By ALEXANDRA SVOKOS, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — He speaks at March for Life, the nation’s largest annual rally against abortion. She presented a landmark plan to protect abortion rights.
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris are set to face off on Wednesday in a debate bound to display their drastically opposing views on the issue, which takes on renewed urgency as the Senate considers the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Harris is in the unique position of being a sitting senator who will decide Barrett’s fate ahead of the election.
The two vice presidential candidates represent opposite sides of the spectrum on reproductive rights, as nationwide support for abortion rights remains high. A July 2019 ABC News/Washington Post poll found 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with only 24% saying abortion access should be harder.
A May 2020 poll by Gallup found similar results, with only 20% of respondents saying abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.
The debate comes as the legal right to abortion is in a precarious position. On the state level, many Republican-led states continue to chip away at access, while some Democratic-led states have moved to protect the right should Roe be overturned. On the federal level, the likelihood that President Donald Trump will get a third Supreme Court nominee confirmed means the court would have a strong conservative majority that could restrict abortion rights, either by chipping away at those rights or overturning precedent.
While Barrett has said in previous public remarks that Roe was unlikely to be overturned, she signed a 2006 newspaper ad sponsored by an anti-abortion group saying she opposed “abortion on demand,” a phrase used disparagingly by those who believe abortion should be illegal or severely limited.
Vice President Mike Pence has spoken openly about his Christian faith and its influence on his politics. He is a frequent speaker at March for Life in Washington, D.C. In speeches there, he has quoted the Bible and said that the 1973 Supreme Court “turned its back on the unalienable right to life” with its Roe ruling.
“With pro-life majorities in the Congress, with President Donald Trump in this White House, and with God’s help, we will restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law,” he said in 2018, adding that Trump is “the most pro-life president in American history.”
While Trump has made inflammatory anti-abortion statements as president and as a presidential candidate, in his previous public life he did not take that stance. Trump once called himself “very pro-choice” but said he hated the “concept” of abortion.
As governor of Indiana, Pence supported anti-abortion legislation, including signing a sweeping bill in March 2016, before he was chosen as Trump’s vice president, that banned abortions sought on the basis of a disability diagnosis or because of a fetus’ race or gender, as well as requiring the remains of aborted or miscarried fetuses to be interred or cremated. The bill also required patients undergo an ultrasound at least 18 hours before an abortion procedure, creating a waiting period that makes abortion less accessible as it puts the procedure over multiple days, potentially meaning days of missing work and requiring childcare, and is especially challenging in states with few clinics where it also represents more travel, potentially necessitating overnight lodging.
The omnibus law was challenged, eventually making its way up to the Supreme Court last May, where the court ruled the abortion ban on the basis of disability, race or gender unconstitutional but allowed the fetal remains portion to stay in effect.
In June 2018, Barrett joined a dissent on the 7th Circuit saying the basis ban and fetal remains disposal statute should stand.
Pence has stated that he is an opponent of Planned Parenthood, where, according to its latest data, abortion makes up 4% of affiliates’ medical services.
In 2011 as a congressional representative, Pence helped push through a bill to decrease Planned Parenthood funding. That depressed funding left Pence facing the biggest HIV outbreak in Indiana as governor in 2015 after a Planned Parenthood clinic that served as a county’s only HIV-testing center was forced to close.
Harris, meanwhile, has been a supporter of Planned Parenthood, which called her “a defender of reproductive rights and health care.”
As senator, Harris has co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prevent states from enacting certain restrictions on abortion access, and the EACH Woman Act, which would effectively undo the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to go towards abortion, such as through Medicaid, by ensuring coverage for abortion under public insurance plans.
As a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, Harris proposed a unique plan to protect abortion rights and access. Modeling it on the Voting Rights Act, her proposed plan would require states get federal approval to enact restrictive laws, in what’s known as a pre-clearance requirement.
“When elected, I’m going to put in place and require that states that have a history of passing legislation that is designed to prevent or limit a woman’s access to reproductive health care, that those laws have to come before my Department of Justice for a review and approval,” she explained in May 2019 in an MSNBC town hall, “and until we determine that they are constitutional, they will not take effect.”
After citing women dying in back-alley abortions in the days before Roe, Harris said, “On this issue, I’m kinda done.”
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