Sen. Kamala Harris announced a plan on Tuesday to keep rogue state governments in line, preventing them from continuing to enact unconstitutional abortion bans that will inevitably face court challenges.
If elected president in 2020, Harris said she would require states and localities with a pattern of violating Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, in the preceding 25 years, to seek permission from the U.S. Department of Justice before implementing any new abortion laws, according to a senior campaign official. The plan would have to be approved by Congress, which may prove a challenge if the Senate continues to be controlled by Republicans.
Harris' proposal is modeled after a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring states that implemented discriminatory voting measures to obtain Justice Department approval before enforcing additional measures. As a result, the department has been able to block hundreds of voter-suppression attempts, like literacy tests and photo ID laws, that could disenfranchise marginalized communities, according to Harris' campaign.
The announcement comes on the heels of a wave of anti-choice legislation in states including Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, and Ohio. Just a few days ago, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a measure into law banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a measure that bans abortion at any stage of gestation, except in cases of danger to the woman's life. These early abortion bans are unconstitutional due to Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability. (Researchers say a fetus is not considered viable until around 22 weeks of pregnancy.) In the first three months of 2019, anti-choice lawmakers in 41 states introduced over 250 bills that restricted access to abortion care.
Currently, the burden is on legal activists to put up court challenges to the unconstitutional bans. But Harris' plan would shift the burden to the states, who would now have to show the Justice Department that their laws don't violate the precedent of Roe.
"What is different about this is that she’s really going on the offense," Laurie Rubiner, a former vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood, told Vox. "The onus would be on the states and the anti-choice legislators who are passing these laws."
The other 2020 presidential candidates, particularly the women, have their own plans to help curb the draconian bans. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a platform that calls for Congress to pass a group of federal laws protecting access to reproductive care even if Roe falls, including codifying access to abortion in the federal statute, repealing the Hyde Amendment, reversing the Trump administration's gag rule, and passing a bill blocking states from enacting onerous anti-abortion restrictions such as the targeted regulations on abortion providers (TRAP) laws. Along with codifying Roe and ending Hyde, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand promised she would only nominate judges who would be willing to uphold Roe and "create a funding stream to ensure reproductive health center access in every state and every region of the country."