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Kamala Harris’s Reproductive Rights Proposal: Put Anti-Abortion States on Notice

Kamala Harris holds a microphone and smiles in front of an American flag.

Kamala Harris kicked off a town hall event with MSNBC Tuesday night by announcing her plan to protect reproductive rights.

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“I think it’s very clear that—and it has not changed–that women’s ability to have access to reproductive health is under attack in America. It’s under attack,” she told host Lawrence O’Donnell. Across the country, “state legislatures are fundamentally attacking a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. And let’s understand what this means. Are we going to go back to the days of back-alley abortions? Women died before we had Roe v Wade in place.”

“And so I’m gonna tell you,” she said, echoing our own collective frustration, “on this issue, I’m kinda done.”

As she notes, there are certain states that have been at the forefront of the war on abortion access, that keep trying to pass these ultra-restrictive bans that plainly violate the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Should she be elected President in 2020, Harris says that those states are going to have to go through her and her Justice Department.

“I am going to put in place and require that states that have a history of passing legislation that is designed to prevent or limit a woman’s access to reproductive health care, that those laws have to come before my Department of Justice for a review and approval,” she said, “and until we determine that they are constitutional, they will not take effect.”

“That sounds like it’s going to require 60 votes in the United States Senate,” O’Donnell said, to which Harris replied, “You know what? Everything we do is going to require 60 votes in the United States Senate, which is why I would say to everybody, 2020 is about the White House. It’s also about the United States Senate.”

Harris’ plan is not without precedent. It’s modeled after a provision of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited states with a history of discrimination from implementing obstacles to voting. If those states wanted to make changes to their voting laws, they had to get federal approval.

That section of the Voting Rights Act was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013 because it was ruled that in 50 years, enough had changed in those states to not require that sort of oversight. Whether or not that’s true, Harris says her proposal would look at states’ more recent history—just the past 25 years.

For those states with a history of pushing anti-abortion bills, Harris says, “We will review those through the United States Department of Justice and make a decision: Are they conforming with the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court or not? And if they are not, then that law will be invalidated and it will not be able to be applied to the women of that state.”

I’m sure some people will see this as an attempt to infringe on states’ rights, but those are likely the same people who feel they can pick and choose which parts of the Constitution are the important bits and which can go (like the ones who cling to their guns while celebrating Trump’s attacks on the press).

Personally, I’m all for this plan because, like Harris, on this issue, I’m kinda done.

(image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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