Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth urged her Republican colleagues to reconsider their support for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett, citing the judge’s ties to a group opposed to in vitro fertilization and her own experience with the treatment in conceiving her daughters.
Duckworth, D-Ill., in an exclusive interview with Fox News, warned that a confirmation of Barrett to the high court puts IVF procedures “very much at risk,” after a report last week revealed that the conservative judge and her husband signed onto an advertisement in 2006 with hundreds of other supporters of the group St. Joseph County Right to Life, which believes life begins at fertilization and that the IVF process should be criminalized.
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“She supports groups like the St. Joseph County Right to Life, which says they support the criminalization of IVF procedures that would result in the destruction of fertilized eggs,” Duckworth told Fox News. “If she takes a seat on the Supreme Court, with everything that she’s clearly done in the past, in terms of supporting groups that believe life begins at fertilization, IVF procedures are very much at risk.”
As a U.S. Army pilot in the Iraq War, Duckworth suffered severe combat wounds. She lost both of her legs and some mobility in her right arm. In 2018, she became the first senator to give birth while in office, and conceived both of her daughters through IVF.
She explained that part of the treatment includes “discarding frozen embryos,” and described her personal experience.
“In my case, with both of my girls, they looked at two or three fertilized eggs, not even embryos at this point, and said, you know, this one isn’t very viable,” Duckworth explained. “The third discarded could result in my doctor being criminalized.”
Duckworth added: “If a fertilized egg in a person is a person, then that really has significant negative consequences for a family like mine that desperately wanted to have children.”
Duckworth said that she “struggled for 10 years with infertility,” and urged Republicans to “really think twice” about supporting Barrett.
“You’ve got to know this is a decision they are making and that the consequences will be for a lifetime,” Duckworth warned. “We could get to a place where families are not able to have children, and birth control could not happen—we could get to a place where active military men and women who want IVF won’t be able to and this is really heartbreaking.”
Duckworth recalled how her “baby girls were welcomed on the floor of the Senate with such grace,” adding that a vote for Barrett “would make it so that in the future, that may not exist.”
Duckworth’s comments come after The Guardian first reported Barrett’s signature on the ad in 2006. The group, at the time called the St. Joseph County Right to Life, but now named Right to Life Michiana, took out a two-page advertisement in the South Bend Tribune, which read: “We, the following citizens of Michiana, oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death. Please continue to pray and end abortion.”
The advertisement did not address IVF, but the group is openly opposed to the treatment.
Duckworth, prior to her interview with Fox News, penned a letter to her Senate colleagues, sharing her experience with IVF, and the “anguish” she felt when she learned of Barrett’s support of an organization that does not believe in the treatment.
“I will always remember that moment and I’ll never be able to fully express the joy both of my daughters have brought into my family’s lives or how grateful we are for them,” Duckworth wrote in the letter, first obtained by Buzzfeed News. “But I will also always remember how I felt yesterday—the deep knot of dread and anguish in the pit of my stomach—when I learned that President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee likely doesn’t believe my little Maile and my growing Abigail should have ever been born in the first place.”
Duckworth noted that “we are each, of course, entitled to our own beliefs about women’s access to constitutionally-protected healthcare choices,” but said that the “St. Joseph County Right to Life is an organization whose views are considered radical even within the larger anti-choice movement, in part due to its stated belief that a critical step of the in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process that gave me my children is equivalent to manslaughter, that doctors who use IVF to help women start families should be put behind bars and that will only go so far as to say that moms like me who have kids through IVF shouldn’t be criminalized ‘at this point.’”
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“Not that they believe moms like me aren’t criminals, just that we shouldn’t be criminalized yet,” she wrote.
Duckworth’s letter to her colleagues acknowledged that her “two beautiful little girls are unique,” but that her “story of struggling with fertility is not.”
“Assisted reproductive technology, including IVF treatment, has enabled thousands of Americans to safely start families in red and blue states alike,” Duckworth explained, doubling down, and calling Barrett’s “willingness to associate her name with such an organization is disqualifying, and frankly, insulting to every parent, hopeful parent or would-be parent who has struggled to start a family.”
“Formally signing on to the message of an organization with these radical views goes beyond other nominees and demonstrates a lack of judgment, an absence of due diligence and a derision toward families like mine who were only able to have children with the help of methods and assistance that Judge Barrett personally disapproves of,” Duckworth wrote. “I fear that, if confirmed to the nation’s highest court, Judge Barrett would be unable to resist the temptation of overturning decades of judicial precedent in an effort to force every American family to adhere to her individual moral code.”
When asked for comment from the Senate Judiciary Committee on the resurfaced advertisement, a spokesperson said that it “was not responsive to anything in the Judiciary Committee questionnaire,” and that it was not necessary for it to be disclosed as part of that process, noting that Barrett did not author the advertisement, but rather, just signed on to it.
Barrett has been scrutinized by Democrats over her faith, even dating back to her confirmation to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.
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During the hearing, Barrett, a Catholic mother of seven, had to assert numerous times that her faith would not influence her jurisprudence.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Barrett at the time that she was concerned over her Catholic beliefs, and particularly how she would apply them in cases involving abortion.
“Why is it that so many of us on this side have this very uncomfortable feeling that dogma and law are two different things, and I think whatever a religion is, it has its own dogma. The law is totally different,” Feinstein told Barrett, a Notre Dame law professor. “And I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern.”
In the 2017 White House questionnaire, upon being appointed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Barrett was asked if it was her view that abortion was always immoral. She didn’t answer the question directly but said: “If I am confirmed (to the 7th Circuit), my views on this or any other question will have no bearing on the discharge of my duties as a judge.”
In a 2013 Texas Law Review article, Barrett listed fewer than 10 cases she said are widely considered “super-precedents,” ones that no justice would dare reverse even if they believed they were wrongly decided. Among them was Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
One she didn’t include on the list: Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that affirmed a woman’s right to abortion. Scholars don’t include it, she wrote, because public controversy swirling around it has never abated.
Abortion and women’s rights were the focus of a bruising 2017 confirmation process after Barrett’s nomination to the 7th Circuit.
Others pointed to Barrett’s membership of the University of Notre Dame’s “Faculty for Life” group – and that she had signed a 2015 letter to Catholic bishops affirming the “value of human life from conception to natural death.”
The Senate eventually confirmed her in a 55-43 vote, with three Democrats joining the majority.
Despite concerns from Democrats, Barrett, in a 1998 Notre Dame Law School review article, wrote that “Judges cannot — nor should they try to — align our legal system with the Church’s moral teaching whenever the two diverge. They should, however, conform their own behavior to the Church’s standard. Perhaps their good example will have some effect.”
And last month, despite Democrats questioning whether her religion would influence her decisions on cases should she be confirmed to the Supreme Court, upon accepting her nomination, said that:
“A judge must apply the law as written. Judges are not policymakers, and they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold,” Barrett said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.