Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), asks questions of U.S. Attorney General William Barr as he testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Ken Cedeno/Sipa USA/TNS)

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), asks questions of U.S. Attorney General William Barr as he testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Ken Cedeno/Sipa USA/TNS)

Kamala Harris wants to halt state abortion bans before they start

By Emily Cadei, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — As she fights for traction in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Kamala Harris is doubling down on her promises to fight for women’s reproductive rights, rolling out a new plan to hit back at states like Alabama, Georgia and Missouri that have moved to enact near-total bans on abortion.

Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate from California, is set to announce at a town hall in South Carolina that, as president, her administration would review and preempt any state or local law that restricts women’s access to abortion, if the state has a history of violating Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that enshrined a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

The proposal is modeled after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which established a “preclearance” requirement for any changes to voting or election laws in states that had a history of discrimination. In those states, the Department of Justice had to review and approve the proposed changes before they were enacted.

The Supreme Court, however, overturned that requirement in the controversial 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, ruling that the formula for determining the states eligible for preclearance was outdated. The court urged lawmakers to update the Voting Rights Act with a new formula, but a divided Congress has yet to act.

The Harris campaign argues its abortion law preclearance requirement would abide by the court’s 2013 ruling by establishing an up-to-date formula. States would face the added layer of federal review if they had a pattern of violating Roe v. Wade in the preceding 25 years, as determined by legal settlements or court rulings that a law or practice violated Roe.

States like South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa and Texas would all fall under that category, having passed abortion laws in recent years that were later overturned in federal court. Alabama’s new law, which threatens a life sentence for doctors performing abortion, with few exceptions, and Missouri’s ban on abortions after 8 weeks, already face lawsuits.

They’ve also been roundly criticized by the teeming field of Democratic presidential candidates, who are jostling to court women voters, a key voting bloc in the party’s primary. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand held a rally at the Georgia state Capitol earlier this month to protest a new state law banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. And a number of candidates spoke on the steps of the Supreme Court last week as part of a protest against the recent spate of restrictive state abortion laws.

Laurie Rubiner, the former vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood, credited Harris for her proactive response. “It could really be a game changer,” said Rubiner, who has been briefed on Harris’ proposal.

The senator plans to discuss her plan publicly at a town hall in Spartanburg, S.C., which is to air live on MNSBC Tuesday night.

“It is incredibly time consuming and costly to challenge all of these laws all over the country,” said Rubiner. “Why should we have to do that, especially when we know that the law is unconstitutional or borders on unconstitutional?”

But such a move in a Harris administration would likely to face legal challenges of its own.

Rubiner said she believed the Department of Justice could legally establish the preclearance requirement unilaterally, without action from Congress. And she argued that, for abortion rights advocates, it represents one of the few ways they can fight back against the anti-abortion movement’s years-long legal effort to chip away at abortion access.

“We’ve become such a polarized country,” she said, particularly on issues of reproductive rights. “It’s very difficult to get anything passed in this Congress, so if that’s the way it has to be done then I’ll take what we can get.”

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City College union deal staves off layoffs, class cuts

One year agreement allows community college time to improve its finances

A Homeless Outreach Team member speaks with homeless people along Jones Street in the Tenderloin on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Breed proposes another street outreach team to divert calls away from police

San Francisco would launch a new street outreach team to respond to… Continue reading

Chelsea Hung, who owns Washington Bakery and Restaurant in Chinatown with her mother, said the restaurant is only making about 30 percent of pre-pandemic revenues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chinatown’s slow recovery has business owners fearing for the future

Lack of outside visitors threatens to push neighborhood into ‘downward spiral’

A worker sets up irrigation lines to water almond tree rootstocks along Road 36 in Tulare, Calif. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Gov. Gavin Newsom extends drought emergency to 41 California counties

Faith E. Pinho Los Angeles Times In a stark indication of California’s… Continue reading

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new stimulus plan on Monday. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner file photo)
More Californians would get new $600 stimulus checks from the state under Newsom plan

Sophia Bollag The Sacramento Bee Two-thirds of Californians would get an extra… Continue reading

Most Read