Trump fuelling abortion ban, says Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris speaks on reproductive freedom in Tucson, Arizona, on Friday
Kamala Harris speaks on reproductive freedom in Tucson, Arizona, on Friday - FREDERIC J BROWN/AFP

Kamala Harris has blamed Donald Trump for Arizona’s revival of a draconian abortion ban, describing the Republican presidential candidate as the “architect” of America’s reproductive “healthcare crisis” and accusing him of gaslighting the nation.

The US vice president travelled to Tucson, the state’s second-largest city and home to a large student population.

“They have turned back the clock to the 1800s to take away a woman’s most fundamental right,” the US vice president told a mostly female audience in Tucson.

And Ms Harris wanted to make sure they knew whom she held responsible. “Former president Donald Trump did this,” she said. “Shame!” came the response from the crowd.

Arizona has been left reeling this week after its highest court paved the way for one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country by upholding an 1864 law.

It is part of a wave of restrictions by states empowered by the US Supreme Court’s shock decision to revoke the nationwide abortion access it enshrined with its 1973 Roe v Wade ruling.

The 2022 decision – by a Supreme Court shaped by Mr Trump during his first term – caused a political earthquake in America and jettisoned reproductive rights to the top of voters’ list of priorities.

Polls show abortion is one of the few issues on which Joe Biden polls better than Mr Trump and Democrats hope to energise otherwise apathetic voters by working to put reproductive rights on the ballot in swing states.

A New York Times/Siena College Poll on Saturday found the US president has erased much of his Republican opponent’s early lead as 2020 Biden voters coalesce behind him despite lingering doubts over the 81-year-old’s frailty.

The poll found Mr Trump and Mr Biden virtually tied on 46 and 45 per cent respectively, a marked improvement from Mr Trump’s five-point lead in February.

Ms Harris and her team see the abortion bans as an opportunity to give the Vice President a new lease after battling negative headlines and historically low polling for much of her time in office.

She has taken a lead role in spotlighting abortion rights following the White House’s recognition that she is a more effective messenger than Mr Biden, a practising Catholic uneasy with even voicing the term.

Ms Harris has expanded her profile with tours of battleground states and university campuses to energise young voters by highlighting the rollback of women’s rights.

Women hold signs as they wait for Kamala Harris to speak on Friday
Women hold signs as they wait for Kamala Harris to speak on Friday - FREDERIC J BROWN/AFP

She made history last month when she became the first holder of high office to visit an abortion clinic. But it was her appearance in Tucson on Friday afternoon that marked a shift to a combative new strategy to take on Mr Trump, and, in the words of her inner circle, “prosecute the case” for abortion access.

“Here’s what a second Trump term looks like: more bans, more suffering and less freedom,” she said. It came days after Mr Trump took credit for the overturning of Roe v Wade and said the question of abortion restrictions should be left to the states.

Arizona’s 1864 law, though not yet in effect, would make abortions punishable with jail terms, including in cases involving rape or incest. The only exception is when a mother’s life is at risk.

Trump has backpedalled

In the aftermath of the ruling, Mr Trump has backpedalled, saying the law “went too far” and calling on Arizona’s lawmakers to act.

‘‘Enough with the gaslighting,” Ms Harris told the crowd crammed into a hall in Tucson. “We all know if Donald Trump gets the chance, he will sign a national abortion ban.”

‘‘How do we know? Just look at his record,” she said, joking: “Y’all know I’m a former prosecutor, just look at the facts.”

According to insiders, the pugnacious approach has been inspired by Ms Harris’ personal determination to ensure Mr Trump does not “muddy the waters” on his position to evade accountability for the end of Roe v Wade.

Ms Harris met a receptive audience in Tucson where she gave her speech
Ms Harris met a receptive audience in Tucson where she gave her speech - Rebecca Noble

‘‘I think this is an intentional effort to both intensify the critique against Trump, but also to hold him accountable for his own record,” said Karen Finney, a seasoned Democratic strategist and close ally of Ms Harris.

Ms Finney added the vice president was an “effective messenger” as a longtime “champion of these issues from her time as attorney general in California and in the Senate”.

Ms Harris met a receptive audience in Tucson, where some wore t-shirts with “1973” emblazoned across them. Others came dressed in pink and green – the colours of her university sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.

‘Heart broken’ by court ruling

Sundi Williams, the president of the sorority’s local chapter, said it was “surreal” to meet with Ms Harris privately ahead of the event.

‘‘Her speech was truthful, honest, empowering, inspirational. And just the type of talk to light a fire under not only Arizonans, but this nation,” she said. “So we would not be anywhere else but here today.”

Elisabeth Tyndall, a 48-year-old educator, said she had been left “heartbroken” by the court ruling, but found Ms Harris’ speech “really motivating”.

‘‘I really love the call to action,” she said. “If we have to be taken back to 1864, then I hope that it does create a wave of voters that are sick and tired of Republicans stomping all over our rights.” Arizona’s decision this week has particular significance for November’s general election.

The critical state, which Mr Biden carried by less than half a percentage point in 2020, could determine not just control of the White House, but the US Senate.

John Anzalone, a pollster for the Biden-Harris campaign, has said the ruling could be “dynamic-changing” for the Democrats in the state.

Their campaign has seized on the moment, launching a seven-figure advertising blitz targeting women, Latino and young voters in the state, and with Ms Harris announcing a trip to Arizona within hours of the court ruling.

Aides said the vice president personally ordered the trip be a campaign event, freeing her of the restraints of official travel to “say whatever the heck she wants”.

Standing on stage in a trademark trouser suit, Ms Harris said: “The overturning of Roe was without any question a seismic event. And this ban here in Arizona is one of the biggest aftershocks yet.”

The overturning of Roe was just “the opening act of a larger strategy to take women’s rights and freedoms,” she said, “And we all must understand who is to blame.”

‘‘That’s right,” the crowd replied, with accompanying jeers.


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