Vice President Kamala Harris went on CNN for her first interview since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday—and many were likely hoping to hear her offer some immediate solutions or any kind of viable plan from the Biden Administration. But when anchor Dana Bash asked her if they would pursue using federal land, like national parks, to provide legal abortions, Harris said no and quickly pivoted to talk about voting in November’s midterm elections.
Advocates have called on the administration to do everything in its power to protect abortion access, including leasing federal land to abortion providers. In theory, those providers would be exempt from state laws. (The Nation’s Elie Mystal has been talking about this concept since September when the Texas six-week ban took effect.) At a rally on Friday night, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said opening clinics on federal lands in red states would be the “babiest of the baby steps” that the administration should take “right now.” And about an hour before Harris’ interview aired, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) called on Biden to declare a medical emergency and establish abortion care on federal land, specifically national parks.
A reasonable person would have hoped that Harris—who had one of the more innovative 2020 campaign plans to ensure abortion access and is a literal lawyer—would speak about more about the specific steps the Biden administration would take to secure abortion access, even in states with trigger bans. Technically, restoring abortion access in red state could be possible, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who said in a statement on Friday that states can’t ban FDA-approved abortion pills.
In the interview, Harris reiterated that the administration would “do everything within our power as an administration, through the executive branch” to ensure access to medication abortion and that people can travel to other states for abortions. She had to know she’d be asked about this proposal. But here’s what happened when Bash did ask about it, about 6:20 into the interview:
Bash: Can the administration expand abortion access or abortion services on federal land—meaning provide the access on federal land that might be in and around states that ban abortion?
Harris: I think that 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 receive the care where it is available.
Bash: Is federal land one of those options?
Harris: I mean, it’s not right now what we are discussing. But I will say that when I think about what is happening in terms of the states, we have to also recognize, Dana, that we are 130-odd days away from an election, which is going to include Senate races, right?
Part of the issue here is that the court has acted, now Congress needs to act. But we, if you count the votes, don’t appear to have the votes in the Senate. Well, there’s an election happening in 130-odd days. I’m, for example, thinking of a Senate race in Georgia or North Carolina. There’s a Senate race coming up just in a couple weeks in Colorado. And 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. Right? We say codify—put it in law so that there will be no ambiguity about it.
Yes, people should absolutely vote, but 130-something days is a long time for people who are pregnant right now and don’t want to be. Plus, anyone elected in November wouldn’t be sworn in until January 3, 2023—that’s 190 days from now—which is the earliest that a new Congress could do anything. And it’s possible Democrats win seats in the Senate but lose the House, which is why people are, again, urging executive action right now.
But the White House is dismissing the federal lands idea, as an anonymous official told CNN: “While this proposal is well-intentioned, it could put women and providers at risk. And importantly, in states where abortion is now illegal, women and providers who are not federal employees could be potentially be prosecuted.” Ok, then hire the providers as federal employees! States say they won’t prosecute women, so promise free federal legal representation to any woman who wants to try having an abortion on federal land!
The anti-abortion movement isn’t afraid of trying all kinds of things to achieve its goals, and it would be nice if Democrats got caught trying for once.