Sen. Kamala Harris Wants States to Get Approval From DOJ Before Passing Restrictive Abortion Laws

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California Sen. Kamala Harris will announce her presidential policy proposal to stop states from passing unconstitutional abortion laws by including a pre-clearance requirement from her Department of Justice.

Harris’ announcement, expected during an MSNBC town hall on Tuesday night, comes as several states, including Alabama, Georgia and Missouri have sought to restrict or ban all abortions, renewing a national conversation about women’s health and access to safe, legal abortions.

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This state pre-clearance requirement would be similar to the Voting Rights Act, meaning that states would have to get advance approval by a federal court or the Department of Justice to change abortion laws.

“Harris will require, for the first time, that states and localities with a history of violating Roe v. Wade in the preceding 25 years obtain approval from her Department of Justice before any abortion law or practice can take effect,” a senior campaign official said in a statement to The Root.

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Under Harris’ plan:

1. States and localities will be subject to the pre-clearance requirement if they have a pattern of violating Roe v. Wade in the preceding 25 years. For example, violations will include settlements or final findings by a court that a law or practice runs afoul of Roe, such as rulings in South Carolina, Iowa, and Georgia.

  • Since 1995, states have implemented more than 1,000 abortion restrictions.
  • Between 1998 and 2013, the Voting Rights Act pre-clearance requirements blocked 86 proposed election changes and forced hundreds more to be withdrawn upon DOJ examination.

2. Any change with respect to abortion in a covered jurisdiction will remain legally unenforceable until DOJ determines it comports with the standards laid out in Roe and the Women’s Health Protection Act, which Harris co-sponsors in the Senate.

  • This proposal goes further than just codifying a woman’s federal right to an abortion. It will shift the burden to states with a pattern of violating Roe to prove any new law or practice does not deny or abridge a woman’s right to choose.

3. Guardrails, such as public determinations and requiring reviews, will ensure DOJ enforces the law even under an administration that’s hostile to women’s rights—and patients and providers will have standing to sue if they don’t.

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As it stands, Republicans are waging war against women’s reproductive rights. Democratic candidates must come equipped with a plan on how to handle this all-out assault, fostered mostly by Republicans and mostly Bible Belt white men. Harris is not only seeking to protect abortion rights, she’s also looking to save Planned Parenthood from Republican attempts to defund essential health services and nominate judges that respect Roe v. Wade.

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About the author

Stephen A. Crockett Jr.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.