Harris puts health care at center of Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court battle


RALEIGH, N.C. — Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris unveiled her new campaign message Monday centered around the fight over confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, with health care and women’s rights front and center.

They were the California senator’s first formal remarks since President Trump introduced Barrett on Saturday as his nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett is a favorite of conservatives, many of whom hope she would be a vote against abortion rights and against former President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Republicans have fought for a decade.

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Harris echoed other Democrats in recent days in focusing on the court’s upcoming case on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, but tailored her remarks specifically to how overturning that landmark law would affect women in particular, tying that issue with Ginsburg’s legacy of protecting women’s rights.

“There are few things they could do that would be more offensive to the legacy and the life of Justice Ginsburg than to return us to the full-scale policies of discrimination in health care toward the women of our country,” Harris said in a room that was populated only by a few staffers and members of the media.

She said striking down the Affordable Care Act would have particular consequences for women. The law includes provisions that bar charging women more for health care because of their sex, that require coverage of birth control and contraceptives, and that prohibit pregnancy from being considered a pre-existing condition. And she included a mention of the possibility of a conservative majority on the court overturning Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States.

“There is no other issue that so disrespects and dishonors the work of Justice Ginsburg’s life than undoing the seminal decision in the court’s history that made it clear a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body,” Harris said.

She noted that the court fight over health care is happening against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This relentless obsession with overturning the Affordable Care Act is driven entirely by a blind rage toward President Obama,” Harris said. “And it’s happening at a moment when our country is suffering through the ravages of a pandemic that has claimed more than 200,000 lives in our country. Complications from COVID like lung scarring and heart damage could well become the next pre-existing condition.”

She continued: “Vote as if your life, your choice, depends on it, because it does.”

While Republicans have rallied around Barrett as a foe of abortion rights, a base-moving issue for conservatives, Democrats have focused on health care. They see it as a pocketbook issue for moderates, and believe focusing on it helped them take back the House in 2018.

As she as done throughout her campaign as the vice presidential nominee, Harris also paid special attention to the fight for racial justice and equality.

The senator gave her remarks at Shaw University, a historically Black university, saying the building where she spoke was one of the first built for the education of Black women in America.

She cited voting rights and the ability to make a fair living free from discrimination as two other issues at stake in the fight over who will fill Ginsburg’s seat on the court.

Tal Kopan is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. Email: tal.kopan@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @talkopan

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