Fresh off a resounding victory for abortion rights in the reliably red state of Kansas two days prior, Vice President Kamala Harris held an event in Boston on Thursday to emphasize that Americans’ views on the controversial issue cross party lines.
And to drive home the point, she had a Republican at her side.
Harris hailed Massachusetts as a “model” for the nation on the issue as Governor Charlie Baker, a pro-abortion rights Republican who later echoed her talking points, sat to her left.
“Governor, I appreciate the role, the national leadership that you have provided on this issue,” Harris said to Baker as a phalanx of Democratic lawmakers and other officials flanked her at the IBEW Local 103 headquarters in Dorchester.
There were no announcements at the round table, which was the latest stop for Harris in what has become somewhat of a nationwide tour on abortion rights since the Supreme Court’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade leaked in May. But the scene, featuring the Democratic vice president and a popular Republican governor speaking in unison about the importance of protecting abortion rights, was striking for just how unusual it was given the nation’s polarized political environment.
Polls suggest a majority of Americans did not want Roe overturned and on Tuesday, voters in Kansas resoundingly rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion.
Harris noted those results, leaning into messaging that abortion was not a partisan matter, but rather one of “freedom and liberty.”
But despite signs of popular support for abortions rights, many Republican officials across the country are pushing to implement sweeping bans, which Harris decried.
“In many states, extremist so-called leaders are passing laws that would provide no exception for rape or incest,” Harris said. “I am a former prosecutor who specialized in child sexual assault cases and violence against women. The idea that we would require someone who has endured an extreme act of violence and then subject her to the government’s will without investing in her the self-determination . . . to make decisions based on what she believes is in her best interest is outrageous.”
Baker, too, stressed that support for abortion transcends politics.
“This issue about reproductive rights has not been a partisan issue,” Baker said. “My mother made clear to me what my position was going to be on this issue when I was very young. But I worked for two governors, Republicans both, in the 1990s who were also big supporters of a woman’s right to make this decision on behalf of themselves and their family.”
A moderate who opted not to run for a third term, Baker is perhaps one of the highest-profile Republican supporters of abortion rights. In July, he signed legislation that expands abortion rights in the state.
Harris described the vote in Kansas as people putting politics aside to send a message to their government that they do not want rights taken away.
“I applaud the leaders — those just down home leaders in Kansas for what they just did two nights ago,” Harris said. “They spoke loudly and said, ‘It doesn’t matter who she voted for in the last election or who she plans on voting for in the next election. Don’t take her rights from her and allow the government to replace its priorities for her priorities.’ ”
Baker noted that many independents and Republicans “voted for choice” in Kansas.
Also in attendance was Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, who greeted Harris at the airport before the event.
“Our bodily autonomy should not be up for debate,” Pressley said. “But devastatingly, it is. And we know who will be impacted the most: the most marginalized, Black and brown folks, LGBTQ, the disability community.”
After Boston, Harris visited Martha’s Vineyard — a frequent summer home of the political elite and a perennial piggy bank for politicians — for a Democratic fund-raiser and a political “friends and family” event later on Thursday.
The Boston gathering was one in a series of events Harris has held in the White House and around the country meeting with local elected officials, advocates, and providers who support abortion rights. It was one of the few, however, in which Harris has highlighted a blue state where abortion rights are not already or soon to be restricted. The trip followed President Biden issuing an executive order directing the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to do more to support out-of-state travel for abortion procedures and promote research on maternal health.
Harris has long been a proponent of abortion rights, going back to her days in California as attorney general, and is seen by the movement as a loyal fighter on the issue, lending the administration credibility despite Biden’s mixed record on abortion rights. Biden has drawn some criticism from advocates for not taking forceful enough action to quickly counter the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision.
If voters were to see Harris as a credible messenger on the issue, it also could help to turn the narrative around on her tenure as vice president, which has been beset by critical headlines of her own making and otherwise, staff turnover, and at-times unforced errors.
Harris was greeted with plenty of Boston flavor on Thursday, including a note about her allegiances in sports. State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, who said abortion rights are “sacrosanct,” thanked Harris, a native of the San Francisco Bay area and fan of the Golden State Warriors, for more than her visit.
”Thank you for not bringing up the NBA Finals,” he said.
”I was this close,” Harris replied, laughing.