Harris visited a clinic that provides abortion, a first for any president or vice president

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, from left, Rep. Betty McCullum, D-Minn, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz listen as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at Planned Parenthood on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated: 7:47 p.m.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited an abortion clinic in Minnesota on Thursday — an extraordinary stop meant to signal the importance the Biden campaign is placing on reproductive rights in the 2024 presidential race.

The White House believes this is the first time any U.S. president or vice president has visited a facility that provides abortions along with other reproductive care.

Harris said she made the visit to draw attention to the “very serious health crisis” facing people who live in states that placed new restrictions on abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

“We who have the ability to have a bouquet of microphones in front of us, as I do — I take on, then, the responsibility of uplifting these stories,” Harris told reporters.

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After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Minnesota passed a new law guaranteeing the right to abortion. Neighboring states — including North Dakota and South Dakota — passed bans. That has meant more people are traveling to Minnesota for the procedure.

Dr. Sarah Traxler speaks
Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical director for Planned Parenthood North Central region, speaks at a clinic.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Harris used Minnesota as an example of a state working against abortion restrictions in their region. Minnesota and Illinois offer the most access to abortion seekers in the Midwest.

“The work that happens here is about providing assistance to women who do not live in the state of Minnesota,” Harris said. “Because sadly, this state exists in a neighborhood where laws have been passed to deny people reproductive health care, and so women have to travel here.”

Ruth Richardson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said she was “thrilled” about Harris’ visit and to talk about abortion care in the five-state region.

“In today’s landscape, care isn’t guaranteed even if you live in a state like Minnesota where it has been enshrined into state law,” Richardson said. “But we will never stop helping our patients break down the barriers that state governments have built.”

Planned Parenthood North Central States reported that its Minnesota clinics performed 25 percent more abortions in the 10 months after the Dobbs ruling striking down Roe, compared to the 10 months prior. 

a woman stands in front of a sign that reads fight for reproductive freedom
“We who have the ability to have a bouquet of microphones in front of us, as I do — I take on, then, the responsibility of uplifting these stories,” Harris said about abortion care.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Red River Women’s clinic in Fargo had to close its doors but reopened in Moorhead in September 2022 with GoFundMe donations.

Currently, there are nine abortion providers in Minnesota. Planned Parenthood in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, Mankato and Rochester, WE Health Clinic in Duluth, Robbinsdale Clinic, Whole Woman’s Health in Bloomington and Red River Women’s clinic in Moorhead.

Five of them offer the abortion procedure. Organizations like Just the Pill, Hey Jane, Aid Access and Abortion on demand offer abortion pill delivery to residents of Minnesota.

Inside the Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul, Harris met with Dr. Sarah Traxler, the chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States. The clinic was open during her visit, but reporters were kept in the lobby.

“I am a proud abortion provider,” Traxler told reporters after the tour, calling the vice president’s visit a “historic moment.”

“Since Roe was overturned, I’ve cared for patients from everywhere,” Traxler said, noting people have come from states as far away as Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida and Wyoming.”

two people hold protest signs
Anti-abortion advocates outside of Planned Parenthood in St. Paul before Vice President Kamala Harris' visit.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

There was a small protest outside by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. They said that the visit shows “Biden’s administration’s full-blown devotion to extreme abortion policies.”

“Minnesotans don’t want to be known for abortion tourism,” said MCCL Co-Executive Director Cathy Blaeser. “We don’t want to be the place where no babies are safe and where mothers too often don’t get the support and options they need.”

Protestors also showed up outside of Harris events calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. Organizers say they are troubled by the suffering of women and children in the region during the Israel-Hamas war.

protest outside
Protesters demonstrate as Vice President Kamala Harris' motorcade departs from Planned Parenthood on Thursday.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“I’m tired of having my right to an abortion held over my head while bombs continue to fall on Gaza,” says Kristen Bledsoe, an organizer with the Minnesota Abortion Action Committee.

a map showing Planned Parenthood clinics
A map showing Planned Parenthood clinics is seen in the lobby of Planned Parenthood in St. Paul.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Harris’ Minnesota trip was the latest in a series of events she has had around the country highlighting reproductive rights since Roe was overturned. The issue has been a winning one for Democrats in elections that took place in 2022 and 2023, and the party has said they believe it will be on top of voters’ minds heading into November.

In the last several weeks, Harris has been to a number of swing states critical for Biden's reelection, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Arizona.

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