Senate

Harris raises alarm on abortion rights while grilling Barrett

Bonnie Cash

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) told Amy Coney Barrett Thursday that her nomination to the Supreme Court poses a serious threat to abortion rights, signaling that women’s reproductive freedom will emerge as a significant issue in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign.

“Anti-choice activists and politicians have been working for decades to pass laws and file lawsuits designed to overturn Roe and the precedents that followed. The threat to choice is real,” Harris said during her 30 minutes of question time at Barrett’s second day of confirmation hearings.

Harris, Joe Biden’s vice presidential running mate, dinged Barrett for dodging questions about how she viewed the precedents set by Roe v. Wade in 1973 and Casey v. Planned Parenthood in 1992, which established and affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.

She said the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was confirmed by the Senate in 1993, was “far more forthcoming” at her hearing “about the essential rights of women.”

“She testified that the decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her wellbeing and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself,” Harris said, recounting Ginsburg’s testimony.

Harris noted that Ginsburg asserted at the time that it was essential to women’s equality that she be the decision maker about whether to bring a pregnancy to term.

“She did freely discuss how she viewed a woman’s right to choose,” she said.

Harris argued that abortion rights are now under serious threat. She did not ask Barrett, who dodged questions about abortion rights for most of Tuesday’s hearing, any direct questions about her views on the topic.

She pointed to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in June Medical Services v. Russo in June striking down a Louisiana law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

She noted that Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the court, joined four liberal justices, including Ginsburg, to uphold the protections established by Roe v. Wade.

Roberts agreed with the his liberal colleagues “that the court was bound by its own precedent to strike down the Louisiana law because it was virtually identical to a Texas law that the court ruled unconstitutional in 2016,” she said.

If Barrett, who expressed skepticism in a 2013 law journal article about whether Roe v. Wade was correctly decided, ruled with the court’s four conservative members in a similar case, it could give states more leeway to put restrictions on abortion, Harris argued.

“Justice Ginsburg provided the critical fifth vote to strike down the unconstitutional abortion restriction in June Medical Services. So we must be honest about the impact of her passing and the impact it will have on the court’s decisions in cases regarding women’s access to reproductive health care,” the senator added.

Republican senators such as Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) have argued that the threat to Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn it, but a substantial majority of the GOP conference has expressed support for expanding restrictions on abortions.

Thirty-nine Republican senators signed an amicus brief in January calling on the high court in the June Medical Services case to revisit Roe v. Wade, Harris noted.

“So let’s not make any mistake about it. Allowing President Trump to determine who fills the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion for women’s rights and a critical vote in so many decisions that have sustained the right to choose, poses a threat to safe and legal abortion in our country,” Harris said.

Harris pointed to an advertisement Barrett signed that was published in The South Bend Tribune that called for “an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade” and another ad in 2013 that the nominee signed calling Roe “infamous.”

She also pointed to an article Barrett wrote in a 2013 law journal article in which the nominee excluded Roe v. Wade from a list of well-settled cases. 

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Donald Trump Joe Biden Joni Ernst Mike Lee Ruth Bader Ginsburg
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