From the time Donald Trump first secured the Republican nomination for president, he has vowed to nominate pro-life judges to the Supreme Court in an effort to win over a conservative bloc of voters who want to see abortion outlawed in the United States. Now, with a third confirmation in sight, Trump and vulnerable Senate Republicans are trying to tamp down concern that Roe v. Wade will be overturned if Amy Coney Barrett becomes a justice.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, who described herself as “adamantly pro-life” in a recent debate, said the likelihood of overturning the 1973 federal abortion decision is “very minimal.”
“I don’t see that happening, truly I don’t see that happening,” said Ernst, a first-term senator facing the possibility of a loss next month. “But what we can do is certainly educate the public on how important life is.”
Democrats and pro-choice groups immediately pounced on Ernst for her “attempts to have it both ways” on the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade.
“This is a clear ploy by Senator Ernst and the Republican Party to have their cake and eat it too,” said Kristin Ford, NARAL Pro-Choice America national communications director, in a statement. “Senator Ernst is attempting to downplay her extremism on abortion in order to get re-elected in a state that supports reproductive freedom, while she simultaneously works to ram through yet another anti-freedom, anti-choice nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court — even as Americans are beginning to cast their ballots.”
An August survey from Public Policy Polling found 70% of Iowa voters believe abortion should be legal. Nationwide, a recent New York Times/Siena College poll shows 60% of likely voters think abortion should be legal all or most of the time.
Last week, The Guardian reported on a newspaper ad signed in 2006 by Barrett — who at the time was a law school professor at Notre Dame University — urging support for overturning Roe v. Wade.
The ad read, in part: “It’s time to put an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restore laws that protect the lives of unborn children.”
Though Barrett’s defenders have said she will “apply the law as written,” if she is confirmed, activists on both sides of the issue believe a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court poses the greatest threat to abortion access since Roe v. Wade was decided more than 40 years ago.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, told NPR “she hopes a more conservative court would roll back the Roe decision, setting the stage for state legislatures to ban abortion as early as the first trimester.”
“If abortion is the taking of a human life, the more ambitious they are the better,” Dannenfelser said, in the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Sept. 18.
Today, SBA List and its super PAC Women Speak Out, announced a $500,000 independent expenditure for mailers, phone calls, text messages and digital ads, to help re-elect Ernst.
“Senator Ernst is working to keep the business of government going and to confirm President Trump’s nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court,” Mallory Quigley, national spokeswoman for Women Speak Out PAC, said in a statement. “Her leadership in the Judiciary Commitee is vital to seeing this confirmation through. … Elections have consequences and preserving the pro-life Senate majority is crucial to protecting laws that save countless unborn children.”
For Ernst, Barrett’s nomination hearings are the first she will be a part of for a Supreme Court justice as a member of the Judiciary Committee, which Ernst was appointed to in 2019.
If Roe v. Wade is not overturned completely but substantially weakened, individual states will have even more of a say in implementing abortion restrictions, to the point it could become nearly impossible to obtain the procedure in some parts of the country.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2018 signed a six-week abortion ban into law that was struck down by a district judge for being in conflict with the state Constitution. Republicans so far have been unsuccessful in putting a constitutional amendment before voters to say the state “does not secure or protect a right to or require the funding of abortion.” Governors in other states have used legislation similar to Iowa’s “heartbeat bill” to try to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionally-protected right to an abortion. In recent years, such challenges have not been taken up by the highest court. A decisive conservative majority, however, could change that.
Ernst is not the only vulnerable Republican trying to downplay Barrett’s threat to Roe.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said during a recent debate that “nobody knows how she’s going to rule on that.”
“What’s likely to occur are cases that are going to go up to say, maybe we should improve standards for clinics that perform abortions,” Tillis, who serves on the Judiciary Committee with Ernst, said. “Maybe we should require doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital nearby, in case the abortion goes bad.”
Even President Trump, who in 2016 said overturning Roe “will happen automatically” if he is elected because of the pro-life judges he will appoint, has in recent weeks wavered on the issue.
Late last month, in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” the president said it is “certainly possible” Barrett’s confirmation could be the tipping point on abortion access.
“She is certainly conservative in her views, in her rulings, and we’ll have to see how that all works out, but I think it will work out,” Trump said.
In front of a more politically diverse audience, however, during the first debate against Joe Biden, Trump scoffed at the idea that Barrett’s confirmation would spell the end of Roe.
“It’s not on the ballot,” Trump said. “There’s nothing happening there. You don’t know her view on Roe v. Wade.”
In fact, Barrett’s views are well documented.
Barrett’s trail of legal opinions and public statements, while “careful,” CNN reported, “reveals votes open to more restrictive laws and a state’s expanded ability to regulate abortion, as well as a judicial philosophy aligned with that of her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who believed Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided.”
By Elizabeth Meyer
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