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Access to reproductive care inspires many doctors to run for office


In past campaign years, issues like the Affordable Care Act or gun violence motivated physicians from both parties to run for Congress. This year, access to reproductive care after the Supreme Court's abortion ruling is encouraging more doctors who are Democrats to seek office. Kelly Morrison is one of those candidates. She is an OB-GYN and former state senator, running as a Democrat for Minnesota's third congressional seat, and she's with us now. Dr. Morrison, thanks so much for joining us.

KELLY MORRISON: Good morning. Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: Do you think doctors bring something unique to lawmaking, and if so, what do you think it is?

MORRISON: I do think doctors bring something unique. You know, we're listeners by profession, and I think we can all probably agree we could use a little more listening than talking in politics. And I think that we also bring some calm in stressful situations. We like to make sure that we have the best available evidence when we're making recommendations and making care plans with patients, so I think we do bring a unique skill set.

MARTIN: So, you know, Democrats are putting access to abortion and other reproductive rights front and center in their efforts to mobilize voters this year. You're seeing, for example, Vice President Kamala Harris, you know, very vocal in this issue, traveling around the country. But is that enough? I mean, a lot of voters say other issues like immigration or the economy are most important to them. Do you - do Democrats need to do more to diversify your message?

MORRISON: You know, I guess I would say that it's actually extreme Republicans who have put these issues front and center. It's part of the reason I ran for office in the first place. You know, I was a busy working mom, taking care of my patients and raising my kids. And in the wake of the Trump election, we in the OB-GYN community certainly knew that reproductive rights hung in the balance with Supreme Court nominations coming. You know, Trump ran on overturning Roe v. Wade, and that's exactly what he did. And so we know firsthand the effects on the ground of these bans and restrictions, and I think we've seen across the country that Americans - it's really not a partisan issue in a lot of ways for American people living their lives. People think that access to reproductive health care, including abortion care, should be legal.

MARTIN: You know, Democrats would need a greater majority in the Senate and a House majority to pass federal abortion protections. You know, obviously, that might not happen. I mean, the Senate is very much in play, and, you know, Democrats taking a majority in the House is certainly not assured. What else can you and other Democrats deliver for voters in a divided government?

MORRISON: Well, certainly, I think that, you know, Democrats, in general, stand up for working people, making sure that people have access to health care that they need, making sure that they can afford their lives, making sure that they can breathe clean air and drink clean water. And certainly, if there's divided government, then we'd need strong voices on the Democratic side to stand up for those protections.

MARTIN: You know, to that end, you know, there are actually enough Republican doctors in Congress that there's a GOP Doctors Caucus. I'm sure you know that. You know, is the...

MORRISON: I've heard that.

MARTIN: Right, right. Is the goal here to at least have enough Democratic doctors in Congress to offer an alternative view of these issues? Like, what is your ultimate goal? Obviously, your goal is to win your seat. But as a party - and clearly, as we said, there are a number of doctors who are Democrats like yourself running - is the goal here to at least match their ability to press the message forward from a medical perspective?

MORRISON: Well, I'm certainly focused on my own race. You're right, that is my full-time endeavor right now. But I do think it's important that, you know, the people in Congress represent the will of the American people. And we've seen again and again when these issues come before the American people in red, purple and blue states, Americans want access. So I think we do need those voices in Congress.

MARTIN: And do you think that you could work with the Republican doctors in Congress? Is there - this is such a polarized issue. So many of these issues have become so polarized. Do you think you could work with the Republican doctors to find common ground, and if so, where?

MORRISON: You know, I have prided myself on my time in the state legislature in Minnesota on a lot of bipartisan legislation. So I'm certain that I could work with Republicans and Republican doctors on all kinds of issues. We may not agree on abortion, but there are all kinds of issues that we do agree on.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, if you do win, you're going to not be able to see patients. You were able to do so in the state Senate, in the state House. Are you going to miss that?

MORRISON: I will miss that. You know, I've practiced for more than 20 years in Minnesota, and I have long-term relationships with my patients. And I will miss seeing them, but if I have the honor of serving in Congress, I hope to be able to serve them in a more - a bigger, more comprehensive way as we work to enact protections and access to health care, Michel.

MARTIN: That is Kelly Morrison, Dr. Kelly Morrison. She's an OB-GYN who is running for Congress in Minnesota. Dr. Morrison, thanks so much for talking to us.

MORRISON: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.