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Trump Supreme Court pick sets abortion battle in motion

Lisa Belkin
Chief National Correspondent

Groups on both sides of the abortion fight reacted in expected ways to Donald Trump’s prime-time announcement that he would nominate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Those who would limit or end abortion praised the choice, while those who aim to expand and preserve abortion rights were critical.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America released a statement titled “Senate Must Reject Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh” mere seconds after his name was spoken by the president. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” said Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood executive vice president. “With this nomination, the constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion in this country is on the line.”

“President Trump has made another outstanding choice,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said a statement moments later. “Vulnerable senators up for reelection this year have a choice: Stand with the president and their constituents … or cave to pressure from the extreme abortion lobby.”

For all the parsing of differences between the finalists on the president’s shortlist in recent days — Judge Amy Coney Barrett was praised by conservative Christian groups who believed she held the deepest anti-abortion beliefs, Judge Thomas Hardiman was criticized by those same groups who worried he might slide to the left as Justices Souter, Kennedy and Blackmun did before him, Kavanaugh raised concerns from some because his anti-abortion opinions were not strong enough — all of those under consideration effectively posed a similar threat to abortion access in the United States.

On campaign trail Trump promised to put “pro-life justices on the court” which, he predicted, would mean the overturning of Roe v. Wade will “happen automatically,” referring to the 1973 case that overturned state laws banning abortion. 

Pro-choice and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the U.S. Supreme Court after President Trump announced his Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh Monday night. (Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Judge Kavanaugh has a history of limiting abortion access during his more than a decade on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In a case in which an undocumented minor in U.S. custody sought an abortion, he wrote in his dissent that requiring the Trump administration to assist the teenager would not recognize the government’s “permissible interest in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor and refraining from facilitating abortion.”

That dissent is likely to be raised often by the groups who tonight vowed to fight Kavanaugh’s nomination. Doing so would require all Democrats in the Senate to vote no, with two Republicans joining them. Those most likely to cross the aisle are thought to be Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Last week, Collins said “I would not support a nominee who would demonstrate hostility to Roe v. Wade.”

In May 2006, when he was a nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh was grilled about his position on Roe v. Wade by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., during a confirmation hearing.

“If confirmed to the D.C. circuit, I would follow Roe v. Wade faithfully and fully,” Kavanaugh said. “That would be binding precedent of the court. It’s been decided by the Supreme Court. And I’m saying if I were confirmed to the D.C. circuit, I would follow it, senator. It’s been reaffirmed many times.”

“I understand, but what is your opinion?” Schumer asked.

“The Supreme Court has held repeatedly, senator, and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to give a personal view on that,” Kavanaugh replied.

Despite possible hesitance from Murkowski and Collins, three Democrats are considered likely to vote with the Republican majority in favor of Kavanaugh’s nomination. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.), and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., are all in tough reelection campaigns in districts where their rejection of the president’s choice could work against them.

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