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US VP Harris visits Minnesota abortion clinic in historic first

By Nicole Neri and Trevor Hunnicutt

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday toured a health clinic that offers abortion services while she was in Minnesota, spotlighting growing restrictions on women's rights that Democrats believe will animate voters in November.

The visit, believed to be the first of a sitting president or vice president to such a clinic, comes as President Joe Biden highlights abortion rights as a key issue ahead of the November presidential election.

Harris arrived for a tour at Planned Parenthood's St. Paul Health Center-Vandalia facility as some two dozen anti-abortion protesters stood in the street outside holding signs that read, among other statements, "Abortion is not healthcare."

After completing a tour that was closed to the press, Harris said women in the country are undergoing "silent suffering" because of attacks on their health. The clinic in Minnesota's state capital provides a range of care, including birth control and preventive wellness services.

"Right now, in our country we are facing a very serious health crisis, and the crisis is affecting many, many people in our country," the vice president told reporters.

"I'm here at this healthcare clinic to uplift the work that is happening in Minnesota as an example of what true leadership looks like."

Democrats think personal freedoms could be a key issue for women, independents and other key voters after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade abortion rights in 2022. Harris has held more than 80 public meetings on the topic since then.

"Today, Kamala Harris should answer if there is any abortion restriction the Biden-Harris administration supports. Voters deserve to know," Republican National Committee spokeswoman said following the vice president's visit.

In his State of the Union address last week, Biden pledged to make the right to an abortion the law of the land if reelected.

Biden and Harris have both stepped up campaign travel since former President Donald Trump - whose appointment of three conservative judges to the nation's highest court preceded the abortion decision - dominated the Republican party's primary races.

Last year, Minnesota signed a statute protecting the right to abortion in state law. The Biden administration has warned that a federal law restricting abortions or related medication could undermine that statute.

Sarah Traxler, a chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood in the region, said Harris' visit was a "historic moment."

Traxler said Minnesota had seen a sharp increase in abortions since Roe was overturned and that many of the women were coming from other states that have restricted access to the procedures. The forced journey was putting some of her patients' lives at risk, she said.

The Midwest is home to some of the states expected to be the most heavily contested in November, especially Wisconsin and Michigan.

While nearby Minnesota favors Democrats, it could also be in play, and a protest vote against Biden captured 19% of the primary vote there earlier this month. Democrats worry that some of those "uncommitted" voters may sit out November's election.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicut; additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)