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Harris to step up abortion rights push as part of new Biden effort

Vice President Harris plans to embark on a nationwide tour in January to push back on state abortion restrictions, signaling that President Biden’s team intends to highlight the issue more aggressively as he makes his case for a second term.

Harris’s tour begins in the swing state of Wisconsin on the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that established a constitutional right to abortion. The court overturned Roe in the June 2022 Dobbs decision, returning the question to the states and setting off a wave of restrictions.

The vice president’s effort is aimed in part at highlighting the stories of women affected by abortion bans. The recent case of Kate Cox, a Texan who was forced to leave her state to get an abortion, attracted nationwide attention. Cox had sought to terminate her pregnancy after learning that the fetus had a fatal condition and that carrying the pregnancy to term could jeopardize her fertility.

Harris also plans to call on Congress to codify abortion access, tout the Biden administration’s efforts to protect reproductive rights and urge voters to speak out against abortion restrictions. In a statement Tuesday, the vice president condemned the politicians and activists behind abortion restrictions as “extremists” pushing “radical policies” that harm Americans.

“I will continue to fight for our fundamental freedoms while bringing together those throughout America who agree that every woman should have the right to make decisions about her own body — not the government,” Harris said.

The White House said it plans to share additional tour stops later.

Tuesday’s announcement followed criticism from abortion rights supporters and some Democrats that the Biden campaign has failed to sufficiently capitalize on an issue that is clearly motivating Democrats at the polls. Many Democrats also worry more broadly that the campaign has not done enough to tackle the president’s low approval ratings.

Last month, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) won reelection by campaigning on an abortion rights message. On that same Nov. 7 Election Day, Democrats took full control of the Virginia legislature, foiling Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s intentions to curb abortion there.

Also on Election Day, Ohio became the seventh state since Dobbs where voters have moved to support abortion rights through a referendum. Ohio, like several of the other states, has a conservative, Republican-leaning electorate.

Republicans, meanwhile, have struggled to unify on the issue, and the party’s presidential candidates remain divided on proposals for a federal limit on abortion. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has endorsed a 15-week ban, while former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley has spoken generally about a pragmatic approach that reflects political reality.

More than 6 in 10 Americans say they oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, and about half of the country reports being “strongly opposed” to the ruling. A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 64 percent of people opposed the elimination of the constitutional right to an abortion.

While Biden has issued occasional statements on reproductive freedom and periodically defended it, liberal critics have argued since Dobbs that he should be embracing the cause fully, both as president and as a candidate seeking reelection.

Biden, whose Catholic faith has made the issue more complicated for him, has shifted over time from opposing Roe to supporting abortion rights. More recently as president he has sometimes seemed to shy away from using the word “abortion.”

Now, as the leader of a party focused on abortion rights, Biden finds himself acting in uncomfortable opposition to his church and at odds with some of its bishops.

Biden often talks about reproductive rights as one freedom among many that Republicans are seeking to curtail. He warned voters in June about Republican politicians seeking to implement a nationwide abortion ban.

“We will not let the most personal decisions fall in[to] the hands of politicians instead of women and their doctors,” he said.

Harris has been more direct. Since Roe was overturned, the vice president has convened more than 50 meetings about abortion, according to the White House.

She also talked extensively about the issue on a college tour that took her to eight states in the fall. In Charleston, S.C., in October, Harris told students that abortion restrictions are limiting people’s ability to make decisions about their futures.

“This is not just an academic discussion,” she said. “Since that case came down from the Supreme Court last year, every day in America, people are silently suffering.”

Harris’s upcoming tour is not the only sign that the Biden camp is seeking to emphasize abortion rights.

As Cox’s story gained attention in recent weeks, Biden issued a statement saying, “No woman should be forced to go to court or flee her home state just to receive the health care she needs. But that is exactly what happened in Texas thanks to Republican elected officials, and it is simply outrageous.”

Biden allies have also emphasized that former president Donald Trump is responsible for the current state of affairs, as Trump’s conservative Supreme Court picks caused the dramatic shift that overturned Roe.

In what will probably become a more common move, three female senators issued a statement ahead of a Trump rally in Iowa saying in part, “Because of Donald Trump, women in the Midwest and across the country are facing relentless attacks on the fundamental freedom to make their own health care decisions.” The statement was released by Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Trump, for his part, has adjusted his tone on abortion as the Republican primary unfolds. He previously took credit for selecting the justices who overturned Roe, accomplishing a decades-long dream of abortion opponents. But more recently, he has been critical of some of the GOP-led abortion bans.

Conservative Republicans, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, say that abortion kills an unborn child and is a moral travesty, and that Roe had no constitutional basis.

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ended 49 years of unconstitutional judicial usurpation of Texas’s authority to prohibit abortion,” Paxton’s office said in reiterating earlier this year that it would be closed to celebrate the Dobbs decision.

Harris’s push also suggests that the administration sees her as an effective spokesperson on issues that affect women, younger voters and people of color, subjects that may be harder for the president to address as an 81-year-old White man.

In addition to her college tour, where she attracted enthusiastic crowds, Harris in July traveled to DeSantis’s home state to blast Florida education guidelines that appeared to suggest that some Black people benefited from enslavement.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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