Biden campaign puts reproductive rights front and center as it plans to tie Trump to abortion bans

The Biden campaign will hit the airwaves in battleground states with its first abortion-focused ad of the year, featuring stark, emotional testimony from a woman personally affected by a state abortion ban who lays the blame directly on former President Donald Trump.

It comes as the campaign is launching a full-court press this week to put abortion rights front and center in the 2024 race, including with events headlined by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The push marks the campaign’s first organized effort to emphasize the issue, seeking to further galvanize voters around reproductive rights in the first presidential election after the Supreme Court ended the federal constitutional right to an abortion.

The new TV spot also follows Biden’s ramped-up attacks against Trump in the opening weeks of the year, portraying him as a direct threat to democracy. It’s part of the campaign’s efforts to warn of Trump’s plans and positions ahead of a possible matchup in November.

The minutelong ad, titled “Forced” and shared first with CNN, features an emotional direct-to-camera testimonial from Dr. Austin Dennard, a Texas OB-GYN and mother who traveled out of her state, which has a strict abortion ban, to terminate her pregnancy after learning her fetus had a fatal condition. Dennard calls the situation “every woman’s worst nightmare” and criticizes Trump for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. The former president has taken credit for overturning Roe v. Wade due to the justices he appointed to the Supreme Court, recently saying in a Fox News town hall, “For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated, and I did it. And I’m proud to have done it.”

“I never thought that I would need an abortion for a planned pregnancy, but I did,” Dennard says in the ad. “Two years ago, I became pregnant with a baby I desperately wanted. At a routine ultrasound, I learned that the fetus would have a fatal condition and that there was absolutely no chance of survival.

“In Texas you are forced to carry that pregnancy, and that is because of Donald Trump overturning Roe v. Wade,” Dennard says as an image of Trump flashes across the screen. “The choice was completely taken away. I was to continue my pregnancy, putting my life at risk.”

In 2021, Texas banned abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy. After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022, a trigger law went into effect banning all abortions in the state other than those intended to protect the life of a mother.

Dennard ends the ad saying, “We need leaders that will protect our rights and not take them away and that’s Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Biden campaign officials hope stories like Dennard’s will resonate with voters heading into November’s election as the campaign looks to stress Trump and other Republicans are extreme and have worked to limit reproductive rights. Democrats saw success around the issue of abortion in the 2022 midterms and other recent elections, which the Biden campaign hopes to replicate in 2024.

Biden on Monday will convene the fourth meeting of the Task Force on Reproductive Health Care Access as the administration prepares to announce new actions relating to contraception and patient rights to emergency medical care.

The actions, which are timed to coincide with the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, appear to be limited in scope, expanding on previous executive orders and memorandums signed by the president.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, according to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS in the decision’s aftermath. And a CNN poll conducted in November found that Americans align more with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party on the issue of abortion.

It’s this discontent with the Supreme Court’s decision that the Biden campaign hopes to capitalize on in November. The ad will begin running Monday in seven battleground states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – and nationally during the season premiere of ABC’s “The Bachelor.” The ad will air on channels like HGTV, TLC, Bravo, Hallmark, Food Network and Oxygen with the hope of reaching suburban women and young voters, campaign officials said.

It will also air in battleground states during the NFL conference championship games next Sunday, which the official says features a younger and more diverse audience. A 30-second version of the ad will air at the same time on digital platforms, including YouTube. The campaign did not detail how much money was behind the ad, which is set to run for the next week.

A central issue for the Biden campaign

The Biden campaign plans to use the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade this week to lean into making reproductive rights arguments a focal point of the campaign.

Harris, who has emerged as the administration’s foremost voice on abortion, will on Monday kick off a reproductive freedoms tour in Wisconsin, a battleground state Democrats are looking to defend.

The push will continue the next day, when Biden and Harris team up for their first campaign event of the year in Virginia. The event, which will also focus on reproductive rights, will come the same day as the New Hampshire primary.

