Following reports that Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, supported an anti-abortion group that opposes in vitro fertilization, Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois wrote an impassioned letter to her colleagues Friday, citing her own experience with IVF and the conception of her 2-year-old daughter, Maile.
“I write to each of you today, and especially to my Republican colleagues who cooed and cuddled Maile when she first visited the Capitol, in the hope that you will fully consider the very real impact your vote on this unprecedented nomination could have on those Americans hoping to start families of their own,” Duckworth wrote.
“I urge you to fully consider the message a vote in favor of a Supreme Court nominee who appears to believe that my daughters shouldn’t even exist sends not only to me as a mother and as your colleague, but to parents-to-be around this country struggling with infertility and whose dreams may only be achieved through IVF or other technologies.”
The letter, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News, is in reaction to a report from the Guardian revealing that in 2006, when Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame, she publicly signed an advertisement in support of an anti-abortion organization that believes life begins at fertilization and that the IVF process amounts to abortion and should be criminalized.
The group — then 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, a local paper for the Michiana region of Indiana. The ad reads, “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 to end abortion.”
Barrett signed this letter along with her husband Jesse, and hundreds of other supporters of the group, the Guardian reported. While the advertisement itself did not explicitly address IVF, the group is openly opposed to the procedure.
“We support the criminalization of the doctors who perform abortions. At this point we are not supportive of criminalizing the women,” Jackie Appleman, the group’s executive director, said in an interview with the Guardian. “We would be supportive of criminalizing the discarding of frozen embryos or selective reduction through the IVF process.”
Barrett has repeatedly indicated that she does not support abortion, both in the personal views she expressed while a law professor at Notre Dame, and in her rulings on the issue. When asked if Barrett signing on to the ad was reflective of her views and if she believes IVF should be criminalized, White House spokesperson Judd Deere provided BuzzFeed News with a quote from Barrett herself, from the day of her nomination:
“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.
In 2018, Duckworth made history by becoming the first senator to give birth while in office, and she spurred on a change in Senate rules to allow senators to bring their children onto the Senate floor for a vote, which she, adorably, did. She has two daughters and has been very open about her conception through IVF.
“While my two beautiful little girls are unique, my story of struggling with fertility is not,” Duckworth wrote to colleagues Friday. “Assisted reproductive technology (ART), including IVF treatment, has enabled thousands of Americans to safely start families in red and blue states alike.”
“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,” Duckworth continued. “I fear that if a case involving ART were to be brought before the bench, families like mine would not be able to trust that her opinions would be based on facts, laws, and the Constitution rather than swayed by her personal beliefs.”
The opposition to, and especially the criminalization of, IVF is a controversial opinion, even by anti-abortion standards. When Alabama passed a near-total ban on abortion in 2019 (which has since been blocked in court), the legislators inserted an exception for IVF. Barrett’s views on abortion have quickly become a flashpoint for Democrats since her nomination was announced.
The second page of the ad Barrett signed explicitly addressed Roe, though the signatures were only on the first page. “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,” the ad read.
Deere pointed BuzzFeed News toward several other quotes and rulings from Barrett in which she reiterated that a judge should rely on the law, not their personal beliefs, including one from a 1998 law review article about whether Catholic judges like herself should recuse themselves from cases involving the death penalty, which the Catholic church is opposed to.
In that article, Barrett wrote, “It is never appropriate for a judge to impose that judge’s personal convictions, whether they derive from faith or anywhere else, on the law,” Deere pointed out.
However, in the article’s conclusion, she also wrote, “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."