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Biden and Harris team up to campaign for abortion rights in Virginia

By COLLEEN LONG and CHRIS MEGERIAN, Associated Press
Published: January 23, 2024, 8:22am

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will share the stage on Tuesday in Virginia as they campaign for abortion rights, a top issue for Democrats in an election expected to feature a rematch with Donald Trump, the former Republican president.

Biden and Harris will be joined by their spouses, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. It’s the first time the four of them have appeared together since the campaign began, a reflection of the importance that Democrats are putting on abortion this year.

Members of Congress and grassroots activists are expected to attend the rally. Afterward, Biden and Harris are to meet with healthcare providers and leaders of reproductive rights groups.

Harris was in Wisconsin on Monday to mark the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. The decision was overturned two years ago, and Trump helped pave the way by nominating three conservative justices to the court during his term. He recently said he was proud of his role.

“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?”

Wisconsin was Harris’ first stop on what’s expected to be a nationwide tour focused on abortion, which she described 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.”

While Harris and Democrats have embraced abortion as a campaign issue, many 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, who dropped out of the Republican nomination race over the weekend.

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

Abortion is also the focus of Biden’s new television advertisement featuring Dr. Austin Dennard, an OB-GYN in Texas who had to leave her state to get an abortion when she learned that her baby had a fatal condition called anencephaly.

“In Texas, you are forced to carry that pregnancy, and that is because of Donald Trump overturning Roe v. Wade,” Dennard said.

Although Democrats want to restore the rights that were established in Roe v. Wade, there’s no chance of that with the current makeup of the Supreme Court and Republican control of the House. However, they’ve been successful in state-level campaigns when the topic of abortion is on the ballot.

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“We need the American people to keep making their voices heard,” Biden said at a meeting of his reproductive rights task force on Monday.

The White House is pushing against the limits of its ability to ensure access to abortion. On Monday, it announced the creation of 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 improve training at hospitals concerning the law and publish new information on how to lodge a complaint against a hospital.

Some advocacy groups have accused HHS of 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 the issue less often and sometimes avoids using the word abortion even when he discusses the issue.

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

“The president and the vice president appeal to different parts of the party,” Simmons said. “They’re stronger as a team.”

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