Vice President Harris targets Trump as she rallies for abortion rights in Wisconsin

Date:

BY CHRIS MEGERIAN AND COLLEEN LONG

WAUKESHA, Wisc. (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris blasted Republicans as extremists for trying to ban abortions as she rallied women in the key battleground state of Wisconsin on Monday, marking the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade by leading Democrats’ charge for restoring reproductive rights.

She singled out Donald Trump, who is tightening his grip on the Republican presidential nomination, for saying he was “proud” of helping to limit abortions. Trump nominated three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court during his term in office, paving the way for the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“Proud that women across our nation are suffering?” Harris said. “Proud that women have been robbed of a fundamental freedom? Proud that doctors could be thrown in prison for caring for their patients? That young women today have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers?”

“How dare he?” she added.

The barrage reflects the White House’s intense focus on abortion rights during this year’s presidential campaign. Back in Washington, Biden convened a meeting of his reproductive health care access task force to discuss threats to emergency care and new steps for implementing executive orders on the subject.

The Democratic president described Roe v. Wade as “a fundamental right” that had been “ripped away.”

Biden, Harris, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are holding another rally focused on abortion in Virginia on Tuesday. In addition, Harris’ trip to Wisconsin is the first stop in a nationwide tour to talk about reproductive rights.

In her speech on Monday, Harris described abortion as an integral part of the country’s tradition of personal liberty.

“In America, freedom is not to be given. It is not to be bestowed. It is ours by right,” she said. “And that includes the freedom to make decisions about one’s own body — not the government telling you what to do.”

Harris shared stories of women who have miscarried in toilets or developed sepsis because they were denied help by doctors concerned about violating abortion restrictions.

“This is, in fact, a healthcare crisis,” she said. “And there is nothing about this that is hypothetical.”

Wisconsin faces an ongoing legal battle over abortion. When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republicans argued that an 1849 law that was still on the books would effectively ban the procedure except in situations where a mother’s life was at risk.

“These extremists want to roll back the clock to a time before women were treated as full citizens,” Harris said.

Clinics across the state stopped offering abortions until a court ruled the law did not apply to abortions. Republicans have appealed the decision, and the case will likely be decided by the state supreme court. They’re also pushing for a voter referendum that would ban abortions after 14 weeks, holding a hearing on the proposal on Monday.

The White House is pushing against the limits of its ability to ensure access to abortion without new legislation from Congress, where control is split between Democrats and Republicans.

On Monday, Biden administration announced it was creating a team dedicated to helping hospitals comply with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, which requires hospitals receiving federal money to provide life-saving treatment when a patient is at risk of dying.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it would beef up training at hospitals around the law and publish new information on how to lodge a complaint against a hospital.

Some advocacy groups have criticized HHS as not responding aggressively enough to such complaints. Last week, the Associated Press reported that federal officials did not find any violation of the law when an Oklahoma hospital instructed a 26-year-old woman to wait in a parking lot until her condition worsened to qualify for an abortion of her nonviable pregnancy.

The White House has repeatedly turned to Harris, the first woman to serve as vice president, to make its case on abortion. Her outspokenness contrasts with Biden’s more reticent approach. Although he is a longtime supporter of abortion rights, he mentions less often and sometimes avoids using the word abortion even when he discusses the issue.

“I think the real star from a messaging standpoint is the vice president,” said Mini Timmaraju, head of Reproductive Freedom for All, the activist organization formerly known as the National Abortion Rights Action League. “Look, Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris. Joe Biden has asked Kamala Harris to lead on this issue. This is going to set us up for a great contrast with the other side.”

While Harris and Democrats have embraced abortion as a campaign issue, Republicans are shying away or calling for a truce, fearful of sparking more backlash from voters.

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, recently made a plea to “find consensus” on the divisive issue.

“As much as I’m pro-life, I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice, and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” she said during a primary debate in November.

Trump has taken credit for helping to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he has balked at laws like Florida’s ban on abortions after six weeks, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, another Republican candidate who dropped out of the race over the weekend.

“You have to win elections,” Trump said during a recent Fox News town hall.

Vice presidents are rarely decisive figures in reelection campaigns. However, Harris has faced additional scrutiny because of Biden’s age — he would be 82 at the start of a second term — and her status as the first woman, Black person and person of South Asian descent to serve in her position.

Abortion has reshaped Harris’ tenure as vice president after earlier struggles when dealing with intractable issues like migration from Central America.

Jamal Simmons, a former communications director for Harris, said abortion “focused her attention and her office in a way that nothing had before.”

“Focusing on abortion rights tapped into the vice president’s legal background, her political values and her substantive knowledge in a way that I saw no other issue do while I was there,” he said.

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