Biden, Rejecting Gaza protesters at rally, calls for restoration of abortion rights

President Biden led a rally in support of abortion rights on Tuesday, trying to focus on the issue that has galvanized his supporters even as he was interrupted every few minutes by at least 10 people protesting the war in Gaza, an issue that is just as quickly dividing Democrats.

Mr. Biden, a practicing Catholic who has been a reluctant supporter of abortion rights, has relied on Vice President Kamala Harris to be the most vocal campaigner in his administration. But on Tuesday, in front of a banner reading “Reinstate Roe,” Mr. Biden raised his voice in support of Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion before the Supreme Court overturned it in 2022.

His shouting also helped drown out the voices of people waving Palestinian flags, chanting “Genocide Joe” and demanding a ceasefire. “Please don’t jump,” he told one protester, waving a sign on the balcony.

“They feel deeply,” Mr. Biden said at another point. (The anti-war group CodePink later claimed credit for organizing the protest.)

The moment was a conflation of a promising election-year issue with another that has threatened to overshadow Mr. Biden’s presidency and hurt his chances with more progressive parts of the Democratic electorate. Different sections of the crowd – supporters and protesters – either clapped or screamed, illustrating the conflict in real time.

Faced with shouting protesters, Mr. Biden quickly read his prepared remarks and did not respond to individual protesters as he has done at past events.

“We can make Roe the law of America again,” Mr. Biden said, raising his voice. “Are you ready to make it happen? To do that, we need a new Congress. Are you ready to make it happen?”

It was a stark contrast to Mr. Biden’s comments on the issue just seven months ago, when he told supporters of his re-election campaign that “not big for abortion” because of his faith, but that Roe “got it right”. Guided by his personal convictions, Mr. Biden focused on the issue, which is rooted in personal freedom and privacy.

The different styles of the president and vice president were on display beginning on Monday, when Ms. Harris held an event in Wisconsin to call attention to the state’s Republican-led measures to repeal an abortion ban dating back to 1849. She criticized former President Donald J. Trump and asked audience to applaud a couple who were denied medical care by doctors while having complications in their pregnancy.

When he arrived at his rally on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Biden met privately with Dr. Austin Dennard, who had to leave Texas to have an abortion when her pregnancy developed complications.

He also met with Amanda Zurawski, who is suing the state of Texas after she was denied an abortion when her water broke at 18 weeks. She developed sepsis and said she almost died from infection. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which argued the Roe case before the Supreme Court, Another 21 women were joined as plaintiffs in that suit.

“I had to wait until I got so sick that my life was considered to be in danger” before doctors could provide an abortion, Ms Zurawski told the crowd who lost her daughter, whom she named Willow. “It took three days and a near-fatal bout of septic shock before my doctor was finally able to provide the health care I desperately needed,” she said.

Ms. Zurawski blamed Mr. Trump, who recently bragged about overturning Roe. “It’s unthinkable that anyone could support these abortion bans that almost took my life.”

She received a hug from Mr. Biden, who told the crowd that he would continue to fight for reproductive rights. But any sweeping action on abortion remains unlikely given divided control of Congress. Democrats lack the votes in the Senate, and Mr. Biden is unable to provide Roe’s protections through executive action.

His administration tried to preserve access to the abortion drug mifepristone, but it quickly became mired in legal challenges. The Supreme Court has announced it will hear a case challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a common pill.

Tuesday’s event was largely attended by volunteers and staff from abortion rights groups. Mr. Biden and Mrs. Harris were joined on stage by Jill Biden, the first lady, and Doug Emhoff, Mrs. Harris’ husband.

Mr Emhoff hosted an event on reproductive rights and said on Tuesday that reproductive freedom was “not just a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue”. Dr. Biden, who has previously chided “extreme Republicans,” repeated a story she shared before the 2022 election about a friend who became pregnant when abortion was illegal and stayed with Dr. Biden after the procedure.

“Secrecy, shame, silence, danger, even death,” said dr. Biden, echoing a message she shared earlier. “That’s what defined that time for so many women, and because of Dobbs, that’s where we find ourselves again,” she said, referring to the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision that overturned Roe.

Ms. Harris also echoed much of what she said in Wisconsin on Monday, sharing stories of women who had abortions in restrooms because they were denied health care, and women who were turned away from emergency rooms because doctors were cautious about providing care.

“Do we trust women? Do we believe in reproductive freedom? Do we believe in America’s promise?” she shouted, as members of the audience rose to their feet. “Are we ready to fight for it?”

Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All — formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice America — said in an interview that she had seen Mr. Biden “evolve” in his support for abortion rights. But she said the Biden administration must do more to emphasize what is needed to codify Roe’s protections and to warn of what could happen to reproductive rights if Mr. Trump wins the presidency.

“We’re going to need everyone singing from the same songbook,” she said, and “talking about what a Trump presidency would do.”

Representative Jennifer McClellan, Democrat of Virginia, said that Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris had different campaigning styles when it came to Roe, but that both spoke to different parts of the Democratic electorate.

“I think they’re very different people with different styles in almost everything,” Ms McClellan said. “But the Democrats are not a monolith. This country is not a monolith. We need people who can speak to every generation and every demographic.”

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