In an action shedding only limited light on where it now stands on abortion, the…
With Harris on the ticket, abortion is front and center in the upcoming election
While plenty of issues need discussing in this year’s presidential race — and Catholics hope to hear them all discussed — Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s choice of California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate all but guarantees abortion a place near the top of the list.
And whether Biden knows it or not, if there was ever any doubt where Harris stands not just on abortion but on the implications for someone holding the Catholic Church’s position on abortion, she dispelled that uncertainty two years ago.
The time was December 2018. The Senate had begun vetting an Omaha, Nebraska, attorney named Brian B. Buescher for a federal judgeship. Buescher noted in his curriculum vitae that he belonged to the Knights of Columbus, the 2-million-member Catholic fraternal society whose position on abortion mirrors that of the Catholic Church.
Harris, a member of the judiciary committee, wrote Buescher asking three questions: whether in joining the Knights he knew that the group opposed “a woman’s right to choose,” whether he knew it also opposed “marriage equality” — code language for same-sex marriage — and whether he “ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to any advocacy against women’s reproductive rights.”
Critics charge that in challenging Buescher over his membership in a church-related group, Harris was applying a constitutionally prohibited religious test for office. In reply to her letter, the nominee said that if confirmed as a federal judge, he would decide cases according to the law. The Senate subsequently voted 51-40 to confirm him.
Harris is the first woman of color to run for office on a major party’s presidential ticket. Her father was born in Jamaica and her mother in India; the two met as graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley.
Born Oct. 20, 1964, Harris was San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011 and California attorney general from 2011 to 2016 before being elected to the Senate in 2016. She is married and has two stepchildren.
She is an outspoken advocate of abortion whom Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, calls “a steadfast champion for reproductive rights.” In a statement hailing her selection by Biden, the organization said its members were “going all in to elect her and Joe Biden.”
Harris’ selection adds a second pro-abortion candidate to the Democratic presidential ticket. Biden, who in 1973 said the Supreme Court had gone “too far” in its Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, now says he supports abortion “under any circumstances.” In July, he was endorsed for president by NARAL Pro-Choice America.
As a senator from Delaware for 36 years, Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment barring the use of federal funds for abortion. Last year, however, he changed his position and opposed it. During the Democratic primary campaign, Harris criticized him for being slow in switching.
Biden now says that as president he would seek to repeal Hyde and would work to “codify” Roe v. Wade by making it federal law. He has promised his Justice Department would “do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws” imposing restrictions on abortion.
In contrast with Biden, Harris consistently has been pro-choice. As California attorney general, she submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court asking it to strike down an exemption allowing family-owned businesses to opt out of providing coverage for abortifacients in employee health care plans.
She also backed a law requiring pro-life pregnancy counseling centers to post notices informing their clients about the availability of abortion elsewhere. The Supreme Court eventually upheld the family-owned business exemption and overturned the counseling center requirement.
As a senator, Harris has remained an active proponent of abortion. She is a co-sponsor of legislation called the Women’s Health Protection Act providing for the abortion of viable unborn infants while voting twice against a measure requiring protection for the lives of infants born alive after abortion.
During a primary-season town hall, she backed requiring proposed state laws on abortion to receive “pre-clearance” from the federal Justice Department. “We cannot tolerate a perspective that is about going backward,” she said.
Harris says she is a Baptist. Biden is a Catholic who calls his faith the “bedrock” of his life. In at least two dioceses, however, he has been refused Communion because of his support for abortion.
While Biden and Harris look for support from pro-choice groups, the Republican presidential ticket of Donald Trump and Mike Pence is expected to make a strong pitch to the pro-life side in the abortion debate, citing numerous pro-life steps in the last four years. Abortion and what to do about it may not be the most visible issue in 2020, but it will certainly be close.
Russell Shaw is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.