Sitting across from one another Wednesday night, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif) and Vice President Mike Pence will go head-to-head, showing debate watchers they’re divided by much more than just plexiglass barriers.
Harris, who is Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s running mate, holds views diametrically opposed to those of Pence. Though not overtly religious, Harris professes to be Christian and is a member of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco. Pence, for his part, is very outspoken, describing himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order.”
The two issues that will perhaps be of the most importance to evangelical Christians are abortion and religious liberty.
When it comes to the former, the two politicians could not be more deeply divided. Pence, a regular speaker at the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., is unflinchingly pro-life and has been making the case against Biden, whom he says “supports taxpayer funded abortion all the way up to birth.” That assertion is based on the former vice president’s support for repealing the Hyde amendment, which bars federal dollars from going to abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s health is at risk. Biden also said this week he would push to codify the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, ensuring abortion remains legal nationwide, even if the court were to overturn the 1973 decision. Harris sides with Biden on both of those issues as well.
Since taking office in 2016, Pence and President Donald Trump have celebrated myriad pro-life victories. The latest success-in-waiting is Trump’s nomination of Chicago Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Harris, it should be noted, sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings later this month over the president’s high court pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an icon in progressive politics.
“As the Bible admonishes us, we are to — and I quote — ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,’” Pence said during an August speech. “And so the people in this movement have done that every day since that day 47 years ago. And because you’ve spoken up, because you stood up, because you’ve stood with those men and women who’ve stood for life in the public square: Life is winning in America.”
Harris, on the other hand, is a different story.
“We need their leadership,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Alexis McGill Johnson said during the Democratic National Convention. “Not just to reverse the damage the Trump administration has done — but to bring us into a future where all our bodies are our own.”
Last year, Harris voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would require infants who survive botched abortions to receive medical care upon birth. In mid-September, Trump advanced the cause on his own, signing an executive order ensuring abortion survivors receive medical attention.
And back when Harris was still competing for the Democratic presidential nomination — when she was slamming her now-running mate for not being supportive enough of abortion — the 55-year-old lawmaker supported a plan that would require states to receive a federal “pre-clearance” before being allowed to enact pro-life laws, giving the federal government freedom to slash any state-level laws it deems unconstitutional.
She explained her plan to Cosmopolitan: “Any state that passes a law that restricts a woman’s constitutional right to make decisions about her own body, that law is going to have to be reviewed by my Department of Justice to determine, does it comply with the Constitution in Roe v. Wade? And if it does not, it will not go into effect.”
Not long before Pence’s name was catapulted to the national stage after Trump selected him as his running mate in 2016, the then-Indiana governor signed the Democrat-opposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law.
The bill — which was later amended, to many conservatives’ chagrin, to provide additional protections for LGBT people — allows individuals and companies in the Hoosier State to assert as a defense that their free exercise of religion has been, or is likely to be, significantly violated.
Pence has continued to carry his perspective on religious liberty into the Trump administration. Earlier this summer, the Supreme Court ruled in the White House’s favor, upholding religious exemptions for pro-life employers who do not want to be forced to pay for staffers’ contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs.
Pence celebrated the July 8 victory:
Harris, however, has a less-than-sterling record on religious liberty.
In fact, in 2019, the progressive politician sponsored the Do No Harm Act, which would essentially strip the federal RFRA of all its power. As explained by First Things:
As [Harris] explained on the website introducing the act, it would prevent RFRA laws from “being used to deny” such things as “Health care access, . . . coverage or services to which persons are otherwise legally entitled,” or “Services that the government has contracted to be beneficiaries through a government . . . grant.” In other words, the Do No Harm Act would compel a Catholic physician to prescribe contraceptives or perform abortions if she participates in federal or state reimbursement programs. And it would require a parochial school that receives state grants, for example, to employ persons in open same-sex relationships as teachers or even ministers.
She has also shown instances of anti-Catholic bigotry.
In late 2018, Trump nominated Brian C. Buescher to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court of Nebraska. Harris, alongside fellow Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), grilled Buescher over his membership with the leading Catholic charity, Knights of Columbus.
Harris and Hirono found his charitable ties incredibly troubling, namely because the faith-based organization espouses the mainstream Christian opposition to abortion.
“Were you aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed a woman’s right to choose when you joined the organization?” asked Harris.
The senator later asked Buescher if he “ever, in any way, assisted with or contributed to advocacy against women’s reproductive rights.” When Harris uses the phrase “reproductive rights,” she is, of course, referring to abortion.
It did not stop there. Harris was also angered by the fact that the Knights of Columbus holds to orthodox Christian teaching regarding marriage as a holy union between one man and one woman. She asked the then-nominee if he was “aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed marriage equality when [he] joined the organization.”
And as for Pence himself, Harris has set her ire on the vice president’s adherence to the so-called “Billy Graham rule.” The late evangelist refused to meet, dine, or travel alone with a woman — a principle he implemented to protect his marriage from even the appearance of impropriety.
During a 2019 interview on MSNBC, Harris called Pence’s decision to follow that rule “ridiculous.”
“I disagree with him when he suggests it’s not possible to have meetings with women alone by himself,” she said. “I think that’s ridiculous — the idea that you would deny a professional woman the opportunity to have a meeting with the vice president of the United States is outrageous.”
As you can see, there is no shortage of differences between Harris and Pence — and the chasm will most certainly grow wider when the two politicians go toe-to-toe.
The singular vice presidential debate airs Wednesday evening at 9 p.m. ET. Watch live and join us in a live chat on YouTube.