It's well known that Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, is anti-abortion. However, her views on other reproductive health issues, including fertilization and embryos, go far beyond merely opposing abortion. Indeed, she once signed onto a full-page ad that called for prosecuting doctors not just for performing abortions, but for discarding unused or frozen embryos.
During her 2017 confirmation hearings for her seat on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Barrett gave the same type of vague, noncommittal answer that has become the hallmark of conservative judicial nominees: "All nominees are united in their belief that what they think about a precedent should not bear on how they decide cases."
But her ostensible respect for precedent is undercut by her writing before becoming a judge.
In 2013, she said that it is "more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it." With that statement, it isn't hard to imagine she'd be comfortable overturning Roe v. Wade, the law that established a woman's legal right to abortion, even though that has been the precedent for nearly 50 years.
The latest information to emerge about Barrett's views makes it appear even more likely she'd help undo that precedent.
Back in 2006, Coney Barrett was a professor at Notre Dame's law school. That year, she and her husband, along with hundreds of others, signed their names to a full-page ad from the St. Joseph County Right to Life. Besides a call to jail doctors, the ad also called Roe v. Wade "barbaric."
When the Guardian discovered the ad, they reached out to the current executive director of the group, Jackie Appelman. Appleman admitted that the group believes that the discarding of embryos during in vitro fertilization was the same as having an abortion. She also reaffirmed that the group "support[s] the criminalization of the doctors who perform abortions." Then, she went on to say that the group would be "supportive of criminalizing the discarding of frozen embryos or selective reduction through the IVF process.
Appleman's view — and possibly Barrett's — would throw doctors in jail for assisting with IVF when that process results in embryos that are discarded. IVF is a common fertility procedure that resulted in over 61,000 births in 2012, the last year for which data is available. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assistive reproductive technologies, including IVF, account for 1.7% of live births in America each year.
However, IVF can often result in leftover embryos, which people may choose to use later or not. Criminalizing the act of destroying those embryos would radically alter the ability of people to control their fertility. It could mean that people would need to implant all the embryos at once or undergo egg extraction multiple times. It
And it likely wouldn't stop there. A law that affirms "personhood" or says that life begins at fertilization could also criminalize prescribing certain methods of birth control, as some can potentially prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.
Throwing doctors who perform abortions in jail is a longtime goal of radical anti-abortion activists. In 2019, Alabama passed a law saying doctors who performed abortions could face up to 99 years in prison. That same year, Senate Republicans sought to pass a measure that would have imposed criminal penalties of up to five years in certain situations. Earlier in 2020, Mississippi passed a ban that would imprison doctors based on the perceived reasons for an abortion.
Of concern is the fact Barrett did not disclose this in her Senate questionnaire when she was confirmed for the 7th Circuit in 2017. And when asked about it by reporters on Thursday, she declined to answer. It also doesn't appear on her list of publications and public statements she was required to provide in her most recent Senate questionnaire for the Supreme Court nomination. The omission, combined with a refusal to discuss it, doesn't engender confidence in her assertion she will be forthright and respectful of precedent where Roe is concerned.
One-third of Americans say they have used fertility treatments or they know someone else who has. Almost 60% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or nearly all instances. And over 99% of women who've had sexual intercourse have used some form of birth control. Barrett's worldview is well out of step with America's.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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