VP Kamala Harris broke politics at an abortion clinic visit. She even said the 'u' word


ST. PAUL, Minn. ― These are not words politicians use. But Vice President Kamala Harris, already a historic figure, went there when she broke a political barrier by touring a Minnesota-based Planned Parenthood clinic.

“Everyone get ready for the language,” Harris, the nation’s first female vice president warned.

“Uterus.”

The crowd broke into laughter. “That part of the body needs a lot of medical care from time to time,” Harris said.

“Issues like fibroids” − muscular tumors that grow in the wall of a woman’s uterus − must no longer be taboo. She insisted: “We can handle this.”

Decades ago, it might have made them squirm or denounce it as vulgar.

The 59-year-old Democrat stood in front of a bouquet of microphones and went into detail about the many services Planned Parenthood provides that are unrelated to abortion.

Harris’ decision to visit the clinic – and her public use of medical terms for the human reproductive system – were the clearest sign yet of how much America’s abortion debate has been scrambled ahead of the 2024 election.

The decision by the most powerful woman in elected office in the US was a remarkable departure for Democrats, who have historically kept abortion providers at arm’s length.

And the public is ready for it.

For Paige Robinson, a 22-year-old University of Minnesota student, abortion is a key issue she’ll be considering when she votes this fall.

Harris’s visit, she told USA Today: “does show a very clear stance from the administration on their support of it, which is a strong thing to do.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during her visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on March 14, 2024. Harris toured an abortion clinic, highlighting a key election issue in what US media reported was the first such visit by a president or vice president.

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during her visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on March 14, 2024. Harris toured an abortion clinic, highlighting a key election issue in what US media reported was the first such visit by a president or vice president.

Experts and activists reiterate how Thursday’s trip further reflects how the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe vs. Wade threw out the old rules around abortion.

“It’s both unprecedented and unsurprising given the earthquake of the Dobbs decision,” said Matthew Dallek, a political historian at George Washington University.

Others say this moment also showcases Harris’s expanding role as the Biden campaign’s progressive crusader-in-chief on social issues.

On the trail, she has been urgent about women’s health being in crisis as part of her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour, which concluded in Minnesota this week after previous stops in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Georgia, Michigan and Arizona.

Poll shows opening with independent women

An exclusive USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released this week underscores one reason why Harris is running toward the abortion issue.

The vice president is already well liked among fellow Democrats, particularly Democratic women who give her a 78% job approval rating, the survey shows. Her popularity nosedives, however, when she tip-toes outside the party’s tent.

Roughly 54% of all respondents, for instance, said she isn’t qualified to serve as president versus 38% who believe she has what it takes.

That gap shrinks a bit when measured against the views of independent women, who have been at odds with Republicans on reproductive rights.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC 2023, March 4, 2023, at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.

The poll shows 45% of independent women think Harris isn’t qualified to be president compared to 40% who think she is qualified.

“Outside of core Democratic voters, she has an opportunity to flip independent women into positive territory. She’s negative there, but it’s close,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center.

When compared with all voters, Harris gets slightly higher marks on job approval and favorability with women who don’t belong to either party, the survey finds.

Among everyone, Harris has a net negative 16% rating in both the job she’s doing as vice president and her popularity. But with independent women, that drops to a net negative 5% on approval.

On favorability, the net negative with independent women is 15% but with a larger group of 9% still undecided.

A "Just Say Roe" t-shirt hangs in the front office at the Hope Clinic for Women, Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Granite City, Ill.

A “Just Say Roe” t-shirt hangs in the front office at the Hope Clinic for Women, Tuesday, July 19, 2022 in Granite City, Ill.

Paleologos said the vice president’s failure to gain traction with other constituencies matters at a time when there are legitimate concerns by voters surrounding Biden’s age and ability to serve. He said that means her role, and eventually the same for Trump’s running mate, will be magnified in the coming months.

“The fact that she can’t really add to the Biden equation for November statistically is a problem, and it’s a concern,” he said.

“They are aligned and very popular within the Democratic Party, but it’s questionable among independents, and they’re going to get nothing among Republicans.”

‘We can’t do this without’ Harris, advocates say

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during her visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on March 14, 2024. Harris toured an abortion clinic, highlighting a key election issue in what US media reported was the first such visit by a president or vice president.

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during her visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on March 14, 2024. Harris toured an abortion clinic, highlighting a key election issue in what US media reported was the first such visit by a president or vice president.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 100 supporters at a rally in St. Paul, Harris praised what Minnesota Democrats had accomplished by fortifying women’s healthcare access. She also hinted at her hopes about what that could mean for the national elections in November, such as Congress eventually codifying Roe into law.

“So the victory that you all have wanted to, particularly in the statehouse, have once again demonstrated to our nation just how much progress a Democratic trifecta can make,” Harris said.

The vice president didn’t mince words when drawing out the choice voters have this fall, saying that the country should, “all recognize who is to blame” for the patchwork of laws.

“The former president, Donald Trump, hand-picked three members of the United States Supreme Court with the intention that they would overturn Roe,” she said. “He intended for them to take away your freedoms. And it is a decision he brags about.”

Abortion rights advocates said Thursday’s event is illustrative of how valuable Harris is to the president in ways snapshot polling can’t capture.

After Biden’s annual State of the Union address, for instance, some progressives were reportedly left flat about the president failing to use the word “abortion” in his remarks.

Biden instead opted for less politically charged verbiage, according to the Associated Press, such as “reproductive freedom” and the “freedom to choose.”

Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All (formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice America), said going to a clinic distinguished Harris as someone who could talk to an experience all women share.

“This has become the most reproductive freedom forward administration in the history of the country, and much respect and affection for Joe Biden, but that wouldn’t be happening without Kamala Harris being the tip of the spear,” she said.

Jacqueline Ayers, a senior vice president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, echoed how the Biden administration has been, “an invaluable champion for sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion.”

She emphasized how Harris has, “prioritized traveling across the country to see this access crisis first-hand since the fall of Roe.”

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of Justice & Joy National Collaborative, a national racial and gender advocacy organization, said given the impact restricting abortion has on women of color, Harris’s visit feels more poignant.

“It is a watershed moment not just because the vice president is a woman, but in particular for me a woman of color at this time when there’s a lot of hostility, risk and polarization,” she said.

“It’s a big statement of courage, control and power for her to walk in those doors.”

Abortion rights supporters gather at a rally  at Bicentennial Plaza put on by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in response to a bill before the North Carolina Legislature, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Abortion rights supporters gather at a rally at Bicentennial Plaza put on by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in response to a bill before the North Carolina Legislature, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Polling has consistently shown Americans broadly support some level of access to abortion rights.

An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey last year, for instance, found 64% of adults think it should be legal in at least some circumstances.

Coupled with voters in seven states siding with the liberal position on ballot questions since 2022, Biden and his allies have confidence that this will be a decisive subject in November.

Advocates say Harris’s visibility as the woman who is a heartbeat away from the presidency, is an asset too.

“She’s authentic on this issue. She understands it. She’s the moral conscience of it,” Timmaraju said. “She doesn’t just speak to the base, she speaks to soft Republican and independent woman as well. We can’t do this without her.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris Minnesota abortion clinic visit broke political barriers



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