Vice President Kamala Harris offered a fiery condemnation of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to send the issue of abortion back to the states, saying on Monday that Americans should be worried about the implications for other fundamental rights.
“The court actually took a constitutional right that has been recognized for half a century and took it from the women of America. That's shocking,” Harris told CNN’s Dana Bash on Monday, her first sit-down interview since the nation’s highest court on Friday overturned the 50-year-old precedent protecting the federal right to an abortion, adding: “When we think about it, everyone has something at risk on this.”
“If you are a parent of sons, do think about what this means for the life of your son. And what that will mean in terms of the choices he will have,” Harris added. “Do think about it in the context of the fact that they wrote this decision, including concurring opinions, that suggest that other rights such as the freedom to make decisions about when you were going to start a family, the freedom and the right to make decisions about contraception, IUDs, what this is going to mean in terms of in vitro fertilization.”
In his concurring opinion, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the nation’s highest court should reconsider all of its “substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” three cases that concern Americans’ right to privacy, specifically the ability of married couples to buy contraception, that prohibitions or punishments for same-sex relationships are unconstitutional and to guarantee that same-sex marriages are constitutional, respectively.
When asked if she believes the Supreme Court will take aim at those long-held protections, Harris said: “I definitely believe this is not over. I do. I think [Thomas] just said the quiet part out loud.”
A number of Harris’ former Senate colleagues have called on the administration to take more aggressive actions to protect abortion access. On Saturday, a group of 33 Democrats penned a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to “take immediate action to use the full force of the federal government to protect access to abortion in the United States.”
“You have the power to fight back and lead a national response to this devastating decision, so we call on you to take every step available to your Administration, across federal agencies, to help women access abortions and other reproductive health care, and to protect those who will face the harshest burdens from this devastating and extreme decision,” the letter read in part, though it did not outline specific steps for the administration to take.
The vice president on Monday said she does not think there are enough votes in the Senate to pass legislation codifying abortion protections into federal law – and added eliminating the filibuster is likely not a viable path forward. The Biden administration is currently not considering providing abortions on federal lands that border states which outlaw or restrict abortion, Harris also noted.
Instead, Harris called on Americans to vote in the upcoming midterm elections in states like Colorado, North Carolina and Georgia, saying in part: “We need to change the balance and have pro-choice legislators who have the power to make decisions about whether this constitutional right will be in law [...] so that there will be no ambiguity about it.”
In the meantime, the administration plans to use its executive branch powers to “ensure that women have access to the medication they need [...] and that they will have freedom of travel and that that travel should be unrestricted,” Harris said Monday.
“What is most important right now is that we ensure that the restrictions that the states are trying to put up that would prohibit a woman from exercising what we still maintain is her right – that we do everything we can to empower women to not only seek but to receive the care where it is available,” she added.
Around 13 states had so-called “trigger laws” on the books set to outlaw or restrict abortion access should the Supreme Court strike down the protections offered in Roe – some of which have already gone into effect in the three days since the court released its ruling.
Harris, who specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases during her time in California’s Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, noted some of those laws “will not allow a woman to have access to reproductive health and choose an abortion if she is the victim of rape or incest.”
“The idea that after a woman has endured such violence to her body, that she would not have the freedom and authority to decide whether she wanted to continue with a pregnancy that was a result of an act of violence is absolutely unthinkable,” she said.
Health and Human Services secretary Xavier Becerra told CNN in a separate interview on Monday that the agency is going to “work with those women, work with providers to make sure that at the end of the day, women access the care they need,” but said the administration is “not going to try to speak for the states that are moving to deny women access to the kind of care that they need.”
“It may mean that we have to see a woman jump through hoops that we would have never have expected,” he told Bash. “But we will do whatever we can. We'll go to those outer limits to make sure that we're working with Americans to get the care that they need.”