What Does Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Mean For Women?

Neil Gorsuch has no record on abortion — but there are plenty of indications that he would be hostile toward reproductive healthcare

President Donald Trump and Judge Neil Gorsuch — Getty Images
Feb 01, 2017 at 3:28 PM ET

On Tuesday night, Donald Trump held an oddly ‘Bachelor’-like primetime news conference to announce his first Supreme Court pick: Neil Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appeals court judge from Colorado. The nomination instantly raises a number of big questions about the future of the court, should he be confirmed — chief among them, what will this mean for women?

The Supreme Court is likely to be pivotal to the near future of reproductive rights and abortion access in this country — and while Gorsuch hasn’t ruled directly on the issue of abortion, there are plenty of clues that suggest he will be hostile toward women’s basic reproductive health care.

The most significant is his opinion in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, Inc., a case in which the now-infamous craft chain argued that it should be protected from abiding by the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to cover employee contraception. He wrote that requiring such coverage would force employers “to violate their religious faith” and “underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.” Never mind that this flies in the face of scientific evidence showing that contraception does not cause abortion.

“Judge Gorsuch put an employer’s personal beliefs over a patient’s right to access medical treatment,” wrote Jodi Magee, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, in a statement sent to Vocativ. “He has a record of undermining health care access for women and is not someone who will reject medically unnecessary restrictions that endanger women.”

In another case challenging Obamacare’s contraception mandate, Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, Gorsuch joined a dissenting opinion that read, “When a law demands that a person do something the person considers sinful, and the penalty for refusal is a large financial penalty, then the law imposes a substantial burden on that person’s free exercise of religion.” So, we know very clearly where he stands with regard to both mandated contraceptive coverage, as well as the science behind how contraception actually works (apparently, he doesn’t believe it).

That brings us to the issue of abortion. It’s a critical one, given predicted upcoming vacancies on the Supreme Court that could shift the balance of the court and, potentially, allow for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Gorsuch has not taken a public stance on the issue, but, again, there are strong clues as to his leanings. When Utah’s attempt at defunding Planned Parenthood was blocked, Gorsuch unsuccessfully fought to rehear the case. And, as the Washington Post has reported, Gorsuch wrote in his book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” that “all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

That certainly leaves room for interpretation with regard to abortion, but reproductive rights activists see it as more reason for concern. “With Judge Neil Gorsuch, the stakes couldn’t be higher when it comes to women and our lives,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. “Gorsuch represents an existential threat to legal abortion in the United States and must never wear the robes of a Supreme Court justice.”