Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Planned Parenthood, Thursday, March....

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Planned Parenthood, Thursday, March. 14, 2024, in St. Paul, Minn. Credit: AP/Adam Bettcher

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Vice President Kamala Harris visited a Planned Parenthood clinic on Thursday, marking what her office said was the first time a president or vice president has toured a facility that performs abortions, as the White House escalates its defense of reproductive rights in this year's election.

“Right now, in our country, we are facing a very serious health crisis,” Harris said. “And the crisis is affecting many, many people in our country, most of whom are, frankly, silently suffering.”

The clinic, nestled in an industrial area near the city line between St. Paul and Minneapolis, has been a beacon for many women in the region. Although Democratic leaders in Minnesota have protected abortion access, neighboring states have banned or severely restricted the procedure with policies that Harris described as “immoral.”

“How dare these elected leaders believe they are in a better position to tell women what they need,” Harris said. “We have to be a nation that trusts women.”

Harris said she met two dozen health care workers at the clinic who had created an environment where patients can “be safe” and “free from judgement.”

Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States, introduced herself as “a proud abortion provider” and called Harris' visit a “historic moment.” She said the number of patients visiting the clinic from out of state has doubled.

"Everyone should have the right to access health care," Traxler said.

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address...

President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Thursday, March 7, 2024, in Washington. Standing are Vice President Kamala Harris, background center, and House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., background right. Credit: AP/Shawn Thew

Protesters gathered across the street, holding signs that said “life is a human right” and “abortion kills a human being.”

Cathy Blaeser, the co-executive director of the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said, “The vice president’s visit shows the Biden administration’s full-blown devotion to extreme abortion policies.” She added that “Minnesotans don’t want to be known for abortion tourism."

The White House has few options to protect access to abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, clearing the way for Republican-led states to enact limitations or bans on the procedure. But the visit reflected Democrats' intense focus on reproductive rights to rally their voters to reelect President Joe Biden in a likely rematch with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee.

Harris, the first woman elected vice president, has led the White House's outreach, and her trip to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is part of a nationwide tour she began in January.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Planned Parenthood, Thursday, March....

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Planned Parenthood, Thursday, March. 14, 2024, in St. Paul, Minn. Credit: AP/Adam Bettcher

The decision to make a historic visit to a clinic showcased her more aggressive approach to the issue than Biden. While Biden has vowed to restore Roe v. Wade's protections if Democrats regain full control of Congress, he tends to talk about the “right to choose” instead of saying “abortion.”

During her visit, Harris spoke plainly about women's health needs and the clinic's role in providing birth control and preventative care.

“Everyone get ready for the language — uterus,” Harris said. “That part of the body needs a lot of medical care from time to time."

After visiting the clinic, Harris spoke at a campaign event held at the Coven, a coworking space that caters to women in St. Paul. She said Minnesota had “once again demonstrated to our nation just how much progress a Democratic trifecta can make,” a reference to the party's control of the governor's office and both legislative chambers.

Democrats harnessed that power in January 2023 by rushing through legislation that enshrined in state law the right to abortion and other kinds of reproductive health care. There are no restrictions on abortion at any stage of pregnancy in Minnesota.

Meanwhile, abortion is currently illegal in more than a dozen states, including Minnesota neighbors North Dakota and South Dakota, and is restricted in Iowa and Wisconsin. Harris blamed Trump for the erosion of abortion rights and called him the "architect of a health care crisis.”

“Let us all recognize who is to blame,” she said. “The former president, Donald Trump, handpicked three members of the United States Supreme Court with the intention that they would overturn Roe. He intended for them to take your freedoms. And he brags about it.”

Trump touted his role in eliminating the nationwide right to abortion during a recent Fox News town hall, saying, “I'm proud to have done it.” During his term, he tipped the ideological balance on the high court by nominating three conservative justices, paving the way for the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

Since then, Democrats have felt encouraged by electoral victories in 2022 and 2023 when abortion access was on the ballot. And in his State of the Union address last week, Biden vowed that “we'll win again in 2024.” He also said that if voters “send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again.”

Before the flight back to Washington on Thursday, Harris surprised Central High School’s girl’s varsity and junior varsity softball teams at practice. As she watched, Harris told the players, ’I’m impressed.”

_

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