In a first, Vice President Harris tours Minnesota clinic that performs abortions

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — 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 at the St. Paul facility. “And the crisis is affecting many, many people in our country, most of whom are, frankly, silently suffering.”

Although Democratic leaders in Minnesota have protected abortion access, neighboring states have banned or severely restricted the procedure.

“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.

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

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.

The decision to make a historic visit to a clinic, which also provides birth control and preventative wellness care, 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.”

After visiting the clinic, Harris was scheduled to speak at a Biden−Harris campaign event in St. Paul tailored to women.

There are no restrictions on abortion at any stage of pregnancy in Minnesota. Biden won the state by 7 percentage points in 2020 on the way to defeating then−President Trump.

Biden and Trump each have won enough delegates to be considered their parties’ presumptive nominees for president, setting up a rematch in November.

Biden and his Democratic surrogates have been highlighting comments by Trump in which the former president takes credit for presiding over the end of Roe. Trump put three conservative justices on the Supreme Court, tipping its ideological balance in favor of eliminating a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy with its 2022 decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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.”

In the speech, 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.”

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz enshrined the right to abortion and other reproductive health care into state law in January 2023 when he signed a bill meant to ensure that the state’s existing protections remain in place no matter who sits on future courts.

Democratic leaders took advantage of their new control of both houses of the Legislature to rush the bill through in the first month of the 2023 legislative session. They credited the backlash against the U.S. Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade for their takeover of the state Senate and for keeping their House majority in a year when Republicans expected to make gains.

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. Minnesota has experienced a surge of patients coming to the state for abortions because of restrictions elsewhere.

Darlene Superville, The Associated Press

Photo: AP