Updated May 28, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris unveils abortion plan in the mold of Voting Rights Act

Kamala Harris at a campaign stop in New Hampshire. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In light of recent anti-abortion laws throughout the country, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is proposing a plan that would require states trying to restrict abortion access to pre-clear any new reproductive health laws with the Department of Justice.

Why it matters: Harris is outlining a clear vision of her priorities if elected president shift the burden from those that face discrimination to those in power, particularly for women.

  • Last week Harris unveiled a plan to end the gender pay gap by fining non-compliant companies, making employers — not the employees — accountable for the problem.
  • This time, she's proposing the burden be on states to prove they're not violating constitutional rights by restricting abortion.

Details: Harris' reproductive rights proposal was formally unveiled during an MSNBC town hall on Tuesday night.

  • Any state that has introduced laws in violation of Roe v. Wade in the last 25 years — her campaign points to South Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia as examples — have to obtain a pre-clearance from the DOJ to move forward with any new abortion laws.
  • That's similar to the Voting Rights Act, which requires a "pre-clearance" process that "blocks discrimination before it occurs."
  • The plan adds to the Women's Health Protection Act, which Harris co-sponsors in the Senate and which goes after state laws that restrict abortion access.
  • Any new abortion laws "in a covered jurisdiction" will be illegal and unenforceable until the DOJ determines whether they are compliant with both the Women's Health Protection Act and Roe v. Wade.
  • Health care providers and their patients would have the ability to sue the DOJ if it doesn't enforce the abortion rights guaranteed under Roe and the Women's Health Protection Act.

What they're saying: Proposed abortion bans like in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri "will be struck down right away because they're patently unconstitutional, but there's a burden on Planned Parenthood and the ACLU to challenge those laws," said Laurie Rubiner, former vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood. "I like that she's thinking so creatively about shifting that burden."

  • "The pre-clearance provision is surprising in the sense that it's really bold, which is great. I think it's really badly needed," Rubiner added.

The big picture: Other 2020 candidates — like Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Bernie Sanders — have released detailed abortion plans, but none have proposed a pre-clearance requirement.

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