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How Harris is listening — and speaking — about abortion rights before the midterms

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting of the reproductive rights task force in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting of the reproductive rights task force in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Ever since the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade first leaked in May — a decision that led to bans and severe restrictions on abortion in 15 states — Vice President Harris has had a lengthy series of conversations.

Harris has held more than 20 events focused on reproductive rights, hearing from activists, state legislators, health care providers, legal experts, faith leaders, civil rights leaders, and others about their concerns — and making clear that she sees it as a key issue ahead of November midterm elections.

"Let's link arms, and do what we need to do, including in the next 34 days," Harris said last week at one such event at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn.

With roughly a month until Election Day, polls show that abortion is a top issue motivating both Democratic and independent voters. A September NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist pollshowed that 77% of Democrats said the Supreme Court's decision on abortion makes them more likely to vote this year.

In her New Britain stop, Harris was introduced by Rep. Jahana Hayes. It's normally a safe Democratic district, but Hayes is in a tight race this year — one of a bunch that Democrats are pushing to win to try to hold on to their majority in the House of Representatives.

Abortion is an issue that will drive turn-out for Democrats

Harris has brought people from across the country to listening sessions at the White House, but she has also traveled to states like North Carolina, Indiana and Florida, and will be traveling to more states with competitive elections into November.

These events give Harris the chance to hear from people affected by the new restrictions on abortion. But they're also a "smart move" politically, said Democratic strategist Adrienne Elrod.

Even when they don't make national news, the events get a lot of local headlines. "Her visit to those states will likely lead most of the daily papers in that state, or at least in that area," Elrod said in an interview.

"It makes a lot of sense because this is an issue that will drive turnout and drive a lot of the decisions coming out in the midterm cycle," she said.

People who have been in the meetings say Harris is focused on the details. "I think what is immediately evident when you attend those meetings is that she is very much involved in the conversation," Jocelyn Frye, an ally of the Biden administration who is president of the advocacy group National Partnership for Women and Families.

"This not a meeting where she is just reading talking points. She is immersed in what's going on day-to-day ... it was a conversation where she really wanted to learn. She had done her homework," Frye told NPR.

Harris says it's about more than abortion rights

Harris, who was a district attorney and California's attorney general before she entered national politics, has a long track record on reproductive rights.

"The issue of fighting for the dignity of women in the health care system was ingrained in me literally from the time I can remember," Harris said last week at the Connecticut event, flanked by Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson.

"This is truly an issue that is going to be about what all of our movements have been about, frankly," Harris said. "There's going to be a need for litigation and legislation, there's going to be the need for organizing."

In the meetings, Harris often raises the "Venn diagram" way in which states that are restricting abortion access are also restricting access to voting and LGBTQ rights.

In the intersection, Harris said there's potential to build coalitions. "Bring everybody together," she said in Connecticut

Andrea Ramos, a state representative from Utah, said that message resonated with her when she attended one of Harris' roundtables in August with other Latina state lawmakers. She said she left the meeting feeling like the call to action Harris had given them was about more than abortion.

"She also gave us a challenge as elected officials to organize," Ramos said. "It was about marriage equality, it was about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to vote."

Ramos said her takeaway from the roundtable was a reminder that there is a lot at stake — and she says it's pushed her to engage with her constituency, to knock on doors and encourage people to vote.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.