022 Supreme Court decision that ended the federal protections for the procedure that had been the law of the land since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

That “impact” — with stories of women nearly dying from pregnancy complications or even having miscarriages in toilets — is why the vice president has held more than 80 public events on the topic in more than a dozen states, the White House official said.

Mini Timmaraju, president and CEO of Reproductive Freedom for All, called Harris “the right person at the right time” for the movement after Roe’s protections were terminated.

“Much love goes out to the president. But she’s really the critical part of the ticket on reproductive freedom,” Timmaraju added, citing “her record” and “her authenticity.” Still, she credited Biden for “always being a huge advocate for not only gender equality and other policies, but also on abortion access.”

Biden delivered remarks on Monday to commemorate Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and went after Trump’s record on abortion rights. “He brags about cutting Roe v. Wade, making sure it’s overturned. But Kamala and I are going to keep fighting to restore Roe v. Wade until it’s the law of the land again,” he said.

Timmaraju said the president is “getting out there more and more on abortion — it’s helpful.”

But one Republican strategist said in a recent interview that it does not matter if Harris or Biden or any other Democratic figure is speaking publicly about the issue.

“All they have been doing and all they are going to do is distort what Trump has said and what states have actually passed,” said the GOP strategist, who was granted anonymity to be candid. “It’s very disingenuous and it very well could backfire. … Take Florida’s history, mostly in governor races — there have been times when an abortion ballot measure passed and a Republican was elected governor.”

‘Biden’s refusal’

At the same Las Vegas event last month, Harris told the audience that “momentum is on our side. We have 205 days until the election — yes, I am counting.”

She and other Democratic candidates are counting their polling advantage on questions about the Supreme Court nixing Roe and what they contend is any woman’s right — regardless of where she lives — to have access to pregnancy-ending procedures. Almost two-thirds of U.S. adults told CNN and SSRS in a survey conducted April 18-23 that they oppose the overturning of the abortion protection law, while 34 percent said they approved.

Other polls have produced similar results, which have indicated consistent levels of support for abortion rights since the 2022 Dobbs decision.

The CNN-SSRS survey also asked adults about their state’s abortion laws. In states where abortions have been banned, 52 percent called state laws too restrictive. In states where abortions are legal with gestational limits of 6-18 weeks, 43 percent called laws too restrictive.

Still, some activists want more from the vice president and others.

“I’m currently doing an abortion campaign, and I agree. I understand why Biden/Harris has made choices, but it would HELP the ticket to display political courage (on a number of issues),” Chris Love, a senior adviser and spokesperson for two Arizona pro-abortion rights groups, wrote last week on X, formerly called Twitter. “And let’s not act like Biden’s refusal to even say ‘abortion’ is winning votes.” Biden typically uses some form of the phrase “reproductive freedom” rather than “abortion.”

But Timmaraju pushed back when asked about feelings among advocates that Biden’s Catholicism was a hindrance.

“Despite his religious beliefs,” she said, “he’s a really effective advocate.”

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