Biden started the year with a renewed emphasis on taking on Trump, trying to portray him as a direct threat to Americans’ personal freedoms. From the start, the campaign has sought to warn that issues such as reproductive rights are under attack, even featuring images of abortion rights activists protesting outside the Supreme Court in its campaign launch video.

The Biden campaign and White House have sought to push back on state abortion bans since the Dobbs decision. Biden has taken some executive actions relating to abortion access, contraception and states passing abortion restrictions, but even those have been quite limited, highlighting the challenges he faces in acting on his own.

In a memo released Friday, Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said Biden and Harris are “the only candidates in the race for the presidency who will veto a national abortion ban to become law and are fighting to restore the protections of Roe – the only way to guarantee access to care for people in every state.”

Reaching the limits of what Biden can do

On Monday, the president will receive updates about efforts to “protect access to reproductive health care and the continued threats to emergency care and FDA approved medication abortion,” said Jennifer Klein, chair of the Gender Policy Council.

“In the face of these threats, the administration is committed to ensuring women have the freedom to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” she said.

The contraception-focused actions include new guidance from the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury aimed at strengthening access to all forms of contraception at no cost under the Affordable Care Act. It stems from an executive order Biden signed over the summer ordering the agencies to consider such guidance.

The Office of Personnel Management will announce it is adopting similar policy for health care coverage for federal workers. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will send a letter to insurance providers receiving federal funding, including private health insurers, state Medicaid programs and Medicare plans, outlining obligations to cover contraception.

Health and Human Services will also take steps relating to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), laying out a plan to educate patients about their right to emergency medical care and information on how to pursue complaints. The agency will also set up a team of experts to help hospitals and providers ensure they meet obligations under federal law.

EMTALA, a federal Medicare law requiring hospitals to provide stabilizing care to emergency room patients regardless of their ability to pay, is at the center of one of the biggest abortion cases before the nation’s highest court this year. The Supreme Court will decide whether emergency room doctors can perform medically necessary abortions in states that prohibit them.

The Biden administration also is bracing for another high-stakes reproductive care decision from the Supreme Court, which will decide whether to restrict access to a widely used abortion drug known as mifepristone. The cases will be decided in the middle of the 2024 election.

Klein declined to weigh in on the 2024 implications of the upcoming court decisions, but noted, “As we have seen before when Americans have the opportunity to make their voices heard on this issue, they will continue to do that.”

White House officials will be closely watching state ballot initiatives this year after successful efforts by abortion rights advocates to put abortion measures in the hands of voters, most recently in Ohio.

In states “where abortion has been on the ballot, the American people have overwhelmingly voted to protect reproductive freedom,” Klein said. “We’re going to remain focused on supporting state partners who are doing both the defensive as I said, and proactive bites to ensure access, including ballot initiatives.”

Leaning into personal stories

Senior Biden campaign officials have said their research shows ads including personal testimony from Americans resonate deeply with voters. In the years since the Dobbs decision, some Democrats crafted ads featuring emotional and personal stories about abortion.

That included a searing ad in Kentucky’s gubernatorial race in which a 21-year-old woman detailed the trauma of being raped by her stepfather as she criticized the Republican attorney general for failing to support exemptions to Kentucky’s abortion ban for cases of rape and incest.

Dennard, a mother of three, has shared her story in detail in a Texas courthouse, in congressional hearings and at the White House, where she met with first lady Jill Biden last summer. Her fetus was diagnosed with anencephaly, a condition in which the brain and skull of a fetus don’t completely form, which also poses a significant threat to pregnant patients.

Last summer, Dennard testified that continuing with the pregnancy would have put her at “significant risk,” but she did not feel confident a medical provider would give her an abortion in Texas over the diagnosis, given what she described as the confusing and vague parameters of the state’s medical emergency exception.

“No woman in America should have to risk their life or flee their home to receive life-saving care, but because of Donald Trump, too many have been forced to do exactly that,” said Chavez Rodriguez. “This ad serves as a sobering reminder to women across the country of the devastating legacy of Donald Trump’s presidency – and a warning of his plans, if elected, to take this anti-abortion crusade even further by using every agency and tool of the federal government to limit women’s access to reproductive health care.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Ashley Killough and Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

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