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Kamala Harris Pushes Abortion Rights in Michigan, With Gaza Anger as Backdrop

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Kamala Harris Pushes Abortion Rights in Michigan, With Gaza Anger as Backdrop

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Vice President Kamala Harris has emerged as a leading Democratic defender of abortion rights, a potent campaign issue for her party, and on Thursday she brought her message to Michigan before the state’s presidential primary next week — her third trip so far this year to a battleground state to talk about abortion.

During a stop in Grand Rapids, Ms. Harris assailed Republicans who support a national abortion ban as “extremists,” and said state bans that do not contain exceptions for sexual assault or incest were “immoral.”

”People have been suffering and we must be explicit about what that is, because this is not a hypothetical point,” Ms. Harris said at a round-table event at the Fountain Street Church, a progressive house of worship with Black Lives Matter and rainbow flags hanging outside its entrance. “Women have been having miscarriages in toilets in our country, have been denied access to emergency care because of what has been happening.”

But the gathering, which was closed to the public, also reflected the challenges facing President Biden and Ms. Harris in a difficult re-election year. It featured a group of just nine participants in addition to Ms. Harris, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Senator Debbie Stabenow, both Biden allies.

Quiet as it was, the event showed how Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are trying to keep voters’ focus on a far more comfortable subject for Democrats than the one hanging over Michigan’s primary on Tuesday: the Israel-Gaza war.

The state’s large population of Arab Americans, as well as its progressive voters, have expressed deep anger at Mr. Biden over his support for Israel. Its bombardment and invasion of Gaza after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, have led to a death toll nearing 30,000 Palestinians, according to local authorities.

Some prominent Democrats in the state have urged voters to protest Mr. Biden’s Gaza policy by marking “uncommitted” on their ballots rather than voting for him.

Ms. Harris is seen as more critical of Israel than the president, yet her trip to Grand Rapids took her far away from Dearborn and other Detroit suburbs where many of Michigan’s Arab American voters live. Even so, about a dozen protesters stood down the block from Ms. Harris’s event holding signs that said “Free Gaza” and “Ceasefire Now.”

Mr. Biden has been dogged by Gaza protesters on many of his trips across the country, and they have frequently interrupted his events. On Thursday, they marched through a hotel in San Francisco where he was staying for a California fund-raising swing and chanted: “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.”

Mr. Biden visited Michigan early this month, but he is not expected to hold a get-out-the-vote event in the state in the days leading up to its primary, as he did shortly before contests in South Carolina and Nevada. Instead, Ms. Harris made the trip on Thursday.

The vice president may be a more natural messenger on abortion than Mr. Biden, an 81-year-old practicing Catholic. Mr. Biden has sometimes expressed discomfort in talking about the issue, even as it has helped power Democrats to unexpected victories since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

At a fund-raiser this month, he used the language of the anti-abortion movement — saying that he opposed “abortion on demand” — while expressing support for abortion rights. The comment was noted with concern by some progressives.

Lavora Barnes, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said that Ms. Harris was a “terrific messenger” on abortion.

“On this particular issue, she’s a woman, the first woman vice president,” Ms. Barnes said. “It’s the perfect conversation for her to be having with voters.”

Former President Donald J. Trump, the likely Republican nominee, has privately said that he supports a 16-week national abortion ban, with exceptions in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother. His appointees to the Supreme Court helped overturn Roe, giving states led by Republicans the ability to impose strict abortion bans.

Since the start of the year, Ms. Harris has held events focused on abortion in two other battleground states, Georgia and Wisconsin, as part of a nationwide Fight for Reproductive Freedoms tour. At both of those previous appearances, unlike the one in Michigan, she spoke in front of public crowds.

The trips reflect Ms. Harris’s attempt to play a more prominent role both in the administration and in the re-election campaign, after early struggles to define her role as vice president.

Ms. Harris just returned from a high-profile visit to Munich, where she reassured European allies about the United States’ commitment to NATO. Mr. Trump recently issued a stark threat to the alliance, and Republican members of the House have also criticized it.

Mr. Biden has made abortion rights a centerpiece of his re-election bid. In January, he headlined a rally in Virginia calling for the restoration of abortion rights. And on Thursday, he denounced a recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos in test tubes should be considered children.

“The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “Make no mistake: This is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”

He added that he and Ms. Harris would not stop “until we restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law for all women in every state.”

(It will be difficult for Democrats or Republicans to pass federal laws either protecting or restricting abortion without 60 votes in the Senate, which is unlikely.)

In Grand Rapids, Ms. Harris laid the blame for the Alabama decision and the overturning of Roe squarely on Mr. Trump.

The former president, she said, “openly talks about how he is proud of what has resulted.”

She also accused him of taking pride “in the fact that so many young women in America now have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.”

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