We need to talk about what Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court means for the future of abortion access in the United States.
There is little to no doubt where Barrett stands on abortion and health care. Her deep ties to anti-abortion groups, such as St. Joseph Right to Life, pose a significant threat to long-standing constitutional protections for reproductive health care. She’s shown this in more ways than one: through judicial opinions, academic writing, and her personal advocacy attacking abortion.
Barrett’s views are the reason she was chosen by this president to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.
I know what a pivotal role the Supreme Court plays in protecting those who historically are the least able to exercise their rights, especially when politicians and legislatures go too far in restricting those rights. Whole Woman’s Health’s victory against the state of Texas at the Supreme Court in 2016 (Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt) reaffirmed and strengthened the constitutional right to access abortion, and made it harder for states to limit access through needless restrictions and laws meant to legislate abortion out of existence. Since 2011, states have passed more than 450 such laws.
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In 2014, a group of physicians, professors, and community activists reached out to me about opening a clinic to provide safe, compassionate abortion care in South Bend, Indiana, the city where Barrett happens to live. They understood the persistence this effort would require.
Since then, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s team in South Bend has become all too familiar with the extreme tactics and deceits of St. Joseph County Right to Life. The group, which has since changed its name to Right to Life Michiana, has continuously plagued Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s efforts to care for our patients in peace—with the privacy, dignity, and compassion they deserve.
Right to Life Michiana does not provide “sidewalk counseling”—instead they harass and intimidate our patients and our providers by shouting insults, filming people entering our clinic, and displaying graphic and medically inaccurate images in an attempt to bully patients seeking abortion care.
This is the group that Barrett supports—a group that has organized protests and opposed Whole Woman’s Health Alliance’s efforts to open a clinic and provide needed abortion care.
It took two years to open, but Whole Woman’s Health Alliance now operates a clinic under a federal district court’s preliminary injunction, which was upheld by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a unanimous decision. A trial is expected in the coming months.
Right to Life Michiana and the state of Indiana aren’t the clinic’s only antagonists. A crisis pregnancy center—a deceptive anti-choice clinic that does not provide comprehensive reproductive health services—attempted to open next door to Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend a few years ago. So Whole Woman’s Health Alliance appealed to Pete Buttigieg, then the mayor of South Bend, and he vetoed Women’s Care Center’s request for the necessary rezoning.
Soon afterward, however, they bought the building across the street. Clinic staff for Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend continue to hear from patients seeking abortion care who were duped into going to Women’s Care Center, only to be shamed, manipulated, and subjected to an anti-abortion agenda before eventually finding their way to Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.
On most days when the South Bend clinic is open, as many as 30 Right to Life Michiana protesters are outside the doors, publicly shaming the people we serve in this large, historically underserved region. The clinic’s patients travel as much as 60 miles each way to see us and are forced to wait 18 hours after a mandatory ultrasound and a state-mandated information session by a physician in order to obtain access to the time-sensitive, essential, and constitutionally guaranteed abortion care they need.
Most recently, Right to Life Michiana has begun going door-to-door—in the midst of a pandemic—to spread disinformation and spout dangerous rhetoric about the medication abortion services Whole Woman’s Health Alliance provides.
Whole Woman’s Health Alliance was only able to open its South Bend clinic after a two-year legal battle (Whole Woman’s Health Alliance v. Hill). Our clinics in Texas are plaintiffs in three cases to secure our patients’ right to receive quality and compassionate abortion care.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Paxton to strike down a Texas measure that would have banned the standard, preferred method for abortions after approximately 15 weeks of pregnancy, and the state is expected to respond to the ruling in the coming weeks. We’re also awaiting a decision any time now from the Fifth Circuit in Whole Woman’s Health v. Smith. One of these cases could easily end up in front of the Supreme Court.
Amy Coney Barrett will almost certainly be in a position to decide any of those cases. By now, we have a good sense that she will not rule in favor of abortion rights even when the law demands it.
Barrett’s judicial philosophy is fundamentally hostile to abortion rights, and her personal views on abortion blind her to the truth as I see it: that abortion care is a necessary, compassionate service that should be available to everyone who needs it.
Barrett’s confirmation should not be forced on us by politicians who have power but do not represent the views of most people.