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Why Vice President Harris went to Wisconsin today to talk about abortion

Vice President Harris speaks about reproductive rights on Jan. 22, 2024 in Big Bend, Wis.
Scott Olson
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Getty Images
Vice President Harris speaks about reproductive rights on Jan. 22, 2024 in Big Bend, Wis.

Updated January 22, 2024 at 3:05 PM ET

Vice President Harris marked the 51st anniversary of landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade on Tuesday by kicking off a tour to draw attention to new restrictions on abortion, laying the blame for them at the feet of former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the race to become the Republican candidate for November's election.

"The former president handpicked three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe. It is a decision he brags about," Harris said in a fiery campaign-style speech. "How dare he!"

One in three women of reproductive age live in states with abortion bans, Harris said. The post-Roe restrictions are an issue that Democrats hope will fire up voters for the presidential election.

Since the court's Dobbs decision ended Roe, voters have turned out in record numbers in states like Michigan and Kansas to support measures to protect reproductive rights with new laws. It's that energy that Harris is hoping to tap into as she reaches out to voters ahead of the election this year — an election where swing states like Arizona and Nevada may also have ballot initiatives on abortion rights.

"Momentum is on our side," Harris said. "Since Roe was overturned, every time reproductive freedom has been on the ballot, the people of America have voted for freedom."

Vice President Harris in Big Bend, Wis., the first stop in a series of events aimed at highlighting restrictions on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned <em>Roe</em>.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
/
Getty Images
Vice President Harris in Big Bend, Wis., the first stop in a series of events aimed at highlighting restrictions on abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

The first stop was Waukesha County

Harris plans to hit about five places during the next two months to highlight this issue, including states that have enshrined protections for abortion since the Supreme Court rolled back abortion rights in 2022, states that have restricted access, and states that have threatened to restrict access.

The vice president's team picked Wisconsin's Waukesha County to launch the tour. The politically important state illustrates how people's lives were affected when Roe was struck down.

Wisconsin effectively banned abortion, reverting to a law written in 1849. For about 15 months, there were no legal abortions available in the state.

"In a state whose motto is, 'Forward,' these extremists are trying to take us backward — but we're not having that," Harris said.

Wisconsin is also a key swing state that Democrats want to win in November. Former President Donald Trump carried Waukesha County — a suburb of Milwaukee — in 2016 and 2020. But Democrats have made a series of inroads there.

Mini Timmaraju, who leads the organization Reproductive Freedom for All, said voters will keep paying attention to the issue of abortion rights because of how high-stakes it has become for women's health.

"We've had multiple, high-profile abortion access and Dobbs-related crisis stories," Timmaraju said. "Unfortunately, the story's not going away and therefore the saliency of the issue isn't going away."

Biden and Harris will hold a rally on the issue on Tuesday

On Tuesday, Harris and Biden will appear together at a campaign rally in Northern Virginia, along with their spouses, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff.

The event is counterprogramming for the Republican primary in New Hampshire. The Biden campaign is seeking to draw attention to what Trump and other Republicans have said about abortion, which is one of the most difficult issues Republicans will face with voters.

Democrats in Virginia campaigned on the issue of reproductive rights last year, during state-level elections, and won back control of the state legislature.

It's a rare for Biden to headline an event on reproductive care. While the president has a long voting record of supporting Roe, he has expressed that he personally is opposed to abortion.

"I happen to be a practicing Catholic. I'm not big on abortion. But guess what? Roe v. Wade got it right," Biden said at a fundraiser last June.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, one of the co-chairs of Biden's reelection campaign, said in an interview that aired Sunday that it would help if Biden talked more about abortion rights.

"I think people want to know that this is a president that is fighting. And I think he has said that. To use maybe more, you know, blunt language, maybe that would be helpful," Whitmer said.

Democrats want to reach young voters and women on this issue

Biden's campaign is featuring the issue in advertising this week with a spot that tells the story of an OB-GYN who had to leave Texas with her family to seek an abortion for a planned pregnancy that put her life at risk. In the ad, Dr. Austin Dennard explicitly blames Trump for his role in overturning abortion rights.

The campaign says the ad will run on channels like HGTV, Bravo, Food Network and Hallmark in an effort to reach suburban women and younger voters, who are critical voting blocs for Democrats.

"This ad serves as a sobering reminder to women across the country of the devastating legacy of Donald Trump's presidency – and a warning of his plans, if elected, to take this anti-abortion crusade even further," Biden's campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez said in a statement.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.