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Biden's abortion rights rally in Virginia interrupted by Gaza protests

Biden's abortion rights rally in Virginia interrupted by Gaza protests

By Jeff Mason

MANASSAS, Virginia (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden took aim at Republicans over their efforts to curb abortion rights in a Virginia speech on Tuesday, but his remarks were interrupted repeatedly by hecklers protesting his policies toward Israel.

On the same day that people were voting for a Republican presidential candidate in New Hampshire, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris - in a bit of counterprogramming - held a rally about abortion, an issue that has proven to drive voters to the polls to oppose conservative measures.

"The person most responsible for taking away this freedom in America is Donald Trump," Biden said about the former president and current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

The U.S. Supreme Court, with a conservative majority made possible by three justices who joined the court under Trump, struck down in 2022 the Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed women's right to abortion.

The crowd cheered for Biden, but it was not entirely friendly. Multiple interruptions forced Biden to pause or try to speak over shouts of "Ceasefire now," and "Genocide Joe" over his support for Israel and its assault on Gaza after a surprise attack by Hamas on Israel on Oct. 7 last year.

Israel's strikes have killed more than 25,000 people, Palestinian health authorities said this week.

Biden's embrace of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is costing him support among young voters and other opponents of the war who could play a critical role in the 2024 election, especially in swing states such as Michigan.

"They feel deeply," Biden said after some of the initial protesters were ushered out of the auditorium. As the heckling continued from other participants, Biden kept speaking, and warned the audience that the constant interruptions would continue and had clearly been planned. Supporters in the crowd shouted "Four More Years!" to drown out the heckling.

Biden drew loud applause from the audience when he vowed to veto a national abortion ban if Republicans succeeded in passing one in Congress. His rally came after Virginia Democrats secured majorities in the state legislature after making abortion a central campaign issue last year.

Biden and Harris kicked off events on Monday to highlight Democrats' policies on abortion and what they describe as Republican threats to such rights, on what would have been the 51st anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Harris, who has helped lead the charge for Biden on abortion rights, told the rally that one in three women of reproductive age live in a state with an abortion ban.

"Let us all agree: one does not have to abandon their faith or deeply held beliefs to agree the government should not be telling her what to do with her body," Harris said to applause.

She also placed blame on Trump.

"Former President Trump hand-picked ... three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe," she said.

Most opinion polls, including a Reuters/Ipsos poll in July, show a majority of U.S. voters oppose presidential candidates who favor strict abortion limits. All seven statewide ballot initiatives to enshrine reproductive rights since 2022 have succeeded, including in conservative Ohio, Kansas and Kentucky.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Stephen Coates)