Biden, Harris paint Trump as freedom’s enemy at abortion rally

Biden, Harris paint Trump as freedom’s enemy at abortion rally

By Colleen Long and Chris Megerian | Associated Press

MANASSAS, Va. — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris rallied for abortion rights here on Tuesday as they prepared for a likely rematch with Donald Trump, the former Republican president who paved the way for overturning Roe v. Wade.

“He’s betting we won’t hold him responsible,” Biden said to a crowd of hundreds of cheering supporters. “He’s betting you’re going to stop caring.”

“But guess what?” he added. “I’m betting he’s wrong. I’m betting you won’t forget.”

The rally came on the same day as the Republican primary in New Hampshire, where Trump plans to tighten his grip on his party’s presidential nomination, and it demonstrated how Democrats hope to harness ongoing anger over abortion restrictions to blunt his comeback bid.

Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court less than two years ago in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a decision enabled by three conservative justices appointed by Trump.

“The person most responsible for taking away this freedom in America is Donald Trump,” he said.

Biden was interrupted several times by protests over Israel’s war in Gaza, with one shouting “shame on you!”

“This is going to go on for a while; they got this planned,” the Democratic president said as the protestors were escorted out one by one.

Biden and Harris were joined by their spouses, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, at Monday’s rally. 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.

Jill Biden told a story about a friend who became pregnant in high school, years before Roe v. Wade. The friend, she said, needed to get a psychiatric evaluation to be declared mentally unfit before she could get the abortion.

“Secrecy, shame, silence, danger, even death. That’s what defined that time for so many women,” she said. “And because of Dobbs that’s where we’re finding ourselves back again, refighting the battles we had fought.”

Emhoff told the crowd that the fight for abortion rights needed men as well.

“Reproductive freedom is not a woman’s issue,” Emhoff said. “It’s an everyone’s issue.”

The four of them spoke in front of a blue banner that spanned the width of the stage and said “Restore Roe” in bold letters. The crowd hummed with energy, chanting “four more years” and booing Trump’s name, a glimpse of the enthusiasm that has been largely missing from Biden’s low-key events since announcing his reelection campaign last April.

Democrats view Virginia as a success story in their fight for abortion rights since Roe v. Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In last year’s legislative elections, the party maintained control of the Senate and won a majority in the House. It was a defeat for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who had proposed new limits on abortion and had been considered a potential presidential candidate.

“The voice of the people has been heard and it will be heard,” said Harris, the first woman to serve as vice president.

She also targeted Trump in her speech, describing him as “the architect of this health care crisis” caused by abortion restrictions around the country.

Harris was in Wisconsin on Monday to mark the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the first stop in a nationwide series of events focused on abortion.

“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.”

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 federal 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. The White House is pushing against the limits of its ability to ensure access to abortion.

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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.”

Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.