Trump's Supreme Court Pick Reignites Debate on Abortion

Kerry Dooley Young

July 10, 2018

Groups with strong stances on the legal status of abortion quickly kicked off social media campaigns regarding President Donald Trump's plan, announced last night, to put federal judge Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. They're seeking to sway senators' votes in an expected confirmation battle.

The Susan B. Anthony List, which is seeking to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision on abortion, called the nomination of a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy "a pivotal moment" for those seeking to make abortion illegal. The group said Kennedy has in the past been an "unreliable 'swing' vote on abortion."

Judge Brett Kavanaugh

The group is using Twitter to try to persuade Democratic senators running for reelection in states that supported Trump in the 2016 election to back the president's pick for the Supreme Court.

"The next (j)ustice could be the deciding vote in overturning the deadly Roe v. Wade decision," the Susan B. Anthony List said on its website.

Planned Parenthood, which supports keeping abortion legal, is seeking to block the confirmation of Kavanaugh, who currently serves as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In a statement, Planned Parenthood cited past decisions and opinions in which Kavanaugh sought to block access to abortion and insurance coverage for birth control.

"Don't be fooled: Trump promised to only appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and gut affordable health care," Planned Parenthood tweeted. "This means he's confident Brett Kavanaugh will do just that."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called Kavanaugh a "superb choice" and said he looked forward to beginning formal work on the confirmation. McConnell said Kavanaugh "is widely admired for his intellect, experience, and exemplary judicial temperament."

Reproductive Rights, Preexisting Conditions

Democrats will reportedly try to delay these procedures. Many of them are still angry about McConnell's successful bid to delay the filling of a previous Supreme Court vacancy during the Obama administration. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said Trump selected Kavanaugh with an aim of making abortion illegal and undoing the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

"The Senate has come together on a bipartisan basis to protect women's reproductive rights and to protect health care for millions of Americans before — including those with preexisting conditions. We need to do it again," Schumer said. "I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh's nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less."

Republicans control 51 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Although Vice President Mike Pence can cast votes in the event of ties, the ill health of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) could leave them with very few votes to lose.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) are widely seen as potential naysayers on the Kavanaugh nomination, given their past stances on cases related to birth control and reproduction. Although McConnell and other GOP senators were quick to praise Kavanaugh, Murkowski issued a statement outlining steps for what she calls a "rigorous and exacting" review process for the nomination. Collins issued a similar statement about her plans for a "careful, thorough" vetting of the Kavanaugh nomination.

Both Collins and Murkowski were in the majority of the 2006 Senate vote to confirm Kavanaugh as a US circuit judge for the District of Columbia circuit. Joining them in support of Kavanaugh were then Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA), both of whom represented states that tilted toward Republicans. Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who remains in the Senate, also voted in favor of Kavanaugh's nomination to the federal court, according to Senate records.

Previous Abortion Decision Under Scrutiny

In nominating Kavanaugh, Trump tapped a former counsel for the George W. Bush administration. A graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School, Kavanaugh clerked on the Supreme Court for Justice Kennedy.

His 2017 dissent in a case involving a teenager who entered the United States illegally and who sought an abortion has drawn much attention, as groups seek to guess how he would rule in future cases.

He disagreed with a view that the federal government should allow abortion upon the request of an "unlawful immigrant minor in its custody." In a dissenting opinion, Kavanaugh noted "the Supreme Court's many precedents holding that the Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion." Kavanaugh argued in favor of allowing the government time to "expeditiously transfer the minor to an immigrant sponsor before the abortion occurs."

"The minor is alone and without family or friends. She is in a US Government detention facility in a country that, for her, is foreign. She is 17 years old. She is pregnant and has to make a major life decision," Kavanaugh wrote. "Is it really absurd for the United States to think that the minor should be transferred to her immigration sponsor — ordinarily a family member, relative, or friend — before she makes that decision?"

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