Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has voted to confirm yet another lifetime federal judge with such radical anti-abortion views that even Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who, like Gardner, is facing a tough re-election campaign next year, voted against confirming.
Sarah Pitlyk, who was given a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri last week, currently serves as special counsel to the Thomas More Society, a highly conservative litigation firm that began with the mission of defending anti-choice protesters, stating that “each and every life saved by those valiant souls who patrol the sidewalks outside abortion facilities has a value that is infinite.”
Her work there has included defending a so-called “fetal heartbeat” law in Iowa that attempted to ban abortion at around six weeks, and representing anti-choice activist David Daleiden, who’s known for infiltrating abortion clinics and disseminating heavily doctored videos purporting to show nefarious conversations with providers.
But her legal advocacy against reproductive freedom doesn’t end at abortion rights. Pitlyk even opposes couples’ rights to have children using assisted reproductive technology (ART) like surrogacy and in vitro fertilization.
In an amicus brief opposing California’s ART protections, she asserted without evidence that “the practice of surrogacy has grave effects on society, such as diminished respect for motherhood and the unique mother-child bond.”
Pitlyk has also argued that frozen embryos should be treated as human beings under the law, a position that would outlaw surrogacy, IVF, and abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
“Sen. Cory Gardner’s confirmation of anti-IVF conservative Sarah Pitlyk to a U.S. District Court is just his latest offense in a long history of threatening access to reproductive health care and family planning for Coloradans and for folks across the nation,” said ProgressNow Colorado’s Reproductive Rights Content Director Fawn Bolak, who also runs that organization’s Keep Abortion Safe project. “During his tenure, Gardner has consistently voted to stack our courts with biased judges that pose real threats to reproductive healthcare, including Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch. He has proven time and time again that he would rather pander to the extreme anti-abortion agenda than uphold the constitutional rights and needs of hard-working people and families. His constituents are watching and as we move into 2020, Gardner will soon have to answer for his record.”
Democrats unanimously opposed Pitlyk’s confirmation.
Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) and other Senate Republicans like Gardner who have ensured a swift and largely uncritical confirmation process for judicial nominees, Trump has rapidly packed the courts with lifetime federal judges since his election, many of whom hold radically conservative views.
As of September, Trump appointees constituted one in four circuit court judges.
Five of Trump’s judicial appointees, including Pitlyk, were rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association, which has long been considered an impartial arbiter in determining whether judicial appointments meet a minimum standard of approval. In the case of Pitlyk, who has never tried a case, the ABA’s decision was unanimous.
Out of more than 150 judges nominated by Trump, Gardner has voted against confirming just one. In July 2018, Gardner and 26 of his Republican colleagues voted not to confirm Mark Jeremy Bennett, arguing he was too hostile to gun rights, among other things, whereas Democrats voted unanimously to confirm Bennett.
Pitlyk is just one of many anti-choice judges that Gardner has voted to confirm.
Wendy Vitter, for example, another anti-choice extremist, now has a lifetime seat on the federal bench thanks to Gardner and Senate Republicans.
Vitter once promoted a brochure that said birth control leads to cervical and liver cancers and “violent death” because “women who take oral contraceptives prefer men with similar DNA, and that women in these partnerships have fewer sexual relations, leading to more adultery, and ‘understandably . . . violence.’”
Still, Gardner continuously touts his support for over-the-counter birth control, despite his support for Vitter, who would likely block such a proposal.
Vitter also has suggested that abortion causes cancer, a thoroughly debunked falsehood.
And then there’s Judge John K Bush, who Gardner voted to confirm to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017.
Judge Bush, an anti-gay blogger who once compared abortion to slavery, upheld a Kentucky law in April that requires doctors to perform ultrasounds on abortion-seeking patients, generally using the transvaginal method by which the patient is penetrated with a probe. The physician must then describe the fetus in detail while playing its heartbeat.
Writing for the majority, Bush said the law aims to “provide patients with information about the development of unborn life and alternatives to abortion.”
Reproductive rights advocates highlight the invasiveness of transvaginal ultrasounds, likening such laws to state-sanctioned rape.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the law, leaving it in place in Kentucky.
Trump’s reshaping of the judiciary, including his nomination of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, both of which Gardner helped confirm, is seen as one of the most critical ways his presidency will have a multigenerational impact, especially when it comes to abortion rights.
During his 2014 election, Gardner attempted to convince voters that he didn’t pose a threat to abortion rights and insisted that Roe v. Wade is settled law, contrary to his opponent’s warnings. Now, he’s a key enabler in conservatives’ plans to chip away at abortion rights until Roe v. Wade is meaningless.
The Supreme Court could take a massive step toward damaging reproductive freedom when it hears the June Medical Services v. Gee case in March, which concerns a Louisiana law that places medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers that make it next to impossible for them to operate.
The case will likely revisit the precedent set in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that parts of a Texas law that caused widespread clinic closures constituted an “undue burden” on the right to an abortion.
The case is seen as part of conservatives’ strategy to make it impossible to get an abortion without ever having to overturn Roe, and thanks to Trump and Senate Republicans’ successful effort to secure a decisive conservative majority on the court, hopes are high among those who wish to see reproductive rights scaled back.