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In her first interview since the Supreme Court officially overturned Roe v Wade, thus overruling the constitutional right to an abortion, Vice President Kamala Harris was heavy on outrage but light on detailed remedies. Harris told CNN’s Dana Bash that she first got the news while en route to Illinois to speak about maternal health policy. The VP’s personal reaction was what was to be expected: She was prepared for the decision but still shocked when it became official. She reflected as a step-mother, godmother, and aunt, and as a former prosecutor of crimes against women and children. She reiterated that the right to an abortion should be settled by now.
Harris was also clear that she felt that the right to abortion would not be the last right endangered by the current Supreme Court based on Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring opinion, in which he suggested other landmark cases, such as the ones that determined the right to contraception and same-sex relationships, ought to be “revisited.”
The Vice President was less clear when pressed on specific policies or actions the Executive Branch was prepared to take to protect the right to choose. Harris said the administration would do “everything in our power” to ensure that people have access to the medication they need — which is FDA approved — as well as the freedom to travel between states to access this medication or other abortion services. When asked whether these freedoms would be enforced by the courts, Harris expressed confidence that the Department of Justice was committed to keeping states from overregulating FDA-approved medications or freedom of travel. Merrick Garland signaled as much in a statement on Friday, per the Washington Post, stating that his department was ready to work with the FDA to ensure access to Mifepristone — the abortion pill — and that states would not be allowed to halt access to abortion counseling services.
Another idea that has been floated is the possibility of opening up abortion-provider facilities on federal lands, but Harris said that has not been under discussion. Instead, the Veep pivoted to talking about elections, again reiterating the importance of the upcoming midterms, which will determine which party controls both chambers of Congress. Harris said that the current Senate does not have the votes to legislate the right to an abortion into law, saying, “We need to change the balance and have pro-choice legislators.” Calls to vote, an echo of what President Biden said just days earlier, will likely induce more groans from Progressive Democrats, who have long grown tired of voting in “the most important election of their lives” without any measurable legislative change.
Additionally, Democrats do already control the House, the Senate, and the Executive branch, but Harris, Bash noted, has not called for abolishing the filibuster — which would make it possible to get a bill passed in the Senate. As the Vice President, Harris is President of the Senate, which should give her voice some additional weight in that chamber. If this is so, she doesn’t seem to have used it much.
And it should go without saying, but Harris also did not call for expanding or changing the number of justices on the Supreme Court — which some constitutional scholars and historians (and progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren) have repeatedly called for as a correction to the extreme ideological unbalance on the court.