What Vice President Kamala Harris Could Accomplish for Abortion Rights

"Health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address persistent biases in our health system," Kamala Harris said in 2018.

[PHOTO: Kamala Harris holding a microphone and talking]
It’s critical to appreciate, like Vice President-elect Kamala Harris does, that we cannot rely on the judiciary alone to protect abortion access, Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images

When the Biden administration assumes office in January, it’ll have a champion of abortion and reproductive rights near the top: Vice President Kamala Harris.

During her own presidential run in the Democratic primaries, Harris stood out for her unapologetic support of abortion and reproductive rights—even pressing now-President-elect Joe Biden during one of the debates on his previous support for the Hyde Amendment. In her platform, she offered a new plan to combat state abortion restrictions: federal preclearance. Preclearance would involve the federal government essentially running a check on new abortion restrictions from states that have violated Roe v. Wade in the past; the laws would have to get approval from the Department of Justice before they could go into effect.

In theory, it’s a great idea. It would mean that some extreme laws wouldn’t ever have the chance to be enacted and potentially rubber-stamped by a Trump-appointed judge. Preclearance would give the federal government the power to veto and approve state abortion restrictions. But in the wrong hands—read: the wrong administration—that could prove catastrophic.

That being said, her head is in the right place. It’s critical to appreciate, like Harris does, that we cannot rely on the judiciary alone to protect abortion access, as evidenced by the current 6-3 conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court.

Supporting abortion access

Harris’ abortion rights track record in the Senate proves that she doesn’t only talk the talk.

As a member of Congress, she’s long supported legislation that protects and expands access to abortion and reproductive health care. In 2019, she co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would guarantee “a pregnant person’s right to access an abortion—and the right of an abortion provider to deliver these abortion services—free from medically unnecessary restrictions that interfere with a patient’s individual choice or the provider-patient relationship.”

She co-sponsored another bill, the EACH Woman Act, which would effectively repeal the harmful Hyde Amendment, a legislative rider that prohibits federal funds from being used to provide abortions.

The EACH Woman Act would ensure “that every woman who receives her health care or insurance through the federal government will have coverage for all pregnancy-related services, including abortion.” In reversing the Hyde Amendment, the EACH Woman Act would protect those most adversely affected by the anti-choice policy: low income people, Black women and women of color, and other marginalized folks.

Advocating for maternal health

Harris has been vocal about racial disparities in maternal mortality rates, a woefully underdiscussed reproductive justice issue. Because of systemic racism and misogyny in both medicine and politics, Black maternal mortality is all too often deprioritized or seen as niche—with grave consequences.

In 2018, Harris and 13 other Democratic senators introduced the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act, aimed at reducing racial disparities in the abysmal U.S. maternal mortality rate.

In her statement of support for the bill, she acknowledged that racial disparities in mortality outcomes for Black women and women of color are the result of medical bias. The bill offered grant money to address racial disparities in medicine and funding for pregnancy medical home programs.

“Health equity for Black women can only happen if we recognize and address persistent biases in our health system,” Harris said. “This bill is a step towards ensuring that all women have access to culturally competent, holistic care, and to address the implicit biases in our system.”

Moving beyond euphemisms

Reproductive health care, and abortion access in particular, are not only under constant attack from conservatives. They are often deprioritized by liberals—treated like something too controversial, taboo, or divisive to advocate for strongly and vocally. Look no further than the way candidates danced around the word abortion on the debate stage in the primaries, or the way many liberals still talk in euphemisms on the issue.

It’s been refreshing to see someone like Harris be so vocal and so consistent in her support for reproductive rights. It will be even more refreshing to have someone like that in the White House, unafraid of pushing for these issues—as arguably the most pro-choice vice president in history.