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Pence, Harris reassert abortion views in debate

Screen capture from C-Span

SALT LAKE CITY (BP) – Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic candidate Kamala Harris reaffirmed their long-held views on abortion during their debate Wednesday night (Oct. 7).

Pence, a veteran supporter of pro-life policies, and Harris, a long-time advocate for abortion rights, met in the only vice presidential debate of the election campaign. Their debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City was marked by evasiveness on multiple questions but not by the kind of chaos and conflict seen in the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden eight days earlier.

Developments early Thursday (Oct. 8) threw into doubt at least the second of three planned presidential debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced the next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, would be a virtual one from separate locations to protect the health of those involved.

Trump announced Oct. 2 he had tested positive for COVID-19 and spent the next three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He quickly rejected the commission’s plan for the second debate, saying in an interview on the Fox Business Network, “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.”

Biden was prepared to accept the commission’s change, according to his campaign. When the president declined to participate, Biden’s campaign proposed the town hall format that was planned be postponed until Oct. 22, the originally scheduled date of the third debate.

Safety precautions because of COVID-19 in the vice presidential debate included having the candidates seated 12 feet apart with plexiglass barriers between them as they fielded questions from moderator Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief.

When Page raised the subject of Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, she asked the candidates what they would want their home states to do if the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion were reversed.

Both Pence and Harris failed to answer the question directly, but restated their positions on abortion.

Harris, a U.S. senator from California, said she “will always fight for a woman’s right to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision and not that” of Trump and Pence.

Pence, a former governor of and congressman from Indiana, said he was proud to serve a president “who stands without apology for the sanctity of human life. I’m pro-life. I don’t apologize for it, and this is another one of those cases where there’s such a dramatic contrast.”

Biden and Harris “support taxpayer funding of abortion all the way up to the moment of birth, late-term abortion,” he said, adding: “They want to increase funding to Planned Parenthood,” the country’s No. 1 abortion provider.

Pence said he “would never presume how” Barrett, who is considered a conservative, would rule if she is confirmed. He expressed hope Harris and other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee will not attack Barrett’s Catholic faith as some did during her 2017 confirmation hearings for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The hearings are scheduled to begin Oct. 12.

Harris, the first African American female candidate for a major party, criticized Trump’s nominations to federal courts and said none of his 50 selections for the courts of appeals is black. Like Biden in the first presidential debate, she declined to say if their administration would seek to pack the Supreme Court, a term that refers to expanding the number of justices beyond nine.

When questioned about Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harris described it as “the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country.”

She charged the administration covered up information about the virus before it broke out in March and still doesn’t have a plan to combat it. The Biden-Harris plan involves “a national strategy for contact tracing, for testing, for administration of the vaccine and making sure that it will be free for all,” she said.

Pence defended the administration’s response, saying Trump’s suspension of travel from China to the United States “bought us invaluable time” to mobilize and saved “hundreds of thousands of American lives.” As of Oct. 8, the death toll from COVID-19 was more than 212,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The Trump administration believes “we’ll have literally tens of millions of doses of vaccine before the end of this year,” Pence said. He also said the Biden plan “reads an awful lot like what” the administration has done.

When Page turned to the subject of racial justice, Pence expressed his sympathy to the family of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville, Ky., police, and said there is no excuse for George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. But he also said he trusts the justice system.

The “presumption that you hear consistently” from Biden and Harris “that America is systemically racist, and that as Joe Biden said that he believes that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities is a great insult to the men and women who serve in law enforcement,” Pence said. “And I want everyone to know who puts on the uniform of law enforcement every day, President Trump and I stand with you.”

Harris called for reform in policing and the criminal justice system.

“Bad cops are bad for good cops,” Harris said. She promised a Biden-Harris administration would prohibit chokeholds by police, mandate a national registry for police who break the law, eliminate private prisons and decriminalize marijuana.

While the debate addressed abortion and racial justice, as had the first presidential debate, it did not touch on religious liberty, another topic of great concern to evangelical Christians.