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What We Know About Neil Gorsuch’s Stance on Abortion

·Contributing Writer
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On Tuesday, President Donald Trump announced his pick to fill the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year: 49-year-old Judge Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch has served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver, since his appointment in 2006 by President George W. Bush, and if confirmed, he will have a huge impact on American women’s health and access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care for generations to come.

Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee. (Photo: AP)
Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. (Photo: AP)

Throughout his campaign for the presidency, Trump promised to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who would be “pro-life” and would work to overturn Roe v. Wade. In a letter to the pro-life organization the Susan B. Anthony List, Trump doubled down on this promise and also vowed to ban late-term abortions and defund Planned Parenthood, in addition to nominating only anti-abortion justices to the high court. And he laid down his anti-choice stance yet again in the National Pro-Life Alliance’s candidate survey, in which he said he would “support nominees to the United States Supreme Court and the lower federal courts who will uphold the constitutional right to life of every human person, born and unborn.”

Trump also said in an interview with CNN that he thought Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided” but that “it can be changed” with “very good” judges.”

When it comes to Gorsuch’s stance on abortion, though, we don’t have a clear-cut answer: The Harvard Law School graduate never ruled on the issue of abortion while serving on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, we do have a few clues.

While serving on the 10th Circuit, Gorsuch heard the Hobby Lobby case before it reached the Supreme Court — the case in which the craft megastore claimed that a corporation should be able to express religious beliefs.

In the case, Hobby Lobby argued that the religious beliefs of its majority shareholders meant that the company should not be forced to provide employee insurance coverage for all the forms of contraception covered under the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

The company was specifically opposed to emergency contraception and to two types of IUDs, or intrauterine devices, saying these forms of contraception had the ability to destroy a fertilized egg and thus end any life that, in accordance with their beliefs, was created at the moment of fertilization. Neither emergency contraception nor IUDs cause abortion, according to the scientific community, and both are FDA-approved.

In his opinion on the case, Gorsuch wrote that the ACA’s contraception mandate, and its requirement that all plans cover all forms of FDA-approved contraception, forces corporations like Hobby Lobby “to violate their religious faith by lending an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct [that] their religion teaches to be gravely wrong.” More tellingly, Gorsuch wrote that these birth control drugs had the effect of “destroying a fertilized human egg,” suggesting that he believes life begins at conception.

According to the Washington Post, passages in the judge’s book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, could be seen as evidence of anti-abortion sentiments. In his book, Gorsuch writes that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

More recently, Slate reports, Gorsuch wanted to rehear a 10th Circuit panel decision blocking Utah’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, a movement that’s based on debunked claims of illegal fetal tissue sale. He’s also written that requiring hospitals to provide abortions is an example of “the courts [feeling] free to override the conscience of health care providers.”

But, if he makes it to the Supreme Court, could Gorsuch actually overturn Roe v. Wade?

Not directly: At present, the Supreme Court has five justices who would vote to uphold Roe — Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Anthony Kennedy, and Stephen Breyer. Gorsuch would be replacing Scalia, a staunch conservative, and would not change the 5-4 majority of votes in support of maintaining the precedent set by Roe. That number would change only if Trump gets to appoint a second Supreme Court justice.

Gorsuch can, however, help to slowly chip away at Roe.

“Kennedy has spoken about upholding Roe but has also chipped away at it,” notes Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive health and rights at the National Women’s Law Center. “In 2007, he voted in favor of a ban on a particular method [for abortion procedures] — meaning some women with serious health conditions couldn’t get the care they needed. Even though there is a solid majority [of justices] in favor of Roe right now, it wouldn’t mean that some of those same justices wouldn’t also allow for an erosion of this right and a chipping away at this right.”

Women’s heath advocates are leery of Gorsuch’s record.

“It’s pretty clear that Donald Trump is executing his campaign promises,” Kaylie Hanson Long, National Communications Director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, tells Yahoo Beauty. “And what that means for women is probably nothing good.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed this sentiment, during a CNN town hall immediately following Trump’s announcement about Gorsuch and also on Twitter:

Daniel Grossman, MD, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, said in a statement on Tuesday: “Abortion is health care, and it should be health professionals who determine what procedures and services are the standard of care — not judges and politicians. Any attempt to stack the Court to dismantle Roe v. Wade or restrict access to abortion is political maneuvering and bad for women’s health.”

NARAL’s Hanson Long notes that concerned constituents can call their senators to express their opinions about the new Supreme Court nominee — and that such calls are essential to the political process. “Make calls, show up to a town hall meeting, make it loud and clear that you want answers and want a justice who is going to serve in the system of checks and balances,” she said.

Related: It Doesn’t Matter How a Woman Conceives: Chrissy Teigen Can Teach Us All About IVF

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