Pro-life and pro-choice activists agree that Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court opens the door to rolling back the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that created a constitutional right to abortion.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said President Trump has a “crucial opportunity to restore respect for the life and the Constitution” with his second nomination to the Supreme Court in two years.
“Justice Kennedy’s retirement from the Supreme Court marks a pivotal moment for the fight to ensure every unborn child is welcomed and protected under the law,” Ms. Dannenfelser said in a statement.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, said Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell now “hold the balance of the court in their hands — and with it, the legal right to access abortion.”
“The significance of today’s news cannot be overstated: The right to access abortion in this country is on the line,” Ms. Laguens said in a statement.
The jurist’s retirement is just the latest in a series of political events that have paved the way for the potential reversal of Roe v. Wade.
At the behest of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Democrats in 2013 invoked the nuclear option — voting along party lines to end the filibuster for executive and judicial nominees below the U.S. Supreme Court.
Then in the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans netted nine Senate seats and reclaimed the majority in the upper chamber.
And with the election of Mr. Trump to the White House in 2016, Republicans gained a unified government and the chance fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used the same tactic to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with just 51 votes — instead of the 60 that would have normally been necessary to overcome a filibuster.
In a letter to the president Wednesday, Justice Kennedy wrote that his retirement will be effective July 31. Despite being nominated by a Republican president, Justice Kennedy often sided with the liberal wing of the court in cases dealing with abortion.
He co-authored the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision trimming Roe slightly but reaffirming the abortion right, and in 2016 he voted to strike down Texas abortion clinic regulations in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
Pro-choice groups immediately sounded the alarm when news of his pending retirement broke.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said a “woman’s right to control her own destiny hangs in the balance.”
“Our country faces a moment of deep crisis — a crisis of rights, of values, and of leadership,” Ms. Hogue said in a statement. “The deeply-divided decisions from the Supreme Court this week are a clear warning that our most cherished values are in jeopardy, and now hang in the balance. Women will not go back to the days when abortion was illegal in this country.”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said Justice Kennedy leaves “a legacy of disappointing decisions” when it comes to abortion.
“In cases like Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he did not address the most critical issues and allowed for a swamp of mismatched abortion laws that permit the abortion industry to continue to operate in ways that harm women as well as preborn children,” Ms. Hawkins said in a statement.
Yet Justice Kennedy’s retirement, which comes as Republicans maintain a narrow majority in the Senate, may be something of a parting gift to the pro-life movement.
Democrats have called for holding off on confirming a new justice until after the November elections, but Republicans have already indicated that the vote will take place this fall.
The White House also has already released a list of 25 candidates to fill the vacancy.
One of the frontrunners is reportedly Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whom Mr. Trump nominated to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.
During her confirmation hearing, Judge Barrett was grilled by Democrats who questioned the role her Catholic faith would play in interpreting the Constitution.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for years in this country.”
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, legal advisor with the Catholic Association, said there are a number of highly qualified jurists for the president to choose from.
“The President’s list of potential nominees are all exceptionally qualified and any one of them promise to respect the rule of law and defend the freedoms expressly set forth in the Constitution,” Ms. Picciotti-Bayer said in a statement. “President Trump’s judicial appointments have been stellar and we expect no less from his selection to fill this seat on the nation’s highest court.”