Supreme Court nominee Amy Barrett signed anti-abortion letter accompanying ad calling to overturn Roe v. Wade
While a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett was among hundreds who signed an anti-abortion letter that accompanied a January 2006 newspaper ad calling for "an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade."
The two-page advertisement was placed in the South Bend Tribune by the Indiana anti-abortion group St. Joseph County Right to Life. On one page, Barrett and her husband Jesse's names appear under the message, "We, the following citizens ... oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death."
On the next page, the anti-abortion group attacked the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that it said, "legalized abortion for any reason" and allowed late-term abortions, which it referred to as "the brutal partial-birth abortion procedure."
Barrett, who met with senators at the Capitol on Thursday, declined to respond to questions about the ad. The existence of the ad was first revealed by The Guardian.
Experts say it’s not surprising that she opposes abortion, given her religious beliefs and conservative tutelage. She's viewed as an acolyte to the late Justice Antonin Scalia, for whom she clerked.
But the appearance of Barrett's name next to a call to overturn Roe v. Wade is likely to increase scrutiny of her nomination. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin confirmation hearings Oct. 12.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said the ad, Barrett's comments on precedent and her record on the bench "raise serious concerns about whether she would uphold the law."
The Republican-led committee did not comment on the ad, pointing instead to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's comments after meeting with Barrett on Tuesday.
"I think the American people are going to see over the coming days someone who is very capable of understanding the difference between personal beliefs – whatever they may have, we all have personal beliefs – and that of being a judge," Graham said.
Appointment would create 6-3 conservative majority
If the 48-year-old is confirmed, conservatives would lock in a 6-3 majority, probably for years to come.
During Tuesday night's presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden said abortion rights are on the ballot. Jumping in, President Donald Trump said: "You don't know her (Barrett's) view on Roe v. Wade."
Experts predict a more conservative Supreme Court would not immediately overturn Roe v. Wade because the cases before them would be more narrowly targeted and justices wouldn't want to shift so quickly from precedent.
Instead, abortion-rights groups believeBarrett’s appointment would allow justices to effectively secure the same end by upholding state abortion restrictions.
At an event held just before the 2016 presidential election, Barrett said she expects a conservative court could address abortion regulations, but not the right to abortion itself.
"I don't think that abortion or the right to abortion would change. I think some of the restrictions would change," Barrett said at an event sponsored by Jacksonville University's Public Policy Institute. "I think the question is how much freedom the court is willing to let states have in regulating abortion."
She referred to a June 2016 ruling in which the court voted 5-3, without Scalia, to strike down restrictions on Texas doctors and clinics that provide abortions.
"The court has held in some circumstances the states can render partial-birth abortions illegal – very late-term abortions," Barrett said during the Jacksonville University event. "I think that's the kind of thing that could change. ... Whether people can get very late-term abortions, how many restrictions could be put on clinics, I think that would change."
That's what abortion rights advocates fear.
“The court will kill Roe v. Wade slowly by 1,000 cuts,” said Lawrence Gostin, a law professor at Georgetown University who specializes in public health. “Any state law that puts restrictions on abortion, other than a complete ban, has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court.”
A conservative shift will have disproportionate impacts on women who are poor, lack access to health care, or live in rural communities. Women who are more financially secure may be more able to commute to another state with fewer restrictions, Gostin said.
“There’s a lot the court can do to make it virtually impossible for poor women in red states to get an abortion,” he said.
Most recently, the court struck down a Louisiana law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The justices agreed to hear the case after a federal appeals court had upheld the law – despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2016 striking down a similar Texas law as an undue burden on women seeking abortions.
This time, anti-abortion forces expected a different result. Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to strike down the Texas law, had retired. His successor was Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who had praised Chief Justice William Rehnquist's dissent in Roe v. Wade. As a federal appeals court judge, Kavanaugh had dissented from a decision in 2017 allowing an undocumented teenager in government custody to get an abortion.
But in the end, Chief Justice John Roberts switched sides and voted with liberals to strike down the Louisiana law. Kavanaugh would have let it stand.
Ruling invalidated Texas restrictions:Supreme Court strikes down abortion restrictions
Steve Aden, chief legal officer for Americans United for Life, called Roe v. Wade “example A for rampant judicial activism.” His organization was among the first anti-abortion groups to support Barrett.
“That compass needle in this instance points to a judge like Amy Barrett,” Aden said.
Barrett has said court is unlikely to outlaw abortion
Similar anti-abortion ads were placed in the South Bend Tribune at least 11 times from 1992 through 2019. Some spanned multiple pages and included anti-abortion images and language. Of those 11 ads, Barrett and her husband's names appeared only in 2006, according to an online search of the paper's archives.
A former member of the University of Notre Dame’s “Faculty for Life,” Barrett signed a 2015 letter to Catholic bishops that affirmed the “teachings of the Church as truth.” Among those teachings: the “value of human life from conception to natural death” and marriage-family values “founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”
In a 2013 speech at Notre Dame on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Barrett said the ruling "essentially permitted abortion on demand." But she declared it "very unlikely" the Supreme Court ever would overturn its core protection of abortion rights, according to coverage of her remarks in university publications.
"The fundamental element, that the woman has a right to choose abortion, will probably stand," Barrett was quoted as saying in the student newspaper The Observer. "The controversy right now is about funding. It's a question of abortions will be publicly or privately funded."
Beyond abortion, liberals are most concerned about Barrett's impact on health care, specifically the Affordable Care Act. The law will come before the court again in November, with Texas leading a group of states seeking to strike it down. If confirmed by the Senate before Election Day, Barrett could be on the bench to hear that case a week later.
About 25 former classmates and law students roundly praised Barrett's legal mind and dismissed questions about whether her personal beliefs will affect her jurisprudence.
"Her personal beliefs will have no bearing,” Raymond Tittmann, a California attorney who attended Notre Dame Law School with Barrett, said in an email.
But it's not unanimous.
"Judge Barrett is unfit for the U.S. Supreme Court – not because of her faith beliefs, which I share, but because of her mantle of being a so-called Constitutional “originalist," Kathleen Ley Bruinsma, who also attended law school with Barrett, told USA TODAY in an email.
"This will be disastrous for women," Bruinsma said. "Those of us who attended law school with Judge Barrett know from her comments in class and her leadership of Notre Dame’s law students against abortion chapter that, if given the chance, she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Contributing: Richard Wolf, Christal Hayes