Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Connecticut on Wednesday was billed as official business, but she briefly acknowledged the timing of her trip to the 5th District, about a month away from what could be the most competitive Congressional race in the state.
“This is not a political event, but it is a fact that in 34 days, there is a midterm coming up,” Harris said with a smile and to loud applause. “And facts must be spoken.”
Harris participated in a moderated discussion at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain about abortion rights and women’s health care with Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, the first Black woman elected to Congress from Connecticut. She faces a tough fight for a third term in her race against Republican former state Sen. George Logan.
Hayes and Planned Parenthood President Alexis McGill Johnson peppered Harris with questions about national threats to abortion access and what that means for other rights, such as contraception and same-sex marriage. Gov. Ned Lamont, who has his own reelection race, delivered opening remarks. U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who used to lead Connecticut’s Education Department, also spoke.
The discussion was an official event and policy heavy, but it essentially functioned as a campaign stop ahead of the Nov. 8 election. They did not discuss Hayes’ opponent or any specifics about the election, but Harris gave a quick shout-out at the top: “Please send her back to Congress.”
Hayes noted that she developed a working relationship with Harris while they were both serving in Congress. Harris is a former U.S. senator who went on to become the first Black and Asian American vice president.
“People in my district care about this issue, and it’s significant we’re having this conversation right now,” Hayes said. “It’s critical that we take action to enshrine women’s reproductive rights into law.”
Abortion rights have become a prominent issue across the U.S. as Republican-led states seek to restrict abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected it as a constitutional right for nearly five decades. Access to abortion remains legal in Connecticut, which has a “safe harbor” law permitting women to travel here for an abortion.
Several protesters stood outside the university holding a banner with an image resembling a Connecticut license plate that said “KILZ MOR” and “Abortion State.” Dozens of others stood outside holding Logan campaign signs and watched as Harris departed in her motorcade.
Logan called the vice president’s trip a “missed opportunity” to address other issues like the economy, immigration, crime and the opioid epidemic.
“Women’s health care and reproductive rights are without a doubt an important topic,” Logan said in a statement. “Sadly the Vice President, my opponent, and Democrat leaders have cheated voters out of a meaningful conversation on this important topic because all they have done is lie about my record, which has strongly and consistently supported women’s rights, including a woman’s right to choose.”
Democrats see the threats to abortion rights as a motivating issue in the midterm elections, including in the 5th District. The race between Hayes and Logan has drawn millions of dollars in outside spending from both parties as control of the House hangs in the balance. And abortion access has been a frequent subject of campaign ads.
New Britain itself has drawn a lot of recent national activity, between Harris’ visit and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel’s recent trip. The RNC opened a Black and Hispanic Community Center in the city back in March.
Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion got renewed attention after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proposed a national ban that would prohibit the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The legislation has split many of Graham’s GOP colleagues but could get a vote in the next session of Congress if Republicans win back control in November, though President Joe Biden would veto any such legislation.
During Wednesday’s event, Hayes and Harris discussed what it would mean for Connecticut and states across the country if a federal law were implemented to restore abortion access. They also talked about what the Biden-Harris administration is doing to address Black maternal health and complications from pregnancy. According to the CDC, the maternal mortality rate was nearly three times higher for Black women than white women in 2020.
House Democrats, including Hayes, voted over the summer for legislation to codify abortion protections into federal law. But it has stalled in a divided 50-50 Senate narrowly controlled by Democrats. Hayes has argued that the decision should be between a patient and their doctor.
If a federal law was passed, Harris said, states with laws that criminalize health care providers or institute bans with no exceptions for rape or incest “would have to stop.”
“It’s immoral,” Harris said. “A national law would handle that.”
For his part, Logan has said he supports a woman’s right to choose with limitations and does not support a national abortion ban like the one proposed by Graham in the Senate.
The two parties have sparred on this issue. Democrats point to Logan’s association and support for Republicans in Congress who are anti-abortion, while Logan’s campaign has called Democratic ads attacking his position as “blatant lies.”
Overall, Republicans would rather focus voter attention on other issues where they may have a leg up, such as the economy.
“I welcome Vice President Harris to #CT05 today,” Logan tweeted ahead of the event, “and I look forward to hearing from her and @JahanaHayesCT on how they plan to address record high inflation, rising energy costs, the crisis at our southern border, crisis level test scores in schools, and chaos abroad.”
The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.