Kamala Harris on reproductive health care: ‘We need to declare it a priority’

According to Sen. Kamala Harris’ reproductive health-care plan, Iowa’s fetal-heartbeat law would have been subject to a “pre-clearance” standard.


Katina Zentz

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during her town hall at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. Harris stuck to her stump speech about equality, specifically among marginalized communities and condemned President Trump’s divisive rhetoric.

Julia Shanahan, Assistant Politics Editor

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Tuesday she’d reached her limit of patience on the lack of discussion of women’s reproductive health care when she interjected on the Medicare for All topic during the Oct. 15 Democratic presidential debates.

“We need to have presidential candidates indicate where they stand on it, and we need to declare it a priority like any other health-care priority,” Harris said in an interview with The Daily Iowan.

At a Harris town hall in Iowa City of 260 attendees, people asked questions about health-care accessibility, some specifically about women’s health care. The Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature has passed laws, including defunding Planned Parenthoods, that have tightened restrictions on access to abortions and other reproductive health-care services. 

“Yet again, we were embarked on, you know, a very long discussion (about health care), and it hadn’t come up, and it affects over half the population,” Harris said to the DI, referring to what she sees as the lack of debate about women’s reproductive health care.  

At the Tuesday town hall in the Feller Club Room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a couple of people asked questions relating to health-care coverage that included women’s reproductive health. Another asked how Harris plans to help Republican-majority state legislatures across the country turn blue.

Harris told the DI that states such as Alabama that drastically tightened their abortion laws are “completely out of touch with reality.” Under Alabama’s law, doctors who perform a banned abortion would be charged with a Class-A felony and could face life in prison.

Harris highlighted reproductive rights in her stump speech, saying that state legislatures “dare to impede on a woman’s right to reproductive health care.” Harris also referenced the gender-pay gap among women of color.

During the debate, Harris said it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say “women will die” because of restrictive women’s health-care laws passed by Republicans in state legislatures.

Later in the debate, candidates weighed in on a question about how candidates would address state legislatures’ abortion restrictions. 

Candidates including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said they would “codify” Roe v. Wade. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., called for the creation of a Reproductive Freedom Office in the White House, saying that men should also be concerned about restrictions to abortion, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., focused her presidential campaign’s message on women’s reproductive rights before she dropped her bid in August. In a statement from Harris’ Iowa Communications Director Miryam Lipper, she said Harris has always been a leader on reproductive rights and women’s health care.

Four Planned Parenthood clinics closed in Iowa in 2017. The Iowa Legislature passed a law that would block public funding to family-care clinics with abortion services.

In Harris’ plan, The Reproductive Rights Act, there would be a “pre-clearance” requirement to make it harder for states to impose restrictions on abortion providers, including waiting periods and “imposing medically unnecessary doctor supervision requirements.” Her plan would also make any changes to abortion laws unenforceable until the Justice Department certifies it is in accordance with Roe v. Wade.

In Iowa, the “fetal-heartbeat” abortion law, which was struck down in a state court, would have been subject to a pre-clearance process under Harris’ plan. In January, an Iowa judge ruled the abortion law was unconstitutional, reasoning that outlawing abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat would violate due-process laws and equal-protection provisions in the Iowa Constitution.

University of Iowa fourth-year student Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw, who attended the Tuesday town hall, said she’s looking for candidates who will federally fund Planned Parenthood because she said it’s important for communities to have access to reproductive health care and have a variety of health-care options.

“It’s so interesting to me how different states, they can just take that away, and that’s just not fair,” Hughes-Shaw said. She added that she’s likely to caucus for Harris in February.

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