Abortion opponents and those seeking to expand access to the procedure viewed the Senate's confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court Friday as a move toward overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made terminating a pregnancy legal nationwide.
As candidate, President Trump said he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn the landmark ruling, and he provided a list to the public of 21 conservative judges he would consider. Shortly after becoming president he selected Gorsuch, 49, from the list.
After the Senate confirmation Friday, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a group that opposes abortion, called Gorsuch's appointment a "tremendous win for the pro-life movement," while Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Gorsuch "the most far-right Supreme Court nominee in a generation."
The 54-45 Senate confirmation vote, which included the support of three Democrats, occurred after Republicans employed the "nuclear option" that removes the requirement for a 60-vote threshold typically required to confirm a nominee to the nation's highest court. Several Democrats raised abortion rights as a factor in their decision to oppose Gorsuch.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for instance, spoke about abortion access in an interview on PBS News explaining why she would not support Gorsuch. She tweeted the interview Friday following the vote, writing that she did not "want the country to go backwards when it comes to women's health and rights."
Democrats opposing the nomination also were angry that Republicans had refused to confirm Judge Merrick Garland, whom former President Barack Obama nominated about a year ago to fill the Supreme Court spot left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, also a conservative. Republicans would not take up the appointment, saying that they would wait until after the presidential election.
Abortion-rights advocates who oppose Gorsuch have pointed to his judicial record. A few years ago he sided with religious liberty in an opinion he wrote in the Hobby Lobby case, allowing some private employers with strong religious beliefs to not follow the Obamacare mandate requiring employers to provide a wide range of contraception options in health plans. He also dissented in a case involving Planned Parenthood, siding with Republican Gov. Gary Herbert for pulling $275,000 in grants from the organization because he believed it was selling fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing, and investigations have not found evidence that occurred.
"Neil Gorsuch's judicial philosophy and record leave no doubt that he will seek to restrict abortion and cut off access to birth control," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood said. "Judge Gorsuch is so outside of the mainstream that Senator McConnell had to change the rules in order to jam through his confirmation," she said of the Senate majority leader.
Gorsuch did not offer resounding opposition to abortion rights during his confirmation hearings last month, in which he said he would have "walked out the door" if Trump had asked him to repeal Roe v. Wade.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also asked Gorsuch about abortion rights during the confirmation hearings. He replied that he saw Roe v. Wade as "the law of the land."
Durbin followed up by asking Gorsuch about a line in his book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, in which he wrote, "The intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong." The lawmaker asked Gorsuch how that statement fit into his views on abortion.
"As the book explains, the Supreme Court of the United States has held in Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person for purposes of the 14th Amendment and the book explains that," Gorsuch answered.
"Do you accept that?" Durbin asked.
"I accept the law of the land, senator, yes," Gorsuch replied.
According to a Gallup poll on attitudes about abortion, 50 percent of Americans identify as "pro-choice" and 44 percent identify as "pro-life." Half of those who identified as "pro-choice" in the poll said they believed abortion should be legal under any circumstance, and 19 percent of overall respondents said they believe abortion should be illegal regardless of the circumstances.
In recent years, state lawmakers have passed various restrictions on abortion, including laws such as banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, limiting which health providers can offer abortion, or requiring fetal remains from an abortion to be buried or cremated.
Last year, with Scalia's seat vacant, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against rules Texas set for abortion clinics, finding that they resulted in clinics shutting down and limited women's access to abortion.
Asked during one of the debates before the election whether his intention was to overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump replied that it could happen after a couple more appointments to the Supreme Court.
"I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination," he said.
Clarke Forsythe, acting president of Americans United for Life, which opposes abortion, said he hoped Gorsuch would "one day be part of a majority of justices who will admit that the court has failed as the National Abortion Control Board and will return this issue to the American people and their elective representatives in the states."