On the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off her nationwide Fight for Reproductive Freedoms Tour on Monday in Big Bend, Wisconsin, highlighting the state as a battleground for reproductive rights in the 2024 election.
“For almost 50 years, Jan. 22 marked an anniversary that was a cause for celebration,” Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said ahead of Harris’ remarks. “But this year, Jan. 22 is now a reminder of these rights and freedoms being stripped away for so many.”
Wisconsinites have experienced whiplash over reproductive health care over the last two years. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade with its ruling in June 2022 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and eliminated the affirmation of a constitutional right to abortion, a law from 1849 took effect and was used to ban nearly all abortions; it was in effect for a little over a year. Dane County Circuit Court judge ruled in December that the law banned not abortion but feticide, and abortion clinics reopened around the state.
Last week, however, Republican legislative leaders introduced a bill that would make abortions after 14 weeks illegal in the state. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has promised to veto it if it reaches his desk.
“In a state whose motto is ‘Forward,’ these extremists are trying to take us backward. Well, we’re not having that,” Harris told the crowd at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 7, where the audience included a young girl sitting on her dad’s’ shoulders to get a glimpse of the vice president.
Harris didn’t hold back, calling Republicans who want to limit abortion access extremists multiple times and telling the crowd that the fight for reproductive rights in Wisconsin and across the nation wasn’t over.
While abortion is legal again in Wisconsin, Harris said that the ban caused emotional and physical damage that can’t be undone to residents who struggled to find abortion care while it was in effect.
During her visit, Harris said she met with a Wisconsin woman who last year learned that her pregnancy was life-threatening because of a genetic disorder the fetus developed. But due to the ban, her doctor wouldn’t provide an abortion until he found two other doctors to sign off on the procedure.
The doctor didn’t find anybody else, and the woman had to travel to Minnesota to have the abortion.
“She had to leave the state which she calls home to save her life,” Harris said.
Dr. Amy Domeyer-Klenske, an OB-GYN in Madison who introduced Harris at the event, said doctors were fearful during the ban, unsure of the care they could and couldn’t provide.
“Physicians from across the state — not only OB-GYNS, but specialists in internal medicine, family medicine, emergency medicine — came together with questions, most resounding of which was, How sick is sick enough?” she said. “Many of us feared watching our pregnant patients suffer as complications threatened their health and lives.”
“I recall a moment on labor and delivery with a trainee who said, ‘We aren’t really going to know where the line is until one of us goes to jail,’” Domeyer-Klenske said.
Harris visited Waukesha County, a Milwaukee suburb community that is largely conservative and has voted for Republicans in the last three presidential elections. Across the street from Monday’s venue, a sign was pitched in a snowbank that read “Kamala not welcome.”
Her visit marks the Biden-Harris campaign’s focus on Wisconsin leading up to the 2024 election. President Joe Biden visited Milwaukee last month and is set to visit Wisconsin again later this week, traveling to Superior in the opposite corner of the state.
During her visit, Harris tied the 2024 race to the fight for abortion rights, noting that former President Donald Trump had recently taken credit for overturning Roe v. Wade and was proud of the ruling.
“Proud? Proud that women across our nation are suffering? Proud that women have been robbed of a fundamental freedom? Proud that doctors could be thrown in prison for caring for their patients? That young women today have fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers? How dare he?” Harris said.
To kick off the Fight for Reproductive Rights tour, the White House announced on Monday that it was convening a task force to discuss ways to improve reproductive health care and protect access to safe and legal medical abortions and improve contraception access and affordability.