Not to be outdone by the rest of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary field on the abortion front, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced her new “reproductive rights” plan on Tuesday that would force states to check with her administration before enacting any new pro-life laws.
In a statement accompanying the plan, Harris cited a “the pressing need to pass federal legislation protecting reproductive rights” but added that “simply codifying Roe v. Wade isn’t enough” because “extreme politicians in state legislatures have been working to systematically chip away at Roe for decades.
“From Alabama to Ohio, and Missouri to Georgia, the goal of Republican politicians is clear: Overturn Roe v. Wade and end safe and legal abortion in America,” the statement adds elsewhere, referencing the recent trend of state-level laws restricting abortion.
The candidate’s answer to the pro-life trend in state legislatures would be a “Reproductive Rights Act,” which would borrow from the 1965 Voting Rights Act and require that states get pre-cleared by the Department of Justice before any new pro-life law could take effect.
Under the VRA, states with a history of racial segregation and codified discrimination had to get clearance from the Department of Justice before they could change their voting laws. Those states were Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, according to DOJ records.
The Voting Right’s Act’s old preclearance formula, however, was struck down at the Supreme Court on 10th Amendment grounds in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 by a 5-4 decision.
Harris’ proposal acknowledges the results of the 2013 decision and blames the outcome on a “partisan majority”; it also claims that the court “explicitly invited Congress to update the formula” along new lines, which is what she would do to safeguard abortion access as president.
Under the plan, state and local governments with a “pattern of violating Roe v. Wade in the preceding 25 years” would be subject to a preclearance requirement.
“Under the plan, any change with respect to abortion in a covered jurisdiction will remain legally unenforceable until DOJ determines it comports with the standards laid out by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, as applied in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and the Women’s Health Protection Act, which Harris co-sponsors in the Senate,” the proposal explains.
The Women’s Health Protection Act was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress last week and would statutorily bar states from passing new “non-medical” pro-life laws.
Harris’ abortion proposal follows a week after the announcement of fellow 2020 candidate and Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s plans to create a federal “Office of Reproductive Rights.